The outcome of the 2016 Presidential election still rankles and puzzles. How did Donald J. Trump get elected? How could anyone vote for him? How could that many people vote for him, the sixty-two or so million people who actually did?
I don’t know the answer. Perhaps no one does. Because the times are foreboding and anything could happen, the question remains important. Supporters of Trump are likely to have out-sized influence on the future. It would be good to understand each other and choose our future together as a nation. Perhaps there are tiny insights that point in a helpful direction. Perhaps there are small anchor ideas worth thinking about while we wait out the future on the solitary island that is now America, each citizen marooned in political limbo? That’s the hope and promise of this blog entry.
Choice and Change
Can I change my mind when my brain and conscience say I should? Can I make myself act for the common good despite the risk of personal embarrassment? Can I admit and rectify a mistake when I’ve made one?
This is the question I would ask Trump voters, and any thinking person. How do you explain your vote to yourself within our shared values and traditions as a nation?
How long will you tolerate President Trump’s assault on democratic norms, values, and institutions? When will you say “Stop!” “No more.”
Writing to Trump Voters
I don’t know many people who voted for President Trump, thirteen or fourteen maybe. I’ve heard rumors, but rumors don’t count. In terms of actual communication, I’ve conversed with four. It would be better for my personal knowledge if I knew and talked with more, but I haven’t.
I can say this. I’ve treated my four Trump correspondents with respect, as self-governing fellow citizens. They’ve been civil too, but what they’ve said so far has not made much sense to me. None has explained his vote. Two have chided me as a “liberal;” one included me among “leftist faculty ruining universities.” All have cited problems with immigrants, not for themselves mind you, but for others, at borders. Black people are a problem too, they agree, but again not for them personally, but for “their race” and the police. They don’t want to spend their tax dollars on abusers of welfare. Two are committed Republicans, the other two describe themselves as independent and free thinking. All oppose “the welfare state” and want to stop terrorism. But why did they vote for Trump? They don’t really explain.
I’ve conversed mostly in writing. I like to write, and the mental regimen encourages clarity, evidence, and logical consistency. Also, I advised readers during the campaign to vote against Donald Trump. I included a list of reasons and sources. Writing, I think, is one of the finer vehicles for the conduct of politics. Minds can meet. Differences can be clarified.
I can report this, writing isn’t very effective anymore. I don’t say this in criticism of anyone. People are overwhelmed in information. Most people don’t want more. Some resent the imposition. Writing isn’t the force for reason it once was. My writing hasn’t changed any minds, as far as I know, and has mostly appealed to like-minded folk.
For history’s sake, I invite Trump voters, and others, to write an account of their choice in the 2016 election. Those who follow may want to know where we stood in these strange and crazy times.
In Iowa, during the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump noticed something special about his voters: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody,” he said, “and I wouldn’t lose any voters.” His supporters, in other words had for some reason become impervious to desertion, regardless of provocation.
This discovery of Trump’s matched a discovery of mine described in a series of blog entries in 2016. Building on Keith Olbermann’s work, I compiled a list of Trump’s disqualifications for office. Any one should have been enough to dissuade a voter, but here were 50, make that 75, now 100, nearing 125, the number increasing weekly. From what I could tell, such disqualifications could increase infinitely without the loss of a Trump voter. That’s the discovery. If one began with a horrid act like deriding John McCain’s heroism, added others as Trump’s words and actions validated them—ignorance of American history, ignorance of the Constitution, routine lying, sexual predation, etc.—and then offered the list to pro Trump voters for consideration, no circumstance or number is reached when a follower deserts him. There is no number of disqualifications at which Trump voters jump ship!
I have an idea as to why, a hypothesis. I’ll reveal it shortly.
Reasons and Portraits
It is not helpful to search for the single “cause” of a vote decision. Here’s an instructive case. My wife and I are enjoying lobsters with two other couples, four Republicans, in the summer of 2006. Bev and I tend to vote Democratic. One of the Republicans says, with obvious disgust: I suppose we’re going to have to put up with Hillary again!” An election was coming up, she would be a candidate, and they were “sick of her” already. They had been sick of her since President Clinton was in office. Bev and I had been admirers of Hillary Clinton from the beginning of the Clinton presidency.
