Trump Supporters Need To Ask Themselves Some Tough Questions

After this week’s debate, Trump supporters need to ask themselves if it’s still worth tying themselves to Trump’s bottomless depravity.

If you’re an even remotely respected politician in the West, your campaign manager should be able to wake you in the middle of the night, ask if you condemn white supremacy, and hear a crisp, instant condemnation along the lines of “their hate has no place in modern society.” The fact that President Trump clammed up when given the same question by debate moderator Chris Wallace, refused to denounce white supremacists, and instead issued marching orders to them, should make him unqualified to be dog catcher, much less sit in the Oval Office. But let’s push past this disgusting lowlight for a minute and focus on the sum total of the performance, for lack of a better term.

Really, the only way to describe what America and the world saw during the first debate was a disgrace. Instead of two politicians debating the future of the country, they saw the president of what was once a superpower they looked up to having a meltdown like a spoiled little brat. They were forced to watch the kind of hysterical, ugly tantrum every parent and kindergarten teacher knows to signify the futility of trying to reason with a child because the child is no longer capable of exercising reason. The fact that we’re talking about a septuagenarian who has access to our nuclear codes the way we talk about a toddler should be terrifying for those of us with a pulse and at least a few working brain cells.

Millions of Americans heard the voices of their least favorite relatives, the ones who insist on picking a fight at every family gathering, screaming nonsense they half-remembered from some social media cesspool peppered with insults and putdowns, confident that talking more and louder means winning the argument. They remembered their abusive parents and significant others, the malignant, vicious narcissists who threatened, denigrated, and gaslit them as a form of control. They had flashbacks to their worst, most toxic bosses who saw them as less than human and were happy to let them know it.

In short, rather than a controversial statesman, they saw an awful, wild-eyed, foaming at the mouth man mid-tantrum, vomiting hate and bile. Focus groups found him repulsive, comedians joked about his childish antics, and pundits struggled to believe that he managed to turn the softest of softballs into stunning demonstrations of his bottomless depravity. It was a vivid and disturbing demonstration of just how far we’ve fallen, so much so that Google saw a spike in searches asking how to move to other countries, especially Canada and New Zealand.

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This prompted many Canadians and New Zealanders to object in horror across social media. Both impulses are, of course, understandable. On the one hand, no country wants to deal with a pandemic and an influx of refugees simultaneously. On the other, nearly 7 out of 10 Americans have been silenced and disenfranchised. Canadians may grouse that roughly half the country didn’t vote and say that the vote shirkers are responsible for the current mess, but the reality is that their voices are often suppressed or made irrelevant by the electoral system, meaning that the majority of Americans are forced to live with a government they voted against simply because they live in the wrong state or district.

It’s little wonder then when tens of millions of citizens tuned in to see the president they didn’t vote for interrupting the moderator some 128 times, spewing lies and conspiracy theories “like a crackhead” — to quote a voter from a Pennsylvania focus group watching the debate — their minds asked if heading for the exits was an option. After all, their Trump-loving relatives have been telling them for years that if they don’t like the GOP’s version of America, they should get out, and a number of Canadian politicians looking to poach top talent have been not too subtly trying to recruit them. That said, however, historical patterns say that very few of them would actually act on this impulse.

But perhaps the most genuinely, physically sickening thing in all this was to know full well that millions of Americans saw these awful 90 minutes and confirmed that the psychotic, hysterical elder covered in something orange still had their vote.

Why? Maybe because basic human decency, good faith, and empathy seem like nothing more than weaknesses in their eyes, and the only thing they can respect is demonstrative cruelty to others. It’s as if they’ve decided that Thucydides’ famous quip that the strong do as they please as the weak suffer what they must is the only valid definition of might, that to be powerful, they must subjugate others to their whims. This may be why the answer to outrage triggered by yet another flaunting of laws, norms, and morality is so often met with some slight variation of “cry more shitlib” by Punisher, Pepe the Frog, and lolicon avatars on social media. They’re actively, maliciously enjoying that you’re upset and hoping to make you even angrier.

But don’t take my word for it. They’ve said as much in the press, complaining that the only time they’re frustrated with President Trump is when he “isn’t hurting the people he’s supposed to be hurting.” Even worse, since this sociopathic view of their nation colors their thinking so deeply, they’re paranoid that the political opposition coming to power would move to subjugate them, a view openly and blatantly enforced by the Republican Party at every turn. Since that’s what they are actively trying to do when they’re in power, why wouldn’t the fellow Americans they branded as enemies do the same to them, they reason, while denying blue states critical supplies to fight a pandemic, seeing their inhabitants as less than human.

