Now We Know What Trumpism Is
If you’re a Trump supporter, you’ve probably given up hope that Trump is going to be covered fairly by any of the traditional news media, and you probably believe the media’s responsible for his opponents’ misconceptions of him. I think that’s always true to a certain extent — partly because that’s always been the nature of politics and partly because of how fractured the media landscape has become (after all there are people out there who actually think Hillary Clinton murdered Vince Foster) but I think the media is responding to a few things with their coverage.
Firstly, the antagonistic relationship between the press and Trump is obviously a two-way street: we can debate who started it, but neither Trump nor the media are exactly fans of each other so I am not sure how else you’d expect them to report. Secondly, at the end of the day the media is just a collection of businesses responding to consumer demands, and just like footage of a car crash or coverage of high speed chase, any sort of Trump story has proven to be pretty profitable for them. Thirdly, and most to my point, I think the press recognizes that Trump poses some pretty big threats to our way of life, and not just because he is not “their guy.”
Speaking of who’s your guy, I’ve grown worn out of the “who is the biggest” hypocrite debate. Yeah, Obama also issued executive orders, too. Yeah, Trump’s team is now all using private email servers like Hillary. Yes, Obama’s supporters should have made sure their guy dismantled our perpetual war machine rather than just being cool with our guy using it. Yes, the right shouldn’t sign up for a massive border wall that’s going to cost us more than a war if they’re serious about reducing government spending. This sort of arguing is stupid. It sucks. And it’s doesn’t make any difference because, rather than asking oneself “how would I feel about X if it was my guy/gal doing it,” no one cares about being a hypocrite so long as their side is in charge — because being in charge makes you “right.” Maybe the truth is that everyone knows both sides are a lot alike, and both kind of suck. That’s actually the exact sort of nihilistic sentiment I think Trump capitalized on: everyone is a crook, but unlike them at least I admit I am a crook. First he crashed the GOP debates and the liberals loved it because he took the Republicans to task. Then in the general he took the center and the liberals to task. Now he is going to take us all to task and it’s going to be really bad.
Trump voters have become experts in perceiving any slights towards them, but I would just like to say that neither the press nor his critics were exaggerating that there are legitimate reasons why we should all still be very worried about a Trump Presidency. Maybe you’re a neutral observer who doesn’t get what all the constant activism is about (in that case, I assure you that no, this level of dissent is as unprecedented as it is warranted). Maybe you’re a die-hard Trump supporter who thinks you can prove me wrong about the guy (honestly I am open to this because I would love to sleep easier). Either way, this is more than just a laundry-list of grievances: Donald Trump continues to prove himself a historically dangerous and unqualified threat to our way of life, and not just a wrecking ball to be thrown at people you don’t like (people like me). I get that the last thing you’re going to want to hear are people like me telling you why the wrecking ball is a bad thing for people like me. I promise I am panicking thoughtfully. The truth is not only Donald Trump’s presidency a bad thing for all of us, it’s going to be especially bad for the people who voted for him.
This might be the biggest proof that this guy has been a huge threat to our way of life: we were never intended to talk about politics this much. The whole point of having a representative government rather than a direct democracy is so that we could delegate everything to someone else while we live our lives. People care more about politics than they used to and everyone is running around talking about how we can’t “check out” anymore. Maybe this started before Trump, but it’s certainly escalated now. Some people think Trump is banking on us tiring of this so he can make his bigger moves. I actually think the opposite: he clearly wants this much constant attention, he wants us to be talking about him this much, and that’s never going to change. Look at how much he talks about TV ratings. Look at any of the things that he tweets (literally any of them). He is the personification of “look at me/I deserve my own reality-show” 21st-century attention-seeking behavior. It is almost as if he was a reality TV star before becoming President.
