The Real Reason Republicans Enable Trump
For the last two and a half years, everyone from political news junkies to pundits with shreds of a conscience left have been asking the same question. Why do Republicans who howl in rage and frustration in private and on background to journalists support and enable Donald Trump? After all, in the words of 2015 Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Trump is a “jackass”, a “kook”, a “bigot”, and is “unfit for office.” The 2015 version of Graham also called Trump a “race-baiting, xenophobic, religious bigot” who “doesn’t represent” the Republican Party. Graham today is basically Trump’s caddy.
So, why do they march lockstep with the man they seem to absolutely revile? A popular theory holds that Trump’s election was basically Griftmas, enabling every scuzzy bottomfeeder to feast on public cash and drop important regulations that cut into profit despite keeping Americans and the products they rely on safer. Certainly, that has happened, especially from the Environmental Protection Agency. But aside from nasty erosions of healthy checks on polluters and a hefty tax cut that’s become a guaranteed hallmark achievement of every Republican president, there hasn’t been a complete and total free for all.
Instead, corporations happy to grease the wheels have to schmooze a rotating parade of small-time lowlives and scammers at Trump International Hotel over nasty overpriced cocktails and bad steak fried to the consistency of a shoe sole. Shady businessmen certainly demand a higher standard of crook, ideally, one who doesn’t start trade wars after hiring a clutch of Fox News pundits and a xenophobic economist literally no one in the field takes seriously to advise him on trade policy. But if the lawmakers and businessmen are clearly not getting their souls’ and money’s worth, why do they still support The Tweeter-In-Chief?
Well, according to Occam’s Razor, the answer with the fewest assumptions is probably the right one. Consider for a second who Trump is. He’s an older white man with money, whose days are planned around an unhealthy diet of right-wing conspiracy theories and pundits delivering new outrage fuel, animated by half-remembered grievances. He argues in piecemeal, often incorrect, completely out of context factoids. He’s animated by a sense of wounded pride coupled with delusions of grandeur. And he has a very hefty dollop of racial animus carried over from the Civil Rights era he’s happy to expand on in a heartbeat, usually with a dyspeptic grimace as he vomits a torrent of bile on anyone who isn’t a mirror image of himself.
You know who else fits the same description to a tee? Typical white boomer retirees who are the very bedrock of the Republican voting base. GOP lawmakers may cringe at his tweets, groan at his disregard for the measured dog whistles of yore in favor of full-blown bigotry and racist red meat, and even feel disgusted by him as an utterly depraved human being devoid of a single redeeming trait. But ultimately, when they look at him, they see the tens of millions of Trumps keeping them in office, ecstatic that one of them is president and they can finally show the [ insert plural versions of assorted ethnic and misogynistic slurs here ] who’s in charge. And so they swallow their rage, adjust their ties, put on their best excrement-devouring grins, and go out there to #MAGA.
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The Republican Doomsday Cult
With that in mind, we can explore a truly bizarre dynamic that’s been unfolding before our eyes. Since the John Birch Society kidnapped the heart of American conservatism, they’ve managed to turn it into a doomsday cult which preaches that any deviation from their orthodoxy will be the end of America and therefore the world as we know it. To keep voters in line and tens of millions in cash from the party rank and file, it unleashed what could only be described as a tsunami of conspiracy theories and fake news to support them.
To be a Republican today is to wholeheartedly believe that you’ve been losing the battle against nefarious forces for the last half-century and if you don’t fight back, or should your party not win absolute control at every level of government, the Reptoid Illuminati MS-13 Antifa Sharia Jew World Order will come to your house, rip your face off, and steal your grandchildren to sell as sex slaves in basements of pizzerias. And whereas a charismatic cult leader would know full well that this is a ruse to keep his followers pliant no matter what he does to them, Trump believes the same exact things.
