Having written this blog for several months now, I’ve had a lot of opportunities to interact with Trump supporters. Spoiler alert: They’re not fans. But I’ve learned a fair amount from those interactions. (I doubt they have. Their attitude is definitely not one of appreciation of an opposing viewpoint or enthusiasm for informed debate.) I’m sure many of you have had similar encounters and experiences.
Let’s take them by category….
Most of the Trump supporters who write me are very brief, very angry, and very obscene. Their posts are usually on the order of: “You’re a moron.” (Also: jackass, asshole, clown, and many other non-complimentary epithets.) They seem to have a special fondness for the word “moron,” though, which Rex Tillerson evidently shares. And as with Rex, profanity accompanies their posts about half the time.
I’m not sure why they feel the need to make an ad hominem attack with no other substantive content. If I reached out to everyone I thought was an asshole just to let them know I felt that way, I wouldn’t have time to do anything else. The specific insult is also surprising to me, since going into this I thought I’d be much more frequently called a commie, un-American, or things of that sort. I do get called that stuff, but not as often as I am accused of being just plain dumb.
Naturally, we have to ask if this is just a matter of projection, given that one of the chief criticisms of Trump supporters is that they are stupid….a criticism we are often told is condescending, counter-productive, and ironic considering that they won the election and we lost.
It would not be surprising to me if Trump supporters were sensitive to that line of attack and therefore quick to lash back reflexively the same way their hero does. (“I’m not a puppet—you’re the puppet!”) Their insults do seem to carry a strong whiff of anti-intellectualism and an indictment of smartass book learnin’ at the expense of “common sense,” as right wingers define it.
Perhaps we could settle this if we all take IQ tests.
THE SCREAMERS PART DEUX
Admittedly, the people who reply to blogs are a self-selecting group skewing heavily toward bombthrowers, so I am not saying these correspondents are representative of all Trump supporters, or even a majority of them. But they are definitely reflective of a certain anger and animus out there in spades.
What’s especially interesting to me is that these people almost never try to make an argument for Trump or refute anything I’ve written about him, though I frequently invite them as politely as I can to do so and defend their position. I do this not because I’m a good person—I’m not— but in an attempt at rhetorical jiu-jitsu: to disarm them, to give them nothing to push back against, and to shame them by responding to their bile with kindness. I don’t want them to be able to say “See: liberals are just as nasty.” (When they go low, I go high…..but only so I can pour molten lava on their heads.)
Occasionally some do take me up on the offer. (If all they want to do is sling insults—which is much of the time—there’s no conversation to be had.) Sometimes they even calm down enough that we can have an actual civilized discussion of issues, although those discussions still remain pretty hostile and often circle back to name-calling (by them, that is; see above: I’m a moron). Sadly, I’ve never had anyone concede a point or even express appreciation for the vigorous debate. I usually try to sign off by noting that we’re all Americans who presumably only want the best for our country, even if we disagree on what that is and/or how to achieve it, and I wish them well.
Still waiting for any of the Screamers to return that sentiment.
THE SCREAMERS: PART TROIS
In terms of the Screamers’ actual beliefs, to the extent that they express them, it’s the usual menu of grievances against “socialism,” Islam, Obama and Obamacare and all things Obama, political correctness, Hollywood, gun control, taxes, intellectual and cultural “elites,” and liberals in general. No surprise there’s also a heavy dose of hollow patriotism and mindless jingoism as well. Thinly veiled racism is a given often as not (sometimes not so thinly veiled), especially if you pay a visit to their own social media accounts. Not every Trump supporter evinces it overtly, and in fact most of them get very irate at the suggestion that there is any racially-motivated component to this administration or their support of it. But to support Trump is by definition to be comfortable with a certain amount of racism, bigotry, and xenophobia. That is part and parcel of who is, and what he ran on, and what he has done since taking office. You can’t back this guy and not in the process condone that, if only unconsciously. The people who take umbrage and insist that that is not the case are living examples of the very phenomenon they angrily reject—a kind of Marianas Trench-deep denial.
But far and away the thing that animates these folks the most is their absolute, unequivocal, white-hot hatred of Hillary Clinton. It comes up over and over, even now, long after the election is behind us and we ought to have moved on. She is a bête noire to whom they cling with almost suspicious fervor.