And it’s not just the amount we talk about politics that’s threatening, it’s the way we talk about them. My friend made a great point that anyone who talks about Trump immediately sounds like a conspiracy theorist. This is especially true of people when they defend him, because that usually involves having to argue “you can’t take what he’s saying literally because he’s actually saying something else.” (I would think another pretty good argument that this guy is terrible is that most people still can’t even defend any of his opinions at their face value). He invites this, though, by being the conspiracy theorist president. It makes sense that a guy who pastes his name over everything would be a conspiracy theorist when you consider the inherent narcissism in believing true things are not actually true. Only total self-absorption can sustain an “everyone else is wrong, I am right” perspective towards everything. This isn’t exactly healthy way to live for anyone, let alone an entire country, that in addition to being historically divided within its own borders, faces a global migrant crisis and a changing world climate that means it probably needs to care about other people now more than ever.
The word “temperament” was thrown around a lot during the election as a way to say “we don’t want a hothead like him to have the nuclear launch codes,” but it still works as a catch all term for the ways Donald Trump is not a very good dude. If you voted for him this is probably something you either dispute or welcome.
If you dispute it, you probably think his reputation was just the media’s spinning things against him. I think the simpler explanation is that if there is this much evidence the guy is a bad dude, he’s probably a bad dude. I’ll take some noticeable examples you’ve probably already dismissed to start. In the Access Hollywood Tape, he’s talking about walking right up to a woman and grabbing her, without her permission, and getting away with it because he’s famous. That sucks, and yes, that’s assault. And when he mocked that reporter with disabilities, he’s said he was actually making fun of how the person was “groveling.” That doesn’t explain why he put his arm in the exact, disabled position of the reporter’s and mimicked his disabled speech pattern. You could say both instances were times jokes got away from him. I mean, there’s no question he doesn’t exactly have a great grip on comedy. Even if you say that, the actual target in each joke (women who can’t complain about what I do because I’m famous and a person who is disabled) is reprehensible.
A lot of Evangelicals, like the lame ass Franklin Graham come up with something I call the Moses Excuse. Instead of just admitting they like the authoritarian stuff Trump’s offering, they’ll excuse him by saying “Trump is someone who already had everything and gave it all up to serve us.” Sure. Maybe they’re right and Maybe Trump knew he had never served his country, and it was time to give back. If that’s the case, if he’s so willing to face this sort of scorn in order to do what’s right, then why does he still care so much about what people think? I’m not talking about his base of support, the people in red states and swing states he needs to win an election. I’m talking about the urban liberals like Meryl Streep or Alec Baldwin who clearly still get under his skin. And why does he still give so many interviews with the “failing New York Times?” Why does he still read that paper every morning (something he’s admitted multiple times)? Why does he care so much about what they say or how they cover him? Having asked all this, it becomes clearer that this guy never really “had it all” in the first place. I think a better reason why Trump ran for president is that what he had still wasn’t enough. His fame and fortune and weird sex parties weren’t fulfilling, so he had to run for President. The godless Manhattanites he grew up with never liked the the brash guy from Queens. At the end of the day, he just wants the liberals in New York to like him, and they never did, even after he succeeded in business or television so he had to run for President to prove those people wrong. And he thought they’d come around after he won and is dismayed that they haven’t. No matter how much the coal miners adore him, this is not about them or any of the people who support him, this is all about him winning over the people who hate him. “No prophet is accepted in his hometown.” and that was certainly true for Trump. That’s why, unfortunately, we can’t expect him to actually come up with any policies to help the forgotten, or fix any of the systemic problems we’re more aware of now than ever.
Conversely, if you don’t dispute he’s a bully, but rather welcome this, it’s only because you don’t see how this is a problem yet. You might even say “Trump’s a successful man and that’s how I would act if I had his eff-you money.” Again, as I just said, this is a problem because that means he’s not really interested in helping anyone, certainly not the people he said he’d help. People were understandably swayed by his (vague) promises, and so they welcomed his bully behavior by saying even though he might be a bully, he’s OUR bully: he can finally stand up for us against the forces working to keep us down. Again, there are a lot of reasons he’d say those (vague) things, but there aren’t a lot of reasons why he’d do them.
Also for the record, being a bully has not been effective. The president’s personal relationships matter on a global scale, and on a legislative level. Trump’s already rubbed Angela Merkel the wrong way and shown no interest in getting healthcare reform passed despite having both houses of congress.
