Like many others, when Donald Trump announced his candidacy for the Presidency, I didn’t take it too seriously. But now that he has an increasingly good chance of becoming the Republican nominee, we are asking, “Who are these idiots supporting Trump?” and most importantly, “Who is to blame?” Pundits from across the political spectrum have been busily pointing fingers, and in my judgment, they’re almost all right. A lot of different groups are culpable for the fact that there is now a non-negligible chance that next year we will have an unstable, narcissistic, demagogic, xenophobic, orange, philandering, creepy, loathsome, bigoted, proto-Fascist for a President. You, dear Reader, might just be one of them. And so in this post, I will explain why you suck, and are therefore probably to blame for Trump.
Okay, maybe you don’t personally suck, but there are an awful lot of people who do. Here they are.
1. Trump Supporters
No, Trump supporters, you are not off the hook. At first we thought you were just undereducated hillbillies who had been dazzled by a Reality TV star even more famous than Honey Boo Boo, but it turns out you aren’t all like that. The most credible research to date indicates that you are largely composed of people with “Authoritarian” personalities. Authoritarianism is
a psychological profile of individual voters that is characterized by a desire for order and a fear of outsiders. People who score high in authoritarianism, when they feel threatened, look for strong leaders who promise to take whatever action necessary to protect them from outsiders and prevent the changes they fear.
Even some people who aren’t normally strongly authoritarian can have latent authoritarian tendencies manifest in times of physical danger or great social change, and today certainly fits the bill. Islamic terrorists pop up in Paris or San Diego, killing random people. The legal definition of marriage just changed by Supreme Court fiat. More young people than ever are foregoing marriage, indicating a lack of respect for a social institution that has been a stabilizing force for thousands of years in cultures across the world. I get it.
But let’s think about this for a minute. Maybe I can give you a pass for believing the Donald when he makes outlandish promises without giving many details, but what about when he has given details, and those details are either absurd or abhorrent? Like when he said he would solve our immigration problems by building a giant wall along our southern border, paid for by Mexico? Or when he said he was going to round up and deport 11 million illegal immigrants by… get this… tripling the number of immigrations and customs officers? (Right now we deport significantly less than half a million people per year.) These proposals are absurd to the point of idiocy. What about when Trump said he would “broaden” the law to authorize the torture of terrorists? Or when he said he would “temporarily” ban all 1.5 billion Muslims from entering the country, because some Muslims are terrorists? These proposals are both morally abhorrent and would flagrantly violate the Constitution. (Check out the First and Eighth Amendments. Really. Thomas Jefferson said the “Establishment Clause” of the First Amendment was put in there because “the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions,” and if the Eighth Amendment doesn’t refer to torture when it bans “cruel and unusual punishment,” the phrase can’t really have any meaning.) So no, I’m not giving you a pass for suspending all rational thought and moral principle just because you’re scared of terrorists and uncomfortable with recent social changes. So am I. So are a lot of people. When times get tough, it’s time to grow a spine, you pansies.
2. The Republican Establishment
Look, guys, I’m on your side in this particular fight. That is, I think nominating Donald Trump would be a complete disaster for the Party. But a lot of us saw a crack-up like this coming, even if we couldn’t imagine the form it would take.
Faced with a dwindling core demographic, the Party insiders and donors had a choice. Either they could promote some softening of the Party platform to broaden the appeal, or they could stoke up “the base” and get out the vote. They chose the latter, with the Tea Party becoming the inevitable result. But going that route is always a tricky business. In a two-party political system like ours, you can count on “the base” (i.e., the most extreme wing of the Party) not to vote for the other guys, but if they don’t see enough difference between the two parties, some of them won’t be motivated to vote at all, or they will scuttle your chances by running a third-party spoiler like Ralph Nader or Ross Perot. This is always dangerous, because in my experience, “the base” in either party includes a disproportionate number of people who aren’t exactly the sharpest tools in the shed. The trick the “Establishment” in either party has to pull off is to throw enough bones to the base to keep them coming out to vote, without making them feel particularly empowered. Once you release the Kraken, it’s not so easy to put it back.
Over the last decade or three, the Republican platform slid from Conservative (i.e., taking a measured approach to government intervention and social change) toward a quasi-religious Libertarianism. This type is so hyper-ideological that it rejects all compromise and creates all sorts of litmus tests for political candidates. “Read my lips: no new taxes” said George Bush Sr. in the 1988 presidential campaign. Oh, he tried to keep his promise, but he didn’t have the support in Congress, so he had to compromise. This was too much to take for some, and Pat Buchanan used this bludgeon to weaken Bush in the 1992 primaries. Bush may have been stupid to handcuff himself like that, but by the 2012 race, most Republican congressional candidates didn’t have much choice when Grover Norquist strong-armed them into signing his “Taxpayer Protection Pledge“. The fear of Tea Party backlash among the Republican presidential candidates was so strong that all eight of them promised they would not support a hypothetical deal that would address deficit spending with a 10-to-1 combination of spending cuts and tax increases. In my opinion, that was one of the saddest moments in GOP history. In what universe could the Republicans hope to get a more favorable deal and still address deficit spending? By pandering to the Tea Party, the Republican establishment forced its candidates to go hard right into Fantasyland, or face a Tea Party challenger in the primaries.
