Trump and his deplorables: fascist co-dependents
As New York Magazine’s Ed Kilgore points out in his most recent analysis of politics among the deplorables – it’s literally the title – “Trump’s Biggest Political Asset Is Supporters Who Believe Any Negative News Is Fake”:
[A]s the various stages of reporting on the meeting in June 2016 have played out, the reaction from Trumpland’s corner of the news media has not betrayed any fear that the president’s own family might have been caught colluding with an agent of a foreign power who sought to tamper with a U.S. national election. The New York Post’s Michael Walsh called the story a “big yawn” and an effort to revive a “resentful smear cooked up in the immediate aftermath of Clinton’s stunning defeat last fall.” PowerLine’s Paul Mirengoff said Team Trump begging for dirt on Clinton was absolutely fine so long as it had not “promised to implement certain policies in exchange for the anti-Clinton information.” (There is, it seems, a fine line between clever politics and treason.) Fox News is focused on undermining the idea that Veselnitskaya was a “Kremlin crony” at the time of the meeting. Kellyanne Conway answered a question from Chris Cuomo on CNN about the new revelations with the deeply entrenched Trump countercharge that his enemies have created the Russia story to distract attention from the administration’s brilliant successes: “Aren’t you the least bit reluctant, if not embarrassed, that you now talk about Russia more than you talk about America? Doesn’t this bother you?”
When I recently visited my hometown and one other small town in Michigan that went for Trump, I talked with residents about the investigation. Nearly every single person I spoke with said the same thing: The media just needs to leave Trump alone, and the Russia investigation is a distraction.
A message of total disdain for media reporting is certainly falling on receptive ears. As a survey from Pew Research records, among self-identified Republicans the approval/disapproval ratio for “national news media” is 10/85. Republicans have a much, much more positive attitude toward their ancient enemies, the labor unions (they come in at 33/46).
This bad temper toward “the media” has obviously been building for a long time, but Trump seems to be the first national politician to exploit it fully by suggesting that media types aren’t just “biased” or “elitist,” but are consciously fabricating what they report. This gives him, at least among “the base” and its own allied media outlets, an extra layer of heavy insulation against bad news. In Trumpland, to a considerable extent, bad news is by definition fake.
That last sentence is a pivotal observation about Trump’s true believers. And there is this conclusion, which cuts both ways:
[W]hile Frank Rich is absolutely correct in suggesting that Trump has only begun to experience the agonies that beset the Nixon White House during the much-longer-than-remembered Watergate scandal that led to the 38th president’s resignation, Trump does have this one advantage. He can quite literally talk his “base” into ignoring adverse information. That will in turn make it harder for his Republican Party to abandon him as it abandoned Nixon in 1974.
… although there is an outspoken though small “Never Trump” GOP contingent on Capitol Hill (for example, Evan McMullen and Ben Sasse), not to mention several governors who have been none too happy about Trump’s political idiocy (for example, Ohio’s John Kasich). So expect some fractures – the question being, how badly will Trump divide Republicans when his fall comes?
There is a bigger problem concerning Trump: his cult of personality is hard to fight.
Donald Trump’s “accomplishments” as president are legion. He has surrendered America’s global leadership to China, Germany and Russia. He has also made America much less respected around the world. He is a plutocrat billionaire with fascist leanings who may have allied with Russia and Vladimir Putin to undermine American democracy and steal the 2016 presidential election from Hillary Clinton and her voters.
Nevertheless, Trump’s voters still enthusiastically support him. According to new polling data from the Economist and YouGov, Trump has an 88 percent approval rating among those people who voted for him last November — a higher proportion than supported him a few weeks earlier.
How is this possible?
American politics is highly polarized because of the Republican Party and right-wing media’s disregard — if not utter contempt — for consensus and compromise. Conservatives are also extremely tribal and authoritarian. Trump is their leader. He is not to be betrayed or abandoned.
The average American is not politically sophisticated. Moreover, Americans in general do not have high levels of engagement with or interest in politics and public policy. The average American also reasons backwards from conclusions he or she has already made about political matters, in essence selectively finding and processing information to justify decisions. Many Americans are also “siloed”: they self-select into groups and communities of like-minded people. This echo-chamber effect is especially pronounced among American conservatives and right-leaning independents.
