The Terminal Rot At The GOP’s Core
After a year of #MAGA, it’s time to stop coddling Trump’s base
When Hillary Clinton called a swath of Trump supporters a “basket of deplorables,” you could practically hear the groaning of political consultants and the feigned outrage of right-wing pundits the moment the words left her lips. She was going against the narrative laid out by Fox News and Breitbart and swallowed hook, line, and sinker by traditional media. The narrative that Trump voters were just fed up with globalism and the sneering “coastal elites” who looked down on their old-fashioned, wholesome ways, deaf to their economic anxiety.
Red America, we were told, was simply looking for accountability in government and results from their elected officials, something they feel they hadn’t gotten for some time now. Any accusations of racism, xenophobia, backwards nihilism, and malicious tribalism, despite those being the primary themes of Trump’s campaign, were just liberal PC hysterics, right-wing talking heads accosted us. Clinton’s remarks, in stark contrast to the right’s talking points, were asking us to consider that maybe, just maybe, there’s a plurality of Trump backers who deep down, simply aren’t good people. It didn’t go over well.
Yet, almost a year into the Trump presidency, we found that virtually none of the things we were told about his voters was true, that they were soothing fiction they and their favorite East Coast millionaires on TV and the web told each other and the world.
They have refused to hold Trump accountable for his failures, pretending that it was Obama sleeping in and golfing every weekend even though that’s a Trumpian trademark. Conservatives who still vote with him more than 9 times out of 10 but disagree on his governing philosophy are branded as liberal traitors for not worshipping the ground The Orange One walks on by the apoplectic denizens of right-wing social media demanding they be purged from the GOP.
They refuse to take advantage of free career training also offering free food and job placement to improve their future. They sing praises to Trump for “bringing America back” as he isolates us from the world stage by deferring to tin-pot dictators he admires and sabotages our reach, standing, and lucrative trade deals by pretending that all other nations are incapable of functioning without America as an economic partner. Much like a delusional “pick up artist,” he thinks that if he negs other countries enough, they’ll put out, financially speaking. He talks tough on Twitter though, and this is apparently enough for his political fan club.
But yet, none of this is necessarily bad on its own. Hypocritical and self-deceptive, sure, but not exactly reeking of evil. No, the really disturbing traits of the MAGA crowd were trying to justify a Nazi march in Charlottesville by blaming the Soros-Illuminati-Antifa bogeyman, their support for assaulting reporters, their advocacy for sociopathic disdain and outright racism towards their fellow citizens, their daily defense of Trump’s corruption while obsessing over any possible conflict of interest to the left, real or imagined, and now, as the cherry on top of an excrement sundae, defending pedophilia as being better than being liberal.
On the off chance you were trapped under a rock with no access to the outside world, allow me to elaborate. Roy Moore, a judge who managed to get kicked off the Alabama Supreme Court twice for disregarding the law in favor of his personal theocratic doctrine, was exposed by the Washington Post for preying on a 14-year-old girl when he was in his early 30s, as well as pursuing a 16 and an 18-year-old. In response, he alleged a media conspiracy to smear him in a hurried fundraising e-mail blast, issued rambling statements which were little more than the typical Trumpian buzzword salad of furious indignation with repeated chants of “fake news,” and demanded a retraction with threats of a lawsuit.
Of course, this is all par for the course for predators and it’s hardly the point that DA Bad Touch would deny the growing reports of his inappropriate actions. No, the real tragedy here is that the Republican media machine and his state’s party apparatchiks immediately ran interference for him. Breitbart, under Steve Bannon’s obvious direction, excused him as just an old-fashioned romantic in consensual relationships with girls a tad younger than proper and sent reporters to try and discredit the Post’s sources. His supporters rushed to denounce the reports as lies by “desperate Democrats” almost instantly. Fox News picked up where Breitbart left off, portraying his victims as liars while dismissing his actions as much ado about nothing if true. It’s as if they read the Narcissist’s Prayer and decided that was the perfect playbook.
But the Alabama GOP really took it to a new level as county chairs rushed to dismiss or downplay the story while vehemently rejecting the idea that his Democratic challenger, Doug Jones, could possibly deserve a vote. In other words, they’d rather cast a ballot for a pedophile than anyone with a D next to their name because said pedophile hates all the same things and people they do, and is a Republican.
Even worse, some tried to invoke faith to defend his lack of self-control by citing that many mothers in the Bible were teenagers married to older men, forgetting that we don’t live in the ancient Middle East and have different standards for appropriate behavior. Do Alabama Republicans really think it’s fine for a 30-something to kidnap and violently try to strip a 16 year old as she fought back, tell her no one will believe her, then leave creepy notes in her high school yearbook, and have those in power bury the story for decades because they wanted to make sure that Moore wouldn’t face consequences for his predatory actions and further their agendas?
Even worse, 37% of Evangelicals in Alabama said they were now more likely to vote for Moore in light of the new revelations. The values embraced by these so-called values voters appear to be child abuse, homophobia, racism, and authoritarianism. Since mathematically, the “liberal elites” they so despise know them and/or are related to them, it stands to reason that instead of hating urbanites and liberals for demeaning and not understanding them, they loathe them for knowing exactly what lies beneath the media-friendly talking points and insist on holding them accountable for their amoral, abusive tribalism.