The thing is, most Republicans aren’t that far to the political right. Is it any wonder, after years of candidates who promise to do politically impossible things like address deficit spending without any tax increases, that many Republicans would be attracted by a candidate who mainly makes grandiose promises without giving any details?
3. The Tea Party
Just because the Party establishment caused this mess by pandering to hyper-ideological nuts, it doesn’t excuse you for being those hyper-ideological nuts.
A case in point is how the GOP has handled the threat of human-caused climate change since the Tea Party all but took over. Before that time, it was common for Republican lawmakers (like Newt Gingrich and John McCain) to acknowledge that we needed to take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Why? Because almost all the scientists who specialize in climate said so. They still do. And yet, for the past several years, it has been taboo for Republican candidates to express any desire to take action on this.
The reason for this shift is that certain deep-pocketed individuals and corporations who depend on fossil fuel revenues started pouring an enormous amount of money into “think tanks” and “astroturf” political organizations who argued either that mainstream climate scientists were much more divided on the issue than the public had been led to believe, or it was all a big hoax meant to give the Left a chance to “take away our freedom.” They found a willing audience in the Tea Party hordes.
I know, I know. You are going to tell me that it REALLY IS all a hoax, and there REALLY IS no consensus, etc., etc. There’s a simple way to pop that balloon, however. Over the last several years, I can probably count on one hand the number of ACTUAL climate scientists the Republicans have asked to testify in Congressional hearings about climate change, whereas there has been a constant parade of different climate scientists testifying for the Democrats. In fact, in some of those hearings, the only “expert witness” on climate science the Republicans called was Lord Christopher Monckton, who is not a scientist, claims to have cured AIDS and many other diseases, goes about falsely claiming to be a member of the UK Parliament, regularly threatens to sue or jail those who disagree with him, and much, much more. The man is a loon. A complete crackpot. And yet, at one of the aforementioned Congressional hearings, Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) referred to Monckton as “one of the most knowledgeable, if not the most knowledgeable, experts on the skeptic side.” During the hearing Barton also said, “Adapting is a common way for people to adapt to their environment.” I’m just throwing that out there.
So no, Tea Partiers, you don’t get a pass. You and the fossil fuel interests who pay to stoke the flames of your idiocy are guilty of driving the GOP into a state of anti-intellectualism more blatant than has been seen in many decades. Is it any wonder that a blowhard like Trump can so easily swoop in and co-opt a bunch of Republicans who aren’t as ideologically pure as you, but whom you have successfully convinced to ignore the experts? Now Trump is telling them climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese. Why not? Who’s to say what’s right or wrong, what with space-age materials and such?
4. Sneering Liberals
“False equivalence! Hippie punching!” you screech. Shut up.
I understand that Trump supporters themselves must take the lion’s share of the blame, and that conservatives have been giving you a lot of material for sneering, especially lately. But I’m so sick of listening to you boil down complex social issues to pop-culture clichés, which are then unthinkingly accepted by slack-jawed teenagers. You take the fact that the Right has become insular and anti-intellectual about some issues, and then just assume that this constitutes evidence against every aspect of Conservative thought. Certainly it’s true that conservatives are more likely to be anti-intellectual, because the word “conservative” implies a certain resistance to new ideas. However, liberals can be astonishingly obtuse about certain issues, as well.
Don’t take my word for it. Read up on the work of Jon Haidt, a liberal psychology professor at NYU, who has for many years studied how liberals and conservatives differ in their reasoning about moral issues. He has found that conservatives tend to be more adept at moral reasoning, both in the sense that their reasoning is more complex, and in the sense that they are more adept at understanding the reasoning of those with whom they disagree (liberals). In other words, you really just don’t get it.
The fact is that there are legitimate reasons, having nothing to do with racism or sexism, to want to at least place some limitations on things like affirmative action policies or abortion. And yet, every time someone pops their head up to argue from that kind of perspective, a horde of self-righteous Lefty zealots comes running to publicly shame them. Oh, I’m sure people sometimes deserve to be publicly shamed, but the bar seems to be set pretty low. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard people labeled racists, not because of what they said, but because of the hidden subtext that only other racists (and their liberal watchdogs) could hear. I’m sure “dog-whistle politics” is a real thing, but the dog-whistle hunters can get awfully carried away.
You might be complaining that all those dog whistles you hear are REAL, so where does Barry get off criticizing you for merely pointing them out? He’s probably a racist! But here’s the thing you don’t seem to understand. If the end goal is a society free of individuals who harbor racist (or sexist, or whatever-ist) attitudes, endless nitpicking after basic non-discrimination laws have been put in place is usually counterproductive. That is, even if you are right that some person harbors secret racist attitudes, they don’t want to be forced into admitting it, especially if they feel like they haven’t unfairly discriminated against anyone. They will come to feel like they are the target of some kind of witch hunt, and may come to ignore more obviously legitimate criticisms. Everybody hates a nag.