The issues they have with Hillary are not even in the realm of arguable criticisms about which rational people can disagree or debate. Largely they are based on utter lies, representing the bitter fruit of decades of aggressive demonization, misogyny, and character assassination. It is depressing to see how well that campaign against her worked, which suggests that we will see it deployed again against other politicians in the future. And of course, it is depressing to see such behavior rewarded with the Presidency.
The other thing worth noting is that none of these people believe there is a whit of truth to the allegations that Russia interfered with the election.
Let me be clear about that. Not only don’t they believe that Trump or his associates colluded with Russia, they don’t even believe that the Russians on their own tried to influence the election. And let us remember that in order to maintain that position, they have to wantonly disregard the conclusion of all 17 US intelligence agencies, preferring instead the word of Vladimir Putin.
Their staunch resistance to even the possibility of Russian meddling is something we can chalk up to extreme tribalism. Needless to say—as I regularly point out to them—if Hillary had won the presidency and there was even a fraction as much evidence of Russian involvement—even unilaterally, let alone the proven hanky panky between her team and the Kremlin that we’ve seen from Team Trump—she would already be in shackles on her way up the steps to the guillotine.
More alarming, more than a few of these folks have said to me that even if there was proof that Russia meddled with the election, they wouldn’t care. “If that’s what it took to keep Hillary out of the White House, that’s fine with me.”
This of course is a jawdropping admission—not only as evidence of the depths of their pathological hatred of Hillary, but as a proclamation that flies in the face of the traditional right wing claim that theirs is the party of patriotism, strong defense, and rock-ribbed national security. These people have irrevocably forfeited the high ground on that count—not that that claim was ever legitimate, but they have voluntarily exposed it for the cruel charade that it is.
I always point this hypocrisy out to them. They never ever address it.
Beyond the Screamers, I occasionally encounter a Trump supporter who seems to be in genuine pain, born of real unease with the man (which they will sometimes cop to, sometimes not), but not enough to turn their back on him, at least not yet. When pressed, this category of Trump supporters will invariably say that whatever Donald’s flaws, they simply could not vote for Hillary, usually accompanied by a bunch of urban myths about her being disbarred, or running a child porn ring out of a pizza parlor, or absconding with all the White House furniture in early 2001. Thus they too are motivated largely by their loathing for her.
Need I mention the irony that these fake stories are themselves very possibly the products of the selfsame Russian disinformation campaign (or at least fanned by it) that Trump Nation steadfastly refuses to believe exists?
On one occasion, an unusually overwrought Trump supporter repeated to me a long-discredited lie about Hillary. When I presented her with a Snopes article debunking it, she responded that she now no longer trusted Snopes. When I asked why she would ignore the findings of a non-partisan fact-checking organization whose credibility was so solid, she replied that she preferred to come to her own conclusions. Which is exactly the problem.
Wild falsehoods about Benghazi are a particular sticking point for a lot of Trumpkins, proving that the multimillion dollar, taxpayer-funded witchhunt that the GOP pursued for years purely in order to damage her (as committee chairman Rep. Kevin McCarthy R-CA kindly admitted) did in fact work. The loss of life and martial circumstances of that incident make it the perfect vehicle for flag-waving right-wing sanctimony and weaponized outrage, the facts be damned. In another bitter irony, just this past week four US Army Green Berets were killed in an ambush in Niger that is shrouded in mystery similar to that of Libya in 2012. I eagerly await the grueling taxpayer-funded Congressional investigations, non-stop drumbeating by Fox News, and bloodcurdling howls for accountability from outraged conservatives over that incident.
Many of the people among the Agonized are religious, and inexplicably see Trump as some sort of defender of their Christian faith against the cause of secularism—or Islam— that they believe the Democratic Party represents. This absurd position makes no sense by any interpretation of Christianity, neither the charitable one in which humility, forgiveness, and service to the poor are paramount, nor the Bible-thumping version in which opposition to vices like sex, gambling, divorce, and usury are the rule. How the most amoral libertine greedhead imaginable became the standard-bearer of evangelical Christianity is beyond me, but the statistics bear it out. (White evangelicals went for Trump by 64 points, more even than they went for Romney or McCain or Bush, again attesting to the sinister subtext of race.)
Then again, old-time religion has always highly susceptible to con men and hucksters, from Elmer Gantry to Jimmy Swaggart to Jim Bakker. But those charlatans at least had the common decency to pretend to be pious and hide their hypocrisy. If you set out to make a human being who best embodied the exact opposite of everything Jesus Christ is supposed to stand for, you’d probably come up with somebody a lot like Donald Trump, and the fact that evangelicals overlook that is more an indictment of them than of him.
