Are Trump’s supporters any more prone to accept reality once President elect Joe Biden is sworn in on January 20? Since this is all really about holding onto power anyway, even if you lose, are they any less inclined to seek new ways to achieve this end? Is there any combination of deeds and acts on the part of the new President that will help them accept reality when someone’s just spent the last 4 years pounding it into their heads that they don’t have to?
The New York Times headlines Trump’s second impeachment as “10 Republicans Break With President”, since 10 Republican House members joined in voting to impeach him for “inciting a violent insurrection against the U.S. government”. And none had last time around.
10! Out of 211 Republicans in the House! 4%! After last Wednesday?!
While I really do appreciate and respect the fortitude of those 10, and it’s certainly significant, it’s also hardly a widespread “break with the President” for his party, after abjectly corrosive behavior on his part. Trump still has a near bottomless well of–if not support–a compulsion to preserve a partisan divide, not to mention conveniently short memories. John Cassidy in the New Yorker got it right, pointing out in his headline, House Republicans “with ten honorable exceptions, [are] sticking with him.” Won’t go so far as to say it was hardly worth the effort, especially in light of the obviousness and dangerousness of the offense. But at the same time, that’s just the message that the 96% of House Republicans (!) who were not in favor of impeachment at this time are sending.
So what message is ultimately being sent? Does it open the door for to extremists win the moment by using this moment to recruit beyond where they already are? Which already seems pretty wide, but not yet organized enough to operate with deadly precision? Then again, these fringe groups and solo seditionists, while having a lot in common, do also seem to have a lot of petty grievances against each other and power struggles about who’s more genuine and purer in their intent.
Still, look at kids in Europe and even in the US that ISIS radicalized, and you don’t even have to travel halfway around the world to get trained for this. Lots of impressionable young people out there who are just lost and can be radicalized with some small effort. Or are not “true believers”, and just wanna fight and maybe shoot off some guns (some % is always that). And if they already feel life’s unfair? Unrewarding? Gotta give them some alternative. But what is it? Free community college? IDK. In some ways maybe something simple as reclaiming the American flag so it stands for inclusion—not the racism and exclusion it often has in the hands of an insurrection-minded Trump supporter—would be a start. But Trump’s supporters already seem like they’re past that now; the Trump and Confederate and god-knows-what-else flags seemed to show a lot larger than the Stars and Stripes during the deadly mayhem in Washington last week.
It was and is OK for Trump to indulge the fear of his most rabid-uptake fans, endorse their hate, all to the benefit of his ego and his personal glory. It’s that last part I still don’t get. Knowing that people might die, and in fact letting them die—supporters and foes alike—for his own vanity. But that’s his thing. And as such, it’s the only part of it that evaporates—at least to some extent—next week.
And to the well-meaning people like Mitt Romney who say the best way to come through this dark, dirty period in the history of the U.S. is to start telling people the truth, yes, but I don’t really know if that really makes a difference. Because even if they start believing the fact that Joe Biden won the Presidency fair and square, which he did, it doesn’t change what they appear to be angry about.
And that’s the inevitable loss of White people in the majority controlling all aspects of decisions regarding what life in America is about. But demographics and politics aren’t going that way. Spent some time this weekend talking to some long-time Lefties, who are older than me, and they are surprised at how much further left their children are politically than even they are. Part of it’s backlash to the last 4 years, I think. But part of it’s that their kids see opportunity for transformation, while I and my friends favored stability with incremental change. But for them it’s OK if change is faster and maybe sometimes destabilizing, because it has to be, because their political foes are all about extending the status quo for as long as possible; way past its expiration date, via increasingly extreme abs radical means. Does that portend the “socialist revolution” Trump warns his followers about as a way of further scaring them and triggering them into action to protect only him and his fragile ego, really? No, of course not. But it does involve big ideas. Not just having a conversation aimed at “restoring unity”. And I have to admit listening to Republicans like Jim Jordan and Kevin McCarthy talking about “unity” these days had even got me feeling a bit more radical.
And how do you restore unity anyway in this context? By telling people the truth about the election, and soothing their fears about Joe Biden; telling them he won’t bring their worst fears to life and he won’t be so bad for them at all? I don’t know. Most people told me “don’t worry; won’t be so bad” when Trump got elected. Turns out they were wrong and I was right. So in a way, how can I blame those who now fear an absence of Trump for not being similarly persuaded?
Oh, and those same people now are telling me “don’t waste any more time being concerned about Trump, worry about who comes next, who’ll be just as big a fascist, but smarter.” But I’m not sure about that either. Trump “worked” or succeeded in getting his message across because he’s a complete nihilist, and has not an ounce of decency that I’ve seen demonstrated in the last 4 years. Heck, remember when he told a kid Santa doesn’t exist? Even the worst of the worst who would claim his legacy and possibly his “throne” would be hard pressed to genuinely have less humanity about them. Heck again, Trump probably would’ve won the election had he shown even an ounce of empathy to the many victims of COVID-19 and their families and friends. But that would’ve meant admitting he wasn’t always doing an A+ job, and he just could not do it.
So again, what will it take for President elect Biden to if not win some Trump supporters over, at least get them from a boil to a simmer, from profaneness beyond all proportion to feeling they are still heard?
An excellent COVID-19 response from here on out? A strong economy? Free community or state college?
When your gripe that’s been awakened is really about battling the inevitable, and there’s no way to ultimately stop it, is there any way of convincing you to accept reality? When reality, you’re convinced, means oblivion?
Trump himself is a singular force. While it was only all about him, for him, and getting people to love him, he did very effectively get people to channel their fears about a changing America racially and culturally into their worship for him. And there is a religious aspect to it too, that’s not talked about that much. I’ve often discussed how former Attorney General Bill Barr’s motivation to joint Trump’s team was as much a personal religious crusade as anything else, because he often said as much. Even though Trump himself was probably one of the least religious presidents ever. As I often pointed out, it took forever before Trump regularly ended his speeches with “God bless America”, preferring instead his own “MAGA” slogan, or thanking the crowd for their admiration of him, Trump. Said Barr (and Republican Senator Josh Hawley often bloviates about this too): “Virtually every measure of social pathology” can be traced back to a “moral upheaval” in this country caused by:
“[T]he steady erosion of our traditional Judeo-Christian moral system and a comprehensive effort to drive it from the public square.”
How then does that explain the many, many highly religious voters who chose Biden? Including Biden himself? Are we/they all secretly or not so secretly godless? I think you already know the answer…
I’m not sure there’s anyone to pick up on all the same themes now as forcefully as Trump was able to, and he wasn’t good at all at sharing credit, so there won’t be much of a structure left standing once he vacates the top position. Maybe that’s good enough to cool things off a little for now. And I’m not sure Trump remains a force out of office in the same way, but I could be wrong. Don’t think he’s someone who bides his time well. But he’s still got a big mouth.
For the future however, I’m feeling not relief, but increasing uneasiness. Maybe it’s just because there’s a vaccine that’s here now as more people than ever die every day, but it’s still out of reach. Maybe because I’ve seen and continue to see what’s possible when people who grow up learning to love thy neighbor and respect Democracy, are jolted instead into feeling that they’ll actually feel more alive if they hate thy neighbor, and reject Democracy, if they don’t like the outcome of an election. And that means immediate overthrow is now OK, instead of the old way: working harder toward making your case and winning the next election. And more than that, were successfully lulled; hypnotized, for four really really long years, by a leader who deep down cares nothing about anyone or anything that extends beyond his own nose.