That there has been a Red America and a Blue America has been blindingly true for a long time. Also clear is that on the other side of his presidency, Donald Trump has become less and less comfortable moving through Blue America. When he departed the White House, he fled New York City and Washington, D.C., for the smallholding of Mar-a-Lago, nestled in the fiefdom of Florida, which is currently vying with Texas to be the capital of Red America. Indeed, it’s a place where children may not read about the history of Blue America, for fear that it will make them feel funny inside.
These days, the former president can travel safely from Waco, Texas, where the very absence of government is a way of life, back to Mar-a-Lago, where the streets are paved with MAGA hats. He moves comfortably through a world that he has built in his own image: A place where he is a professional wrestler/messianic figure/entrepreneurial genius and sex-god, all in one package. It’s working for him, and the polls seem to show that this is not abating, at least in Red America.
But yesterday the rest of the country got to see that same sex-god/wrestler stolidly moving down the hallway outside the New York Supreme Court. The still photos of Trump sitting subdued and deflated next to his attorneys in court were a shocking reminder that New York City—the city that never really accepted Trump as an influencer or tastemaker or even as a genuine New Yorker—is done with the guy. A handful of supporters showed up to cheer him on, sure, but even they appeared to have been dropped in a puddle somewhere and rinsed in gray. All around him, cars honked, couples tied the knot, tourists visited the 9/11 memorial. Everyone still had somewhere to go, and couldn’t be bothered by the guy who had to go to his arraignment. They didn’t even hold the door for him.
Perhaps the best evidence of how unreal Blue America feels to Donald J. Trump is that on Tuesday he didn’t speak a word there. He gave no press conference, and quipped at no reporter. He said the minimum number of nouns and verbs to the judge to ensure that he wouldn’t be hauled off in leg irons, then he fled to LaGuardia and on to Mar-a-Lago. where he permitted himself to speak aloud. Even there, given an opportunity to address and refute the goings-on that afternoon, he opted to ignore the idea that Blue America even existed. Instead, he gave his same canned Red speech, about stolen elections and Hunter Biden. Everything in that indictment, everything that was alleged, appeared to be invisible to him, as though it had never even happened. The former president just slipped back into the Florida riptide of MAGA and impending civil war. Manhattan and its courtroom and its laws had been nothing but a bad dream.
Of course, there were Red and Blue Americas long before Donald J. Trump glided down the elevator (at Trump Tower! In New York City!) to announce his candidacy for president in 2015. There was a Red America and a Blue America long before he said Mexico was sending rapists and told us all that “the American Dream is dead.” But more than perhaps anyone else, Donald Trump has dedicated the intervening eight years to ensuring that Red and Blue America loathe one another, see no value in one another, and on their worst days, would like to murder one another. He has made it his personal brand to ensure that if you are not prepping for the impending civil war, you’re not paying attention. And so, in some ways, he himself has ensured that he is no longer visible or audible or even really much more than a gray ghost when he walks through New York City. Even down on Fifth Avenue, where if he were to shoot someone all these years later, he would surely be thrown in jail.
New York City, to be sure, has a lot to worry about that has nothing to do with Donald Trump, including gun violence and abortion access (thanks to the Trump judges for these!) and crime and the cost of living. None of those problems were ever really visible to Donald Trump, who was always too busy waging the jihad in his mind on Black Lives Matter and George Soros and the Central Park Five to care much. For a while, when he was president and when his racism and his cruelty were bona fide government problems, Blue America lost plenty of sleep over the antics of Donald Trump. But because Blue America isn’t lying awake at night relitigating the 2020 election returns, Donald Trump is increasingly invisible to them. He has so handily divided the country into two worlds that cannot engage with one another that he is altogether invisible to the naked eye in one of them.
The only remaining question, then, is whether Trump’s hold over Red America is sufficiently robust to win him a GOP primary, and then a general election (assuming he manages to evade criminal conviction in the coming year). The answer to that seems to be that this depends less on whether more Red Americans versus Blue Americans go to the polls, but whether Red America allows Blue America to vote at all. As Sherrilyn Ifill and Abigail Tracy both warn, the plan appears to be that the only way to beat back a Blue America that can’t stop winning at the ballot box (thanks Wisconsin) is to render what happens at the ballot box immaterial. And all the horserace coverage around what this indictment is doing to Trump’s popularity misses that miserable truth altogether.
I understand the tendency to worry over whether this case was strong enough to penetrate Red America—but I am equally certain that no case, no matter how strong, would do so. I also herein acknowledge journalism’s propensity toward Trump derangement syndrome, whereby journalists are perpetually worried about their underestimate of the former president. But Red America is not necessarily winning the war of ideas at the moment, nor is it winning in terms of rule of law—it has simply figured out how to wage a war that is built on such fundamental beliefs that even them losing feels terrible. At any rate, Red America has for decades now known how to succeed at the game of amassing power. The power to make electoral outcomes disappear is being deployed to make sure that what happened this week in Wisconsin, and what happened in the midterms, won’t keep happening. But, right now, Blue America is ascendant. He may not have spoken when he was in New York on Tuesday—but you could see it all over his face.