For my money, this is the final nail in the coffin of Christian credibility in American politics. I don’t ever want to be lectured on morality by these folks ever again.
Notwithstanding all hat, I do have some sympathy for the Agonized. Despite their incredible cognitive dissonance—indeed, because of it—they are genuinely in pain and confusion and searching for answers. I’m encouraged that they see at least some of the problems with Trump; maybe that displeasure will continue to build to a breaking point. But again I am deeply saddened at the level of irrational hatred toward Mrs. Clinton, which as with the Screamers, runs so deep that it can’t be dislodged by reason or logic or facts, alternative or otherwise, even if it is expressed with somber headshaking rather than the firehose-like use of the word “cunt.”
Let me point out here that I don’t have an inherent contempt for these people. Far from it. I hail from the same demographic as many of them: from a conservative background, in the South, out of churchgoing families, and the military. I don’t come at this with outsider animosity. But for that very reason, I don’t give these folks any slack either, none of that “salt of the earth” condescension you sometimes find among the chattering classes. I know where these folks come from and of what they are made. They ought to be better than this.
THE ONES WHO SHOULD KNOW BETTER
Beyond the Screamers and the Agonized, I also know a few Trump voters who defy the usual stereotypes of angry bigot, illiterate redneck, or Hillary-hating evangelical (nose-holding or otherwise). It’s not a big group, and some of them definitely surprised me with their votes. These are educated, informed people who are by no means lunatic fringe fantasists eager to see the US government burned to the ground, or nationalists driven by xenophobia, or class warfare, or unbridled racism. (Though per above, neither are they sufficiently bothered by any of that, so you do the math.) Some of these supporters, like the previous group, are tortured. Others proudly cling—at least publicly—to their support for Donny.
But here again, I regret to report that their feelings are motivated primarily by an extreme hostility to Hillary.
The OWSKBs’ innate dislike of her is better articulated and less neanderthal than the Screamers’, and her sins that they cite delineated with more sophistication, though usually rooted in the same fake news and ultimately still weak, especially if those sins are expected to justify a vote for Trump as the lesser of two evils. But it is at its core the exact same reflexive hostility toward the woman from Park Ridge.
Obviously, this group is among the most depressing, as they should—as their name implies—know better. In theory, education is a prophylactic against this sort of irrationalism and disregard for facts. But plainly even education has its limits. (See my recent interview with educator Matt Bardin on this site, “Literacy vs. Tyranny”)
Many of these OWSKBs are business people and longstanding mainstream Republicans whose primary concerns are economic. But I would not call them cynics—I’ll address that group in a moment. None of these people would say outright that they wanted Trump in office purely to benefit their own bottom line. That may be true, but they are not willing to say it. But they have convinced themselves that a) Hillary is an abomination that justifies voting for any other candidate, even one as—uh—“problematic” as Trump, or b) that Trump really isn’t that bad, or c) some combination of the two. Either way it is a rationalization that has the result of benefiting their pocketbook.
I know of at least one Trump voter—a wealthy New Yorker with a long personal connection to Donald, in fact—who openly admits that ”Trump is crazy,” but nevertheless supported him in the interest of “shaking things up.” With all due respect, that’s like remodeling your kitchen with a hand grenade, and standing by the refrigerator when you pull the pin. It also makes even less sense coming out of the mouth of a well-to-do member of the professional class who has benefited handsomely from the much-derided “System” than it does from a downtrodden member of the hoi polloi who at least has a legitimate grievance on that front. But again, reason clearly does not reign these days.
(Or maybe it does, in its cruel and dishonest way. It’s no coincidence that a person like this fellow benefits financially from a Trump presidency even as he play-acts at being part of the revolution. Res ipsa loquitur.)
Kissing cousins to The Ones Who Should Know Better is a far more despicable subset: the criminally cynical who do know better, who are well aware what a shitshow Trump is, that he has no business being on a guided tour of the White House let alone occupying it, yet support him anyway for their own partisan gain while spouting disingenuous banalities in his defense.
The leadership of the Republican Party falls overwhelmingly into this category. (Full disclosure: as you might have already guessed, Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are not people I have been in touch with as a result of this blog. I’m stretching out now to cover all the bases.)
Much has been written here and elsewhere about the GOP’s Faustian bargain, so there’s no need to rehash it. (Although Mephistopheles doesn’t really seem to be holding up his end.) However, the recent ugly public feud between Trump and Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee offers some fresh insights.