Tell them that the liberal menace — read: anyone who isn’t a fanatical Trump supporter — will go easy on Red America because they have empathy and are willing to compromise, and you’ve effectively said that non-Republicans are weaklings and suckers who have no right to govern in the first place. Remember, the people in question reject the very foundations of civilized society. If you have no power, you are prey and belong at the bottom of their pecking order. If you have power but refuse to exercise its full extent, you’re a chump who lacks the resolve to be the apex predator. It’s a political mindset that should be captured by National Geographic camera crews and narrated by David Attenborough.

Now, of course, plenty of conservatives will bristle at this description and argue that it doesn’t represent the conservative project but some retrograde perversion of it. One filled with inane contradictions and paradoxes in which minorities who end up rich are used to pretend that the food chain in question doesn’t exist and neither does racism, the wealthy and powerful are both looked up to as examples but also derided as out of touch elites, and in which hard work is said to be the only way forward while also lamenting the nation’s workers’ precarious existence in a rat race to nowhere. And they’ll be right. In the so-called American heartland, conservatism and tradition have mutated into reactionary nihilism as its residents destroyed their own small towns.

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Using its privileged position in American electoral politics, it’s now lashing out at the rest of the country, seemingly unable to care how it will get hit in the process. Is the dreaded liberal enemy suffering? Good. Oh look, now they’re squawking about “empathy” and “taking care of people.” Isn’t that funny? Cry more libtards! Cry more! We want to see your tears so we can know that we put our boot on someone else’s neck, that we’re also powerful, that our way of life isn’t dead because we’re going to shove it down your [ethnic slur]-loving throats! Forget the elephant, their new battle emblem is Pepe the Frog. Having given up on raising themselves up, they’ll join with neo-Nazis and white supremacists to burn everyone else down.

It’s not that they necessarily like Trump. In fact, many don’t. It’s that they hate those unlike them more and that’s literally the one and only dimension to their political philosophy, as alien as this may sound to reporters still sitting in small town diners to have the same exact conversations they’ve been having for the last four years. Sure, he may not be a great leader in their eyes but Trump lowers the bar for them and enables their worst, basest urges, which is all they’ve ever wanted in the first place. Meanwhile, those who adore him see themselves in his radioactive dumpster fire of a personality. They’re his fellow abusers, racists, and bigots whose favorite hobbies are golf, social media, and yelling at the TV.

Maybe this all seems brutally uncharitable, but the insistence of Trump supporters on standing by the man no matter what happens, to excuse his every lie, fraud, or breach of custom, law, and even basic human decency with a stream of whataboutism, conspiracies, xenophobic and bigoted invective, and searing hatred for the demographic majority of the nation, certainly isn’t helping the search for a more generous narrative. All across the country, people are giving up hope their still Trump-loving relatives and friends can be reached, and starting to wonder what exactly happened to people they used to love and respect in their mental eulogies for families and friendships that were.

This goes far beyond breaking ties over political disagreements. People are not giving up on friends and family over debates on tax policy or whether it’s important to write in cursive. No, they’re separating themselves from those who reject the very pillars of modern civil society, disparage democracy, embrace outright fascism, defend domestic terrorists, and casually drop torrents of hateful bile on their fellow Americans for insisting that we should care about each other regardless of skin color or account balance. Then, when their party piles conspiracies and verbal manure on their families and friends to deflect from their failures in governance, Trump supporters in question gleefully demand to make the pile bigger and more vile.

So, if you came away from the first debate feeling disgusted, nauseated, and asking yourself how the hell would a civilized, first-world superpower end up electing someone like Trump and flirting with failure as a state and society, well, now you know. It’s fine to be upset and angry about it. In fact, you should be. But the important part is to act on that mix of disgust and anger. No matter how much Trump lies, bellows, threatens, and calls on domestic terrorists who aspire to become his loyal brownshirts, voting him out in big enough numbers means that on January 21st, 2021 he has to pack his tacky, gold spray-painted shit and get out of the White House. To paraphrase President Obama, don’t just rant and stew in anger, vote.

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Opinion // 2020 / Coronavirus / Debates / Donald Trump / Election / Joe Biden