Having a conspiracy theory president jeopardizes the legitimacy of any other institution. Conservatives who want us to love this country and stand for the national anthem should start by making sure we love all parts of this country, even the branches of government that are not fully under Trump’s control, or the people who might disagree with the President. The goal for a democracy like America is to avoid a concentration of power. When the only source of the truth is one man, who pleads “I am never wrong, everyone else is all the time. They all lie. I never lie. You can only trust me,” this undermines the checks and balances that are meant to keep us safe. Conservatives, who are allegedly anti-federalists, should see that Trump’s unchecked strangle on the truth concentrates power in the federal government and undermines their goals of conserving freedoms through checks and balances. Perhaps in “draining the swamp,” he wasn’t so much getting rid of career politicians as much as replacing them with people who were either blindly loyal to him or so wholly unqualified they will be forced to be loyal to because they would have never gotten this opportunity otherwise, further concentrating his grip on legitimacy.
I recognize that drawing any lessons from the collapse of Weimar Republic will be just as effective at persuading someone on the right about the dangers of Trump as someone on the right citing obscure prophecies from the books of Revelations about the dangers of Obama. I just want to add that the danger in having an anti-intellectual tell you not to trust any other institution but himself is that it will prevent anyone from truly thinking.
I’m not saying we should blindly trust the media just because Trump doesn’t like them; I recognize they’ve gotten a bit out of hand with this “clickbait” thing since they discovered the internet and often misrepresent things in order to get views. What I am saying is that actively dismissing sources as biased, even if they’ve been meticulously fact-checked and verified, is incredibly unsafe. Again, the media very well might be inherently biased to some extent: I mean, again, it’s composed of people (who tend to have, you know, feelings and thoughts) and in its sum it’s just a collection of business trying to make money through clicks for its advertisers. But it’s also always in the media’s best interests to maintain its credibility so that people will watch them in the first place. Moreover, their mission statements as journalists is to hold the powerful accountable on behalf of the powerless, so to a certain extent it’s in your best interests to “believe” what you see rather than dismiss anything they report as just more divisive rabble-rousing that doesn’t jive with your reality. This is a bit of an anecdotal aside (as is this whole post) but look how victim-blaming has been on the rise as of late. Is that just more backlash to social media backlash? Sure, and I have much more on “every action having an equal and opposite reaction” later. But looking at a dude get beat up on airplane, or a person who is shot by police officers, and thinking to yourself “oh, he must have done something to deserve that” is fine and dandy, but if you’re doing that to so you can disengage our empathy and tell yourself something bad will never happen to you, then that’s not a great use of your human capacity. We were meant to care about one another, and it seems like people who dismiss the media by saying it’s biased, and insist instead we need to “consider there are both sides to the story” aren’t living critically as much as they are trying to avoid reality. And there are some harsh global realities right now we can’t exactly afford to avoid. Despite what Trump says, the media can be objective sometimes. Not everything written about him is partisan. They are not the opposition party. They can still hold him accountable.
Our lives actually require a fair amount of consensus. What happens to data that’s been collected in the public interest if it doesn’t serve Trump’s interests (update: now we know, predictably, that it’s suppressed)? It’s a really bad thing that Trump attacked the employment figures during the campaign, but then turned around and said they were actually fine when he became president. To recap, he said Obama’s unemployment number were rigged because they didn’t include people who stopped looking for work. That’s wrong. The numbers always recorded the folks who stopped looking for work in something called the “labor force participation rate.” Saying the unemployment rate didn’t include those folks, when the labor force participation rate did, is like saying three-point field goal percentage doesn’t include two-point field goal percentage: it’s not a smart or cool thing to say. If he was frustrated that one number was getting more attention than the other, fine, but that’s not what he said. If he was frustrated that there are still people left behind in America today, fine, but not’s not what he said either. I think he said what he’s said, without ever correcting it, because he knows his detractors will trust what he says no matter what, and so either way they’ll see this as another one the ways he’s fixed things. And all this happened with unemployment numbers that are positive and made him look good: what happens if he doesn’t like what he hears about voter fraud or climate change? Does he restrict voter access or further suppress science? This is the worst part of having a conspiracy theory president: it makes us perpetually question everything without ever letting us settle on even the most baseline of realities. For more examples of this, just look at his tweets (again…any of the things that he tweets). If he was really interested in uniting the country, he could start by re-establishing a reality.