All six of the 2006 diners voted in the 2016 election, Bev and I for Clinton, the four others for Trump. You could say that we had developed complex portraits of the leading candidates and parties from past experience. My Republican confreres had conjured a witch-like portrait of Hillary; we thought of her as a talented leader, exemplary “first lady,” and hard working Senator. These portraits of ours consisted of bundles of facts, events, beliefs, feelings, and attitudes from past experience rolled into a gestalt, a tool of perception for framing up and pre-judging the future. How about you? Have you developed settled portraits for picturing candidates?
If so, notice what happens when the question of reasons (causes of a voter’s vote) is asked? I’d respond: I had one set of reasons for voting for Clinton in 2008, when she lost to Barack Obama, and I had a second set of reasons for voting for her in 2016 when she ran against Donald Trump. In other words, my reasons changed to fit the times and circumstances, but my gestalt in Clinton’s favor continued. The conclusion follows: gestalt-like portraits incline votes. Reasons defend proclivities. Reasons are basically rationalizations for preexisting inclinations. We vote by guided, constructed intuition.
I’m not saying that reasons are unimportant or inconsequential. To the contrary, an outcome cannot be voted for even when predisposed unless convincing reasons can be found in the going vocabulary of political motives to justify it. That’s why campaigns provide voters with reasons; they hope voters will find ones sufficient to choose their candidate. I needed different reasons to vote for Clinton in 2008 and 2016. The times had changed. I found them, but it doesn’t always happen.
In the 2016 election, millions of people inclined toward voting Republican held their noses against Donald Trump’s obvious disqualifications and somehow found sufficient reasons to vote for him anyhow.
Mystery Solved: A hypothesis
Perhaps the fix was already in. Perhaps the prevailing gestalt of the typical Trump voter was to make a deal if the right reasons and conditions existed. The Obama years had been contentious. Rush Limbaugh had called on Republicans to insure that the new President fail. The Senate leader seconded the call and followed it like a grail. Sideline impresarios worked to delegitimize the President. Fox News demonized him. A future President fueled a racist “birther” movement to prove Obama had been born in Kenya, not the United States. On and on it went for eight years, a sophisticated, one party campaign to destroy the reputation and effectiveness of the nation’s first African-American President. A gestalt emerged, spread, pervaded, and became general.
By the time the primaries were underway, and the vote started coming in for Trump, winning big majorities against his opponents, the thought apparently bubbled up, in Trump’s circus rallies. . . maybe, just maybe, we can have ourselves a good old white nationalist president!
At that point in the devil’s deal, the subtext clarified itself: Trump’s disqualifications, so obvious, can be overlooked if good and sufficient reasons can be mustered to vote for him anyway. His disqualifications, in whatever type and quantity, can be overlooked if reasons can be found to hide and march behind.
People, of course, vote with all sorts of inclinations and reasons, and one hypothesis surely will not fit all. Still, the rust belt economic explanation turned out to be more rationalization than cause, making room for alternative hypotheses, including this one:
Disenchanted white folk, most often rural males— feeling themselves victimized, neglected and ignored—adopted Trump’s misogynist, racist, nativist theme, thereby reclaiming the rights and prerogatives of the grand ole southern plantation owners of yore. They thought white nationalism could be reprised. Obama and Hillary bashing had worked so well as to promise adequate cover. “Lock her up!” “Lock her up! “Nasty Woman.” The morally corrupt Trump-inclined voter convinced himself that his misogyny could be hidden by the crime charges against Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. The racism and nativism would be hidden too. And so it was.
The “D” Word
In early September 2016, candidate Hillary Clinton made the political mistake that possibly cost her the election. She said: “You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. . . . The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it. And unfortunately there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.”
The bad political mistake is from another point of view the good old honest-to-God truth. The striking thing is how immediate, loud, and angry came the protests to the “deplorables” comment. Alas, the infuriated protested too much. People who commune with the devil don’t want to be exposed, seen naked, even for a second. They’d prefer to be seen as economic casualties, religious believers, party loyalists, average Americans, freethinkers, and pragmatists. The pool of American rationalizations is rich and abundant. Miscreants can expect to get away with just about anything if they manage to pull off the theatrics well. As President Trump has shown, no one need take responsibility for anything anymore! It’s strictly a blame game now. We Americans do everything in our power to maintain innocence.