Just ask yourself what kind of people want to vote for a lawless, Bible-thumping pedophile whose proclivities were ignored for decades over someone who put KKK terrorists in jail for killing four young girls. How comfortable would you feel around them? Would you call them decent people with a functioning moral compass? Or would you start wondering exactly why they wouldn’t want to vote for someone who prosecuted Klansmen and let your mind go to some very dark and unpleasant places?
When the media invaded small towns and exurban America after Trump’s shocking electoral upset, they wanted to see countless stories about themselves as quirky, old-fashioned hard workers, sick and tired of Washington playing with their lives. They were rewarded with a tsunami of such tales, but underneath, almost every one of them noted the undercurrent of entitlement and racial animus. As the recent Politico profile of Johnstown, PA shows, these themes have only gotten more attention as years on the right-wing beat have shown those “coastal elites” that no, they didn’t misread or misunderstand their subjects, and this is really what they think.
Far from exonerating them to the public at large, these long-form exposes confirmed many of the worst stereotypes about them. Trump voters demanding that the media focus on them certainly got what they wanted. Now, they’re livid at what the media found when they really started digging. The myth of small town, wholesome Americana is dying, and as it does, the dirty secrets of these places are coming out, like a collection of H.P. Lovecraft stories where the extraterrestrial monsters turn out to be normal people doing monstrous things no one wants to acknowledge as not to break the Norman Rockwell-esque façade.
A while ago, I warned that the GOP was rapidly becoming unmoored from conservatism and embracing angry, tribal populism at epidemic levels. At one point, I implied it was trying to change the country from a shining city on a hill into an old hoarder’s decrepit mansion filled with nostalgic symbols of greatness long passed. I’ll still stand by this metaphor but say that it’s incomplete. That mansion also has a nasty termite infestation, dry rot behind the walls, and sewage pipes in the living room and master bedroom have sprung leaks the occupant refuses to fix despite the stench and squishy floors. It’s no longer just a fixer-upper. It’s a total teardown with few salvageable parts.
Consider that the same people now defending Moore were convinced that a pizza place in DC was part of Hillary Clinton’s secret child sex slave ring and needed to be investigated just a few months ago, and weeks prior, were busy rightfully pillorying Weinstein and most of Hollywood for the rampant sexual abuse in the entertainment industry. Now, faced with a child molester running for the seat left vacant by Jeff Sessions and unable to get rid of him due to Alabama’s ballot laws, they’re rushing to his defense. The naked hypocrisy that would be mind-blowing just a few years ago was almost expected because, after Trump, there is no moral bottom anymore. Or decency. Or truth. Or facts.
Whoa, whoa, hold on, the right will protest, there you go again, calling everyone you don’t like racists and bigots. Except this isn’t a question of being PC. This is about calling NFL players racial slurs with disdain to wide-eyed reporters because they spoke their minds. This is about insisting that you’re being discriminated against in favor of minorities despite never being able to show a single incident of this, assuming that if minority candidates get the job, there’s no way they could’ve been better-qualified candidates but received preferential treatment. And this is about insisting that people unlike them be treated like second-class citizens because they’re different and therefore, must be punished for being different.
It’s also about the lowering of standards and lacking actual principles as demonstrated by the right’s embrace of whataboutism. Like the Soviet authoritarians before them, the MAGA crowd has embraced this fallacy to deflect any criticism by changing the topic to the perceived or real failings of others. Every other sentence on Fox News now starts with “but what about?” as if the contributors and pundits are getting paid by the number of times they use that phrase. They’re not even pretending to look for higher moral ground, they’re looking for excuses to stay in the gutter and wallow in their own delusions of righteousness and grandeur. If they can’t accomplish their goals, they’ll comfort themselves in the failures of their many enemies.
The same can be seen in the right’s love affair with trolling. In a recent episode of Last Week Tonight, John Oliver tore into Fox and Friends celebrating Trump’s trolling about whether or not we’re about to start a nuclear war with North Korea — and as a reminder for the readers who may not be sure, nuclear war is a bad thing — saying that nowhere in the Midwest are there laid-off factory workers cheering the fact that an NYT reporter got freaked out by the presidents’ latest antics instead of wondering where the new jobs are. But he’s wrong. There absolutely are and they proudly said so to numerous reporters and pundits. If they can’t get better healthcare or new jobs, their standards for winning are being lowered to trolldom.
And this brings us back to Clinton’s basket of deplorables. Can we really look at what the MAGA faithful have been up to, what they’re cheering, and how they’ve dealt with criticism and the media spotlight and honestly say that the vast majority of them are good people? Are we going to call those who shrugged off a neo-Nazi march, tried to justify an ISIS-style attack by one of those neo-Nazis as a response to “provocations form the left” and embrace false flag conspiracy theories, use the n-word in front of reporters in racist spiels, defend a pedophile because he has an R next to his name on the ballot, and spend their days vomiting hate and bile on their fellow citizens on social media, and pretend this is just normal political discourse? Or will we finally call a spade a spade?
We desperately wanted to, and still want to, pretend that there aren’t racists, bigots, neo-Nazis, and nihilists among us because just mathematically and demographically speaking, they’d be our parents, and friends, and aunts and uncles, and teachers, and co-workers, and bosses. We tried to shut our eyes and hum real loud in 2016, believing in our heart of hearts that there’s no way an openly racist lout with backwards views would win and that a nation which just four years before re-elected its first black president will reject him. That denial was our undoing. We can’t close our eyes to the truth again.