Friday, October 21, 2016

Trump is not an Act of God

I have, believe it or not, Republican friends (yes -- even here in Berkeley!). None of them "like" Donald Trump, so to speak. For some, that manifests in much the same way that grouchy Sanders voters feel about Clinton -- certainly not their ideal candidate, and they're happy to give off a laundry list of shortcomings, but not manifestly distinct from any other politician on their side of the spectrum who they view as unideal.

But others are very much on the #NeverTrump train, and have reacted to his nomination with a sort of staggered shellshock. They feel genuinely betrayed, completely adrift. Trump is not just an "unideal" candidate, he is the antithesis of everything that they identify with as conservatives.

I do feel bad for these people. Seriously -- I do. And it's worth noting that many of them have endured appalling levels of abuse -- grotesque, threatening, vicious abuse -- for their stance. I don't want to downplay that. But I'm watching and waiting to see if they will really come to terms with the fact that Trump is their baby. Not them, personally, but he is the outcropping of specific choices that Republicans have made over the past eight years (at least). He is not a bolt of lightning. He is not an act of God. He is not (to take the most pathetic rationalization of all) a "Democrat" (there are all manner of ways I could respond to "Trump is a Democrat", but my first instinct is simply to retort "yet note how we managed not to nominate him!").

Donald Trump -- racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, bolstered by the alt-right and trumpeted by the anti-Semites -- is what you get when you spend years playing wink-and-nod with racist conspiracy theories while loudly dismissing any objections as just  "playing the race card." Donald Trump -- paranoid, conspiratorial, unwilling to straight-forwardly commit to accepting the validity of an election he loses -- is what you get when you whip up an unsubstantiated frenzy about epidemics of "voter fraud." Donald Trump -- abjectly unconcerned with facts and openly derisive towards truth -- is what you get when you convince your followers that the media, academia, empirical research, and scholarly inquiry are all thinly-disguised liberal Trojan horses. Donald Trump -- out of control, completely unconstrained by Republican leaders (to say nothing of basic norms of decency), standing at the head of a movement that seems ready to burn it all down -- is what you get when you gleefully celebrate your base taking on the characteristics of an establishment-smashing mob.

It was very clear that many Republican elites thought they could tap into these sentiments and keep them under control. They convinced themselves that "everyone" knew it was rhetoric, it was hyperbole, it was red meat, it wasn't serious, it wasn't representative, it was only a few rubes or hot-heads who actually believed it. Until it wasn't. Until it turned out that most of the base did believe it. Donald Trump is the fruit of a decade of Republican labor. It is easier and more comforting to view him as a divine calamity, particularly for those for whom the Trump movement -- like the Frankenstein's monster it most resembles -- has turned on them with a vengeance. But his emergence is not cloaked in any mystery. And until my shellshocked Republican friends forthrightly grapple with how Donald Trump came to be the representative of contemporary American conservatism, they will never be able to either launch an effective counterattack or -- and this might be what is necessary -- accept that the contemporary conservative movement can no longer be their home.

1 comment:

Nick said...

The origins of Trump are not in Karl Rove and Fox News -- though they certainly helped -- but has its origins in the racist strains of the GOP Southern Strategy -- to which Nixon (though himself relatively intellectual) added an incredible anti-intellectual bent and the heat of the culture wars. That coalition between GOP intellectual- and free-market-types and the deep social conservatives, for example, was always a tenuous one.