3) IDENTITY POLITICS
I’d forgive you for tuning this out, or for having “identity politics” fatigue as it was discussed to death after the election. Apparently it’s why the left lost or something. Nonetheless, understand that I consider identity politics to be “different identities warrant different policies.” That’s someone that everyone agrees on in practice, whether they agree on it in principal or not — even folks on the right. Even Trump — listen to how he talks about something needing to be done for the inner cities or how coal miners have had it rough. Except by practicing identity politics but describing them as a 4-letter word in the same breath, Trump has created the perfect vacuum for his trickle-down-racism by basically saying that only he gets to decide who needs special attention or not, not the actual people who are suffering.
Trump and his surrogates always say he’ll be the president for “all Americans.” I wish someone would press him what he really means by that, asking specifically if that included the people who have felt disparaged by him at times — African Americans, LGBTQ Americans, Hispanic Americans, and notably, Muslim Americans. Providing specific reassurances would not have been unprecedented (this has happened from every other president, even conservatives) nor would it have been the “special treatment” so many of the “anti-P.C.” Americans dread so much. Instead, it might have demonstrated clearly to those groups that Trump was not a boogeyman to fear (the allegedly false narrative created by the crooked media), that he had, at least, some positive impressions of the people in those group. He could have shown that he was not in fact trying to fill our culture with negativity towards any certain groups or create scapegoats, and that he sympathized with their issues. This is essentially what Trump has done with coal miners and folks in the oil and gas industry by scrubbing any mention of the words “climate change” from the government, protecting their feelings.
Case in point. Remember in the third debate when the Muslim woman asked Trump about Islamophobia and he didn’t even answer her? Two things can explain this, either Trump really is such a “political novice” as Gingrich has excused him as, that he didn’t know how to handle the question (not entirely unlikely), or he just doesn’t want to even commit to reassuring folks. Why would the latter be the case? Maybe he didn’t want to alienate a large part of his base (The Deplorables), but that’s not exactly leadership — it kind of defies the whole “I will do what is right, not what is popular” moral high ground that he’s always seeking, and then undermining with his constant approval-seeking. The same thing goes for when he was asked about anti-semitic attacks and he instead focused on his electoral margin (in another political novice move: he meant to say he won more counties than anyone since Reagan, but kept saying votes and never corrected himself because he wanted his base to believe what they wanted to believe). In some ways, Trump is toeing the “don’t talk about race” line that so many politicians have toed for so long. More likely, he just doesn’t care about people we should be caring about because he’s the one who has put them at risk.
I don’t agree when folks protest by saying “Trump is not my president.” I mean, I am an American citizen and he’s the American president so that’s the reality. Yet I stop feeling like he’s my president when I consider he doesn’t seem interested in leading or helping the folks who don’t agree with him. He’s always urged others to get behind him, rather than being a true leader and getting behind others. “Trump is my president, but am I his citizen?” would be the title of this if I was in 8th grade.
All he’d have to do to refute so much of the white nationalism surrounding him is say that he’s the president of Muslim Americans, too. Instead, he’s allowed all Muslims to be equated with terrorists and continues to seek some sort of weird travel ban. Why do we still need that by the way? The bad dudes were already given notice and could’ve gotten in by now, and he said he needed 90 days to figure out what was going on and he’s had that time in office. Unless he’s just trying to demonstrably prove he’s fulfilling all his campaign promises (he’s not), there’s no reason to stick with this ban unless he wants to pit us against “Muslims” (whatever he thinks they are). And it’s worked. ISIS is thrilled with the travel ban, so even if he hasn’t succeeded at pitting all of us against them, he’s helped them pit themselves against us. Different identities require different policies so that people can understand that even though they’re different, they’re still part of the whole. Instead, we have Trumpism, which is this amorphous, vacuous philosophy that can claim to be the descendant of Reagan’s politeness but really is just the descendant of white rage. It’s the exact opposite of identity politics because it’s telling folks to be like the majority…or else. It’s saying that Islam is a cancer. It’s saying that police won’t kill you if you don’t do anything wrong in the first place. It’s saying that America can be made great again if we keep out rapists from Mexico. It’s talking about uniting the country, but only if people will get behind you, rather than you getting behind them.