There are surely some Republican backbenchers who are in denial and fit into the previous category of tortured souls, or worse, among the Screamers. But the senior leadership of the GOP certainly knows that Donald Trump is unfit and a menace. Corker—one of the first senators to endorse Candidate Trump—recently said as much in so many words. This revelation is somewhat reassuring in the sense of affirming that we’re not living in a Bizarro World where once esteemed public figures truly think Donald Trump an acceptable commander-in-chief. But it also leaves us in the equally if not more disturbing scenario where those same public figures are willing to abet and protect someone they know to be patently unfit and indeed genocidally dangerous. That is a level of self-aggrandizement and cynicism that is almost unfathomable, even for professional politicians. Would you rather a GOP led by idiots or by monsters?
Lest we forget, Corker was instrumental in helping Trump get elected, so he has a lot to answer for. But at least he has stood up and spoken the truth now, which is more than the vast majority of his peers in the Vichy GOP have done, even if his courage is mitigated by the fact that he’s not running for re-election. Like many, Corker evidently believed Trump would “pivot” and become presidential once in office. But when he finally realized that Donald would never ever do so, Corker had the integrity to stand up and address the Emperor’s nudity. So mark him down as an OWSKB who wised up and demonstrated some balls, however belatedly.
Of course, if there’s one thing Trump can’t abide it’s anyone who has the temerity not to kiss his fat ass, be it a senator from his own party, the mayor of an American city surrounded by ”big water,” or a football player unaccountably familiar with the First Amendment. That Corker didn’t seem at all fazed by Trump’s tweetstorm against him, and indeed fired back just as hard (and with much more wit), only further enraged the Toddler-in-Chief, prompting laughable protests from such tender souls as Kellyanne Conway and Steve Bannon, both of whom railed against the disrespectfulness and lack of patriotism inherent in criticizing a sitting president of the United States!
Nice to see them coming to Obama’s defense. Better late than never.
In my view it’s generous even to describe the White House as an adult day care center. (A mental ward for the criminally insane would be more like it.) But the reliably straight-faced Kellyanne had the chutzpah to say of Corker’s stinging riposte that, “I find tweets like this to be incredibly irresponsible.”
These people are either the greatest ironists in human history, or the hugest hypocrites, or simply the biggest fucking morons.
As many Washington insiders have noted, in picking yet another petty, self-destructive feud with yet another GOP leader—as he did with McConnell, Ryan, McCain, Flake, and others, to say nothing of Sessions and Tillerson—Trump has likely kneecapped himself when it comes to any hoped-for legislative accomplishments. In any event, Corker’s bold break with the GOP seawall may mark a crucial turn in this presidency. At the very least it reveals just how dishonest and venal the Republican Party’s alliance with Trump has been all along.
STOP MAKING SENSE
So there you have a rough field classification of homo Trumpus. They come in different shapes and sizes, unified only by their hatred of Hillary, and the unhealthy buildup of wax within their ears.
I can hear the complaints now. How arrogant am I to sweepingly dismiss any of these people and sanctimoniously proclaim that they voted for the “wrong” candidate? Isn’t that precisely the sort of East Coast elitist high-handedness that cost Hillary the election?
Maybe. But an election victory is not evidence of rightness; only a popularity contest circumscribed by fleeting conditions within the long arc of history. Right now it may seem haughty to declare that Trump voters were categorically wrong in their choice of who was best fit to be President, but history will eventually render its own verdict. In the 1950s plenty of people thought segregationism was perfectly defensible and voted accordingly. Lots of them resented being told by their opponents—whom they often labeled “condescending”—that they were racists, or that supporting politicians like George Wallace was abhorrent and damaging to the country. Today, few people outside of Breitbart employees would say, “Gee, those segregationists had a point.” At the risk of being branded a snotty liberal, I suspect that having supported Trump will someday be viewed through a similar lens.
What I haven’t yet encountered is anyone who has made a convincing argument that Donald Trump isn’t a complete trainwreck.
No credible conservative pundit has yet made a cogent case for Trump. On the contrary: many of them—Jennifer Rubin, George Will, David Frum, and others—have admirably defied tribalism to call Trump out as the monstrous clown he is.
Think about it. Is there a legitimate right wing commentator who has adequately defended Trump? Jeffrey Lord? The unctuous Andre Bauer, formerly the lieutenant governor of South Carolina, who frequently pops up on CNN to make grinning, flimsy apologies for our fake president, made worse by his Southern drawl and all the baggage it carries? Steve Bannon, if you want to count Breitbart as part of the legitimate media and not simply the propaganda wing of a terrorist organization?