Donald Trump and the Republican Party have mastered the use of white racism, white victimology and white grievance-mongering to win elections and shape public policy. Trump simply amplified the Republican Party’s “dog whistles” into an air raid siren. Republican voters are trained to follow its beckoning.
There is an additional explanation for the slavish devotion shown by Trump’s followers toward their Great Leader that is often overlooked by more traditional types of political analysis. Trump’s followers may actually be in love with him.
Trump’s true believers are political dead enders. They are part of the president’s cult of personality and will not be torn away from him. Their self-worth and personal identity are intertwined with Trump in a form of mass psychosis.
That sounds about right. Trump’s devotees have been taught not to believe the lügenpresse (that was the Nazis’ term for “fake news”) and to put all their faith in the Great Coiffed Leader. These people need to be ushered away from the Trump rallies, Breitbart and FOX News and undergo deprogramming, because Trump and his crew are not ushering in conservatism, but the foundations for fascism:
The contest between conservatives and the radical right has a history that is worth remembering. Conservatives qualified the Enlightenment of the 18th century by characterizing traditions as the deepest kind of fact. Fascists, by contrast, renounced the Enlightenment and offered willful fictions as the basis for a new form of politics. The mendacity-industrial complex of the Trump administration makes conservatism impossible, and opens the floodgates to the sort of drastic change that conservatives opposed.
Thus the nostalgic moment for this White House is not the 1950s, usually recalled warmly by American conservatives, but the dreadful 1930s, when fascists of the new right defeated conservatives of the old right in Europe. Whatever one might think of conservative nostalgia for the 1950s, it is notable for what it includes: American participation in the second world war and the beginnings of the American welfare state. For conservatives, it all went wrong in the 1960s.
For the Trump administration, it all went wrong rather earlier: in the 1940s, with the fight against fascism and the New Deal. Stephen Bannon, who promises us new policies “as exciting as the 1930s”, seems to want to return to that decade in order to undo those legacies.
He seems to have in mind a kleptocratic authoritarianism (hastened by deregulation and the dismantlement of the welfare state) that generates inequality, which can be channeled into a culture war (prepared for by Muslim bans and immigrant denunciation hotlines). Like fascists, Bannon imagines that history is a cycle in which national virtue must be defended from permanent enemies. He refers to fascist authors in defense of this understanding of the past.
Unlike Bannon, Trump is not an articulate theorist, but his utterances do give us a similar sense of when the “again” in “Make America great again” was: it seems to be the same “again” that we usually find in “Never again.” In 2014 he spoke hopefully of some future crash which would bring the “riots to go back to where we used to be when we were great”. The notion of riots as progress is rather telling: his father was arrested at a Ku Klux Klan riot in 1927.
One of the reasons why the radical right was able to overcome conservatives back in the 1930s was that the conservatives did not understand the threat. Nazis in Germany, like fascists in Italy and Romania, did have popular support, but they would not have been able to change regimes without the connivance or the passivity of conservatives.
The last time around, the old right chose suicide by midwifery, and it seems to be doing so again. If Republicans do not wish to be remembered (and forgotten) like the German conservatives of the 1930s, they had better find their courage – and their conservatism – fast.
Moreover, it is time for Democrats and Liberals to join anti-Trump conservatives and Republicans in taking back the executive branch from the fascistic wrecking crew of Trump, Mike Pence, and Steve Bannon – and Congress from Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan, paid servants of American billionaire oligarchs with whom Trump’s brand of authoritarian right-wing rule is just hunky-dory.
And think locally, but act globally. Talk to crazy Uncle Joe or that neighbor with the MAGA hat. Listen to what they say – especially the jargon, talking points, and catchphrases Trump’s minions use. Read here and here for some tips on their favored phrases and memes, and check out articles here, here and here for ideas on how to debunk their palaver.
It is not going to be easy, but it is a fight that must be fought if only to break the cult of Trump’s cycle of fascist co-dependency.
UPDATE: Amanda Marcotte has a related piece in Salon. Healthcare is now a wedge issue that does not help the GOP or Trump, and the deplorables are worried about what trump might take from them.