Right after the election, everyone knew the results were a backlash against Obama (or a whitelash). Then, predictably because that’s how the internet works, people started having backlash against that backlash and said, no people didn’t vote for Trump because of white identity politics, they were voting out of economic anxiety. People actually claimed that even though the employment numbers were pretty good (I mean, despite Trump saying they weren’t-convenient, right?), and though things were bad in parts of the Midwest, there were signs they were getting better, and at the very least, people understood the issues now. All of this is why I still accept the first, initial take: Trump is the ultimate whitelash to Obama. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction, and Trump is that reaction to Obama. That’s why every Trump supporter would concede every point I’ve already made in this post already, but they would still stand by the guy, even if he shot someone in Fifth Avenue. That’s because Trump supporters love Trump because we hate him as much as we loved Obama. That’s it. That’s the one, prevailing reason and the underlying basis of Trumpism. And these folks, along with the folks who voted for Obama in 08 but switched to Trump in 16, turned on Obama because he wasn’t “one of the good ones,” who would just say that all race problems had disappeared overnight and that racism solely meant wearing a Klan hood and saying the n-word. And they hated Obama because he offered a little too much sympathy to those people causing all that trouble in those Facebook videos they saw of the European migrant crisis. And by the way, Obama’s name was similar to theirs, too. And suddenly there are all these reports about how whites might be the minority soon, and talk that even gender wasn’t as simple as they thought it should be. And there was the feeling that the mainstream media was more concerned with being PC than reporting how bad it was for white people. So they voted for the guy like them, who talked about race like they did and ignored the same lectures from his friends they got from their liberal friends. He, like them, wasn’t racist because he wasn’t in the Klan, even if his father was arrested at one of their rallies. And besides, maybe the criminal justice system could stand be a little more racist, “cater” a little less to minorities, and the PC police could stand to be real police again. And immigration services could stand to discriminate based off religion a little bit more. But unlike Obama, he had a name like their name. He had skin like their skin. He could help. Even if he didn’t want to help, he could help.
Throughout this, I’ve tried to direct and articulate my concerns about Trumpism towards its actual base. Lots has been made about his low approval ratings, but the truth is that his base still supports him. That’s why I’m still so concerned. I get it — you are sick of people like me, the phony scientists, liberal media, and urban elites telling you how to feel. You’re done with people bossing you around, you’re deciding for yourselves. Great, but at a certain point it seems like you’re only believing something if one guy, who’s also an urban elitist, tells you to believe it, rather than truly making up your own mind and thinking for yourself. Earlier I talked about how pointing out each other’s hypocrisy is annoying and doesn’t get anyone anywhere because it turns politics into sports rather than discourse. But I would like to note that this hypocrisy has become especially pronounced among Trump supporters…
Eventually, you have to start asking what are your principals and you have to start applying them fairly. Even against your own guy. It’s very clear by now he’s been counting on you falling in line to his charismatic authority because it’s been an effective way to secure his office. If you really feel like you need help, and that traditional politicians weren’t listening to you, you have to continue to speak up. But that will mean also calling him out, like you would anyone else, for his lies. Start standing for things because you think those things are right, even if someone you don’t like happens to agree with you about them. And listen to other people, too, especially if those people say they are hurting as well. Engage with the world, even the parts you don’t like, rather than try to blow them up as Trumpism requires. Do all this for your sake, because after 100 days, he hasn’t done anything and he’s probably not going to do anything otherwise.