The best Trump has for talking heads to fight his corner are the likes of Kayleigh McEnany, Dinesh D’Souza, and of course the entire staff of Fox—foremost among them Donald’s favorite softball pitcher Sean Hannity—none of whom deserve the dignity of our consideration under the rubric of “journalism.”
No right wing policy maker, politician, or other public figure has offered a defense of Trump that goes beyond the opportunism of the Quislings or the denialism of the Screamers and the Agonized and the OWSKBs. In my eyes, the closest any reasonable person has comes to a justification—a rationalization, really—is the chance to put justices of their ideological preference on the Supreme Court. To progressives, of course, that is a specious argument, as the justices in question are meant to advance a thoroughly retrograde agenda. Even if that were not so, it requires the acceptance of an entire slate of atrocities in exchange, rendering that bargain pretty shitty by most standards.
Of course, the right wing felt so strongly about that SCOTUS seat that they were willing to steal it from Merrick Garland. So there’s that.
But as I say, all of that is in the eye of the beholder. I realize that people who are in favor of AK-47s in schoolrooms, gay conversion therapy, and the Protocols of the Elders of Zion think Trump is great. If you are on the side of Richard Spencer, David Duke, and Stephen Miller, then yes, Trump has been terrific for you. But I am not counting Satan’s spawn as credible advocates of how America is best made great again.
AND YOUR POINT IS?
So why does any of this matter?
Little of this is news. Trump supporters hate Hillary, forgive him everything, believe fake news, and sneer at liberals? Stop the presses. Still, it is sobering to experience it firsthand and instructive to consider how we can use this intelligence going forward.
For anyone recently emerging from a coma, it’s clear that there are lots of angry people in this country. Some of that anger has legitimate roots in the tragic transformation of the American Dream into a cruel con game, as evidenced by the meteoric rise in economic inequity over the last thirty years. Undoubtedly many of our countrymen have been failed on that count by our leadership, right left and center (though not necessarily in equal portions).
But the voting patterns of Trump supporters—which contrary to popular myth show waves of white allegiance regardless of class—prove beyond question that racism, sexism, xenophobia, class warfare, and fear of losing longheld status are also key factors, if not the key factors full stop. The confluence of economic resentment and identity politics makes for a lethal stew.
Listening to Trump supporters is a sobering lesson in the power of demagoguery, racism, misogyny, and wanton deceit. This is not breaking news about human nature either. But it is gutwrenching to see it play out so brazenly in our own country, right before our eyes.
The only saving grace and cause for optimism, as we have seen over the past nine months, is the simple fact that this neo-fascist regime and the movement it represents can’t adequately govern in any way, shape, or form. The strange bedfellows of the modern Grand Old Party—Rockefeller Republicans and Alex Jones birthers and truthers and Islamophobes and evangelicals and Klansmen—simply cannot get their shit together to pass even the most basic parts of their legislative agenda (such as it is). The Republican Party has long held goals that progressives take issue with, but it used to at least be a rational organization. But since the 1960s the scorched earth strategy it has adopted, the despicable alliances it has made with bigots and gun nuts and religious fanatics, and the dangerous attack on objective truth it has pursued, culminating in the nomination of Donald Trump as its standard bearer, have rendered it beyond the pale.
During the Clinton and Obama years the American Right excelled at spreading lies, jamming crowbars in the machinery of governance, whipping up hatred, and declaiming what they would do to “take our country back” and “make America great again.” Now that they fully control both the executive and legislative branches and have the judiciary in a headlock, they have proven unable to do jackshit. That is because their coalition is inherently unworkable, and their agenda inherently incoherent and impossible to implement. Nihilism is not a feasible philosophy by which human affairs can successfully be conducted. The current state of the Oval Office is proof positive of that.
It should come as no shock that the coalition founded on hate and divisiveness and deceit that constitutes our current rulers cannot govern. This level of dishonesty and dysfunction—not only from Trump but from the entire debased carcass of what was once the GOP—cannot last. If John Kelly, Jim Mattis, HR McMaster, and Joe Dunford (with on-again / off-again help from Rex Tillerson) manage to keep Donald Trump from destroying the whole world in a thermonuclear war, we will eventually fight our way out of this era of madness and back to sanity.
What the state of the country will be by that time remains to be seen.