Hysterically Over-Reacting To Trump Ultimately Helps Trump

If a president’s political opponents are constantly mired in unwarranted hysterics, self-destructive pathologies, and deluded vituperation — that’s good news for the president. That means the president’s opposition will look foolish to much of the populace. Aside from the people who are already in firm agreement with “the opposition,” engaging in never-ending hysterics is not going to convince anybody. In fact, the president will probably be able to peel off still others who might be dispositionally sympathetic to “the opposition,” but view their conduct as overwrought and unhelpful.

In focusing on the inconsistencies evident in the prevailing liberal attitude toward Trump since early in the campaign, I’ve been accused incessantly of secretly supporting Trump, or somehow working behind the scenes to facilitate Trump’s rise. This is laughably false, but of course I’ll incur similar accusations for as long as I harp on these points, and that’s fine — it’s the nature of online discourse, and we should all (including me) just get used to it.

If you elevate illusory enemies, and depict Trump as something he is fundamentally not, the efficacy of your opposition is going to suffer for it. You will thereby weaken yourselves, and strengthen Trump. By “elevating illusory enemies,” I’m referring here to the “alt-right,” and other tangentially related groups that liberals have dwelled on so endlessly as supposed ascendant forces in American politics. Let’s just be clear that the “alt-right,” such as it exists, explicitly attempted to exaggerate their prominence as a political force by flooding journalists on Twitter with memes, insults, and haranguing. Because so many political journalists use Twitter religiously, these “alt-right” people correctly assumed that such trolling would eventually intrude on their consciousnesses, and eventually give them the misbegotten idea that the “alt-right” was a real political force to be reckoned with.

Please note, for the love of god, that I am not defending the “alt-right” such as it does exist. To the degree that there are people online who advocate a “white supremacist” or “white nationalist” worldview, I vehemently repudiate those people, and reject their ideology wholesale. But there’s no contradiction between my rejection of their ideology and my insistence that liberals are excessively blowing up the threat posed by these people — they’re being presented as some kind of unified, coherent political force when they’re really just a nebulous, disorganized group of internet provocateurs. One of their supposed “leading lights” could summon a grand total of 200 people to their big victory celebration in Washington, and by all accounts many of those people were journalists.

By unduly elevating the “alt-right,” liberals position themselves against a fictive enemy. If you fight a fictive enemy rather than the real enemy, your tactics are not going to be effective. Rather, you are going to seem foolish, screechy, and undiscerning. People who might otherwise agree with your aims are going to become alienated.

None of this is to say that the “alt-right” does not exist. Of course individuals within that spectrum of belief do exist. My claim is different: it’s that depicting the “alt-right” as some newly-empowered, coherent, identifiable political force which will soon inhabit the White House — that’s an incorrect framing. And if that’s the framing you adopt, your “opposition” strategies will founder.

There are many, many, real problems with Trump. That’s why I’ve been crystal clear all along that I don’t support him. But not supporting a politician doesn’t mean that you have to endorse the most extreme possible interpretations of him (i.e., fascist) at every turn. In fact, you’re probably better off being clear-eyed about who that politician actually is, otherwise you will fail to develop effective opposition strategies. I am still waiting to hear whether all the high-profile pundits who declared Trump a “fascist” are readying the armed resistance brigades. No word yet.

Rather than casually toss around the word “fascist,” I prefer to call Trump a “petty authoritarian,” which implies that he has certain authoritarian instincts and is inclined to employ them for trivial personal reasons, rather than out of any kind of grand ideological vision. It’s an imperfect definition, but we’ve not really seen anyone like Trump come to power in the history of American democracy, so it’s understandable that we might not yet have an all-encompassing, analytically-precise term. Nonetheless, “petty authoritarianism” is bad and should be counteracted. I’ve urged everyone to join and support the ACLU (which they should’ve been supporting anyway, to counter Obama’s many authoritarian tendencies). Legal remedies will still exist to oppose certain Trump excesses. But fighting against an imaginary enemy is not going to assist in this process; in fact, it will distract from it.

As long as anyone who urges a more constructive interpretation of Trump gets inundated with accusations of being a stealth Trump supporter or even “fascist,” these self-destructive tendencies are going to continue unabated, and guess what? Trump will probably steamroll you.