By that extension, if Republicanism is a cult, it’s not Scientology trying to rid its followers from liberal demons in return for a steady stream of donations and various levels of indoctrination. It’s become Heaven’s Gate, waiting for deliverance from an evil, fallen world, whose leader is every bit as eager as his followers — pardon my borrowing a reference to another iconic cult — to drink his own Kool-Aid. Instead of a grandmaster plan to trick his supporters, Trump really believes that what he’s doing is right, no matter how many experts from every side of the political aisle tell him it’s not. While that makes him a terrible statesman, it does make him a great cult leader because he’s always in sync with his followers and his followers absolutely love him for it.
And this conviction that he’s doing the right thing and his political opposition aren’t just people with different ideas but evil incarnate, creates some truly bizarre situations in which agreement on the issues across the aisle is made impossible even if both sides actually agree. If you’re with Trump, you have to oppose anything one of those liberal evildoers is suggesting, even if it’s a program that will directly benefit your voters who’ve been trained to consider help from anyone left of Rush Limbaugh a sinister ploy to enslave them under a UN dictatorship, and see any legislative body controlled by Democrats as illegitimate.
So, if you ask a typical Trump supporter whether healthcare needs to be more accessible and affordable, if big corporations and the super-wealthy should pay more taxes, if automation is a threat to existing jobs, and if something should be done to significantly slash college debt loads and you’ll hear enthusiastic affirmatives a lot more than you’d expect. Do Trump and the GOP support any of this? No, and they cast numerous votes at every level of government showing exactly that. Who will they vote for? Trump and the GOP of course! Does it matter that they’ll get none of the things they want? Not at all. What matters is that Democrats will lose an election because liberals are all evil and they’re sure that GOP will finally figure out what the people want after all the lefty villains are out of office, even though Republicans are being politically rewarded for ignoring popular opinion.
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These cultish attitudes don’t just end at the ballot box. Even personal mistreatment no longer triggers the necessary outrage to withdraw support. Just take the case of Tracy Nuetzi, a white Trump voter mistaken for an undocumented immigrant by ICE. She spent a year trying to prove she was an American citizen and called the whole thing dehumanizing and “something no one should be subjected to” in interviews. And of course, she will still be voting for Trump in 2020 because something something America will be great again under Dear Orange Leader.
By contrast, liberals didn’t want to vote for Hillary Clinton because they didn’t like that she made paid speeches to banks and “didn’t seem like a really exciting candidate.” Certainly, it would be absurd to expect that after her ordeal Nuetzi would become a Democratic Socialist and cast her vote for a straight Democratic ticket. But if a politician for whom I voted egged on the people who tried to deport me because they refused to believe I was a citizen, I would absolutely not vote for him again and be quite vocal in my disapproval, even if I still subscribed to his platform. Nuetzi, on the other hand, plans to do the electoral equivalent of thanking her abusers.
And this is the dynamic polished $500 an hour D.C. Beltway consultants refuse to understand as they advise hundreds of candidates for political office. Democrats see the current partisan divide as a messaging issue that can be overcome with enough deference and respectful quips about white rural working-class voters. Republicans and their base see it as a war they must win at all costs, publicly daydreaming about slaughtering residents of blue states. Democratic voters see themselves as civic-minded citizens participating in the political process. GOP voters think of themselves as foot soldiers on the front lines of an existential struggle against a New World Order that plans to enslave them.
This is why you can talk to Trump supporters about the need for education reform and a public option for healthcare until your face turns purple, exhausting every argument in favor of your position and never change their minds about who they should support, even if they agree with you. Instead of hearing statistics and arguments about voting records, all they hear is “join us, you’ll love being evil and destroying America for Jews, ISIS, and the Illuminati.” This is why they come up with elaborate conspiracy theories like QAnon as they see their worlds crumbling under neglect and profiteering of right-wing mismanagement, to convince themselves that everything is going according to some master plan after which they’ll be living in a land of milk and honey.
And this is why they can do their best impression of a banshee with food poisoning in response to minority congresswomen criticizing Trump’s immigration policy while agreeing with Trump standing at a podium in Helsinki alongside a smirking Vladimir Putin and denigrating America so much that even Russian state TV was shocked at how much he was badmouthing his own country, bewildered at how someone could be so publicly negative about the nation he’s meant to lead. When Russian state TV — which blames America for everything wrong on this planet, and especially in their political sphere of influence — says it’s downright indecent to insult the U.S. as much as he did, it should have absolutely shaken the faith of Trump voters. Yet they still insist that only he and they truly love America.