Honestly, do you think all those Trump supporters are overt racists and misogynists? Clearly they are not, but then why does their support seem to be unaffected when Trump wants to ban all Muslim immigrants, has to think hard about whether to disavow the KKK, or viciously attacks women, disabled reporters, and so on? I believe it’s because people like you have become so annoying that many others have become deaf to all complaints about racism, sexism, etc.
These people are even ready to ignore it when Trump brazenly ENCOURAGES violence against protesters at his rallies. Why? Because they are sick of you protesting so much. I mean, some (not all) of the protesters in question have gone to Trump rallies specifically to cause disruptions. Of course I see hints of Fascism in the violence Trump eggs on, but one thing I haven’t seen is Trump supporters trying to break up someone else’s meetings. Hitler’s Brownshirts did just that. So if we combine the violence of some Trump supporters with the determined opposition to free speech of the liberal protesters, we really do have a nice Fascist revival going on. Thanks, guys.
Still not convinced that you are partly to blame? Let me give you a concrete example that doesn’t have to do with Trump. In 2009, Lord Christopher Monckton participated in a meeting held by Americans for Prosperity, in conjunction with the big climate change conference in Copenhagen. During the meeting, some young activists crashed the meeting and tried to disrupt it by chanting. Afterward, Monckton confronted some of them, and called them “Nazis” and “Hitler Youth”. But, surprise!, one of the protesters was… (gasp!) … Jewish! Liberal bloggers and news outlets seized on this incident. At last, they had something so blatant that it would surely destroy Monckton’s credibility even with his supporters! What kind of monster would call Jewish protesters “Hitler Youth”? I am e-friends with many of these people because of my blog, and I tried to tell them this incident wouldn’t sway anyone. Nobody can accuse me of being soft on Monckton, but even I thought His Worship was right about this one. These idiots were behaving similarly to the Hitler Youth (minus the violence), and it was inexcusable.
“But they were trying to save the world from the likes of that evil climate change denier,” you object. Of course they were. Zealots of any stripe always are. That doesn’t mean it’s ok for you to do anything you want in response to what someone else says. And the fact is that you are never going to save the world from climate change without a whole lot of cooperation… which you will never get if even moderates like me are leery of the kind of tactics you use to get your way.
So yes, Trumpism is partly your fault, and you suck.
UPDATE: Some of my liberal friends are upset that I broad brush liberalism here, whereas I tease out quite a bit of nuance among Republicans. My reasoning is that if you are just a regular liberal, rather than the “sneering” variety, I don’t feel like I have any cause to blame you for Trumpism.
5. Moderate Republicans
I’m a moderate Republican myself, so it might seem strange that I’m reserving some of the blame for my own group, but the fact is that many of us deserve it. Moderates are all about compromise and getting along. The world needs people like that, but that doesn’t give us an excuse for letting people get away with bringing sheer fantasy to the bargaining table. Consider this excerpt from a 2011 story by Coral Davenport.
Sen. John Barrasso is no stranger to science. The Wyoming Republican is an orthopedic surgeon who earned his medical degree from Georgetown University. His rigorous intellect won him Washingtonian magazine’s designation last year as the “brainiest senator,” based on an anonymous survey of Capitol Hill staffers.
Which is why Barrasso’s reaction when a reporter recently asked his views on climate change was so telling. On his way to the weekly Senate GOP luncheon in the Capitol building, Barrasso paused in an empty hallway to chat. When a reporter said, “Senator, can I ask you a question about climate change?” he fell silent and his eyes narrowed. “I’m busy,” he snapped, before turning sharply and striding away.
Two days later, the reporter tried again. Approached in the Capitol, Barrasso smiled and appeared poised to answer questions, inviting the reporter into an elevator with him. As the door slid shut, the reporter asked, “Do you believe that climate change is causing the Earth to warm?” A long silence ensued. The senator eventually let out a slow laugh and said, “This isn’t the time to have that conversation.” As soon as the elevator opened, he clapped his phone to his ear and walked briskly toward the Capitol subway.
Dodging difficult issues because some of your voters don’t want to hear the truth is called being spineless, not moderate.
The discontent among non-Tea Party Republicans has been brewing for some time, and if more moderates had shown any real courage and conviction, we could have been leading the revolution. But we haven’t, so instead it’s being led by a ridiculous fop, who can fool some people into thinking he’s a tough guy who will save the country from the legislative gridlock we have been experiencing.
UPDATE: Some of my friends point out that I left out the Media. In fact, the omission was intentional, because I completely understand the media reaction. What are they supposed to do when a major-party presidential frontrunner says and does outrageous and awful things? Normally, that kind of attention would be the death-knell of the campaign, but this time it seemed to only increase Trump’s popularity. The media didn’t anticipate this (why would they?), and were caught flat-footed. I suppose I could go on about the death of real journalism, leading to a populace who thinks in soundbites, but that would make this piece much longer.