The Deafening Silence Of Republicans
This is what GOP lawmakers who think Trump went too far or doesn’t deserve to be president are up against. If they grow a spine and rebuke him, they will lose their seats in their district’s next election. So far, just distancing themselves or making vague excuses is enough for most. Some even have to voice full-throated support or be primaried by a wide-eyed zealot foaming at the mouth about Antifa super-soldiers building extermination camps for Christians, expending hundreds of thousands of dollars from a campaign chest to repel an attack on their right flank.
Some, of course, are just Trumps who can form a coherent sentence and with six fewer bankruptcies from which their dads had to bail them out while ruthlessly chewing them out in front of other family members and important business partners. (Though considering the horrendous business and personal record of his son/living tax shelter, Fred Trump probably made a lot of valid points during those public rebukes.) Like their voters, they also feel ecstatic that a fellow narcissistic bigot is in charge, and are ready and willing to make things harder on their more moderate and less enthusiastic colleagues.
Don’t feel bad for the cowards though. They did this to themselves. The Southern Strategy took logical policy proposals that should have made the base of the party’s platform and jettisoned them for fear-mongering about others and conspiracy theories. Operation Redmap, which was a nationwide coordinated effort to gerrymander the GOP into minority rule meant that Republican lawmakers got to pick their own voters and didn’t have to worry about losing power because a popular vote against them was now meaningless in key states. But as a result, the angriest and most rightward zealots dictated party politics as moderates gave up on ever making changes to a system rigged to silence their voices.
Trump and the Cult of MAGA are monsters of their own making, a product of decades of daily panic, outrage, and meltdowns across every conservative news outlet, and dismantling of every guardrail meant to stop a wild-eyed demagogue untethered from reality from parking his bulk behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office. Imagine Dr. Frankenstein creating a monster with the brain of a sociopathic conspiracy theorist with declining mental faculties, then having this monster become mayor of the village on which he unleashed this creature, with the villagers not just hanging on his every utterance but willing to have themselves and their families maimed by it.
Republicans see it, but don’t understand how to stop it. Even worse, quite a few of them don’t want to because they get an easy path to reelection. Support the monster, feed it, say that ripping off Timmy’s arm wasn’t that bad and that a human mayor would’ve probably trafficked Timmy to a Satanic pedophile, cash donor checks, rinse, repeat, then win by a landslide in two/four/six years. But by embracing the Roger Stone/Karl Rove strategy of using wedge and culture war issues to divide the electorate and somehow gain a 50.1% win, or enough points in the Electoral College to secure your spot, they’ve been quietly turning the country nearly ungovernable for decades.
So if today’s Republican voters want to look for mentors of unrest, the cabal trying to rip their country to shreds for personal gain and power, they need to look no further than the spineless weaklings and scowling sociopaths they’ve been trying to ram into every position of power and authority for the last half-century. They and their donors looted small towns, allowed healthcare costs to spiral into orbit, hobbled schools and colleges, gave away the voters’ tax contributions to corporations without ensuring they got the results they were promised, refused to come up with plans for the future, and then told their understandably angry and frustrated voters “have you thought about taking this out on minorities and immigrants?” when pressed for answers.
Republican lawmakers and politicians want their base angry and fighting for scraps so they can always promise to be saviors, never deliver on those promises, then blame the people their base is primed to hate for their lack of follow-through. “Oh, how we wanted to make sure you were finally getting ahead in life again, but the Satanic pedophiles from Comet Pizza ate our Fix All of America’s Problems With No Downsides Act!” they groan. But that’s ok because they’ll still get reelected for doing absolutely nothing positive. An army of Trumps and paranoid voters who think their own families, friends, and neighbors are out to get them will cast their ballots for them as long as they’re kept scared and angry.
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