The outsized rage of Trump voters to the “basket of deplorables” comment —a brief, explosive, spectacular, moment of self-recognition—provides support to the hypothesis of a sub rosa embrace and return to white nationalism.
It is deeply ironic that Donald Trump, as President, so effortlessly increases and displays his unfitness for office. I stopped counting at about 130 disqualifications. Meanwhile, the Washington Post started counting the president’s lies. Telling one whopper should be enough to turn off a voter, but President Donald Trump has maintained his base while lulling us into complacency through incessant lying. We’ve come to expect it. His untruths gush forth as regularly as Yellowstone’s geysers. As of today the Washington Post tally is at 4,229!
Despite supporter sanguinity, the President’s lies and disqualifications seem finally to have caught up with him in July, 2018, and three times over. While the citizenry is unsure what to do about it, his situation seems to have fundamentally changed. He appears to have broken his oath of office and he may have committed a crime. Forbidden lines have been crossed.
The transgressions are:
In a joint press conference on foreign soil in Helsinki, Finland, with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, he officially rejects the unanimous, proven conclusion of his Intelligence agencies and the Department of Justice that Russia had interfered in the 2016 presidential election, and accepts the Russian President’s denial instead.
In the same press conference, he welcomes and seemingly approves of the Russian President’s proposal to allow Russian interrogators to interview American citizens of interest to Putin on American soil in exchange for American investigators interviewing indicted intelligence officers in Russia.
He approved and set in motion a “Zero-Tolerance Policy” that criminalizes asylum seekers crossing the southwestern border and forces the separation of children from their parents at the border while the parent is processed as a criminal.
The President’s actions at Helsinki appear to violate his oath of office, and approach the standard for treason. The “Zero Tolerance” policy violates international law, rules of decency, and basic standards of morality. To separate a child from a parent involuntarily at the U.S. border is in the same category as Herod’s edict to round up the infants of Bethlehem, which would have included, if successful, the taking of the Christ child from Mary and Joseph.
As time passes in the Trump Administration, something striking happens with reasons for supporting him, proofs of Trump’s unfitness for office, and the culture of political portraits, the culture of controlling gestalts.
The “good” reasons to support Trump have disappeared in accomplishments, leaving future motivation in doubt. What reasons do single issue supporters have for supporting him after the Supreme Court openings have been filled and the tax cuts passed? Is all of this other destruction their wish too? Did they wish to defenestrate Obamacare? Did they wish to withdraw from the climate change and Iran treaties? Did they want tariffs and trade wars? Did they want spouses of veterans deported? Did they want to triple the national debt? Did they want to deregulate coal production? Did they think Christmas needed protecting? How many of the reasons used to cover their naked vote still apply? Have the good reasons been exhausted?
As reasons for supporting Trump evaporate, Trump’s list of disqualifications for office increase unabated. He releases classified materials; he colludes openly with the Russians; he rakes tax dollars into his properties; he practices nepotism; he attacks Justice Department officials; he violates the emoluments clause; he pays bribes to sex partners; he splits parents and children, and imprisons both; he’s fakes agreements with foreign governments; he trashes NATO; he praises dictators; he disparages allies; he falsely charges his predecessor with taping his residence; he refuses to read intelligence reports, he watches TV half the day; he tweets like a teenager; he does no homework. How much of this dubious conduct is enough?
Simultaneous with the loss of legitimacy and the increase in malfeasance, political gestalts morph into fantasyland in President Trump’s reign. He incessantly denigrates the press, calling them “fake news,” and “the enemy of the people;” He talks only to Fox News. He requires that press secretaries lie and libel. He cuts the legs from under his Cabinet secretaries. He blames his predecessor and defeated opponent for anything that goes wrong. He riles up unruly and increasingly dangerous crowds at rallies. Conspiracy theories multiply. Alt-right platforms and fake news channels enter the mainstream. Cyberattacks are allowed on social media.
In the latest iteration of a dangerous gestalt, QAnon takes its place at the table among Trump supporters. They render Hillary Clinton as a witch like figure at the heart of a deep state conspiracy to destroy the American nation. Donald Trump, in this fantasy, is the victim, and hero, and must be helped to put the traitorous conspiracy down and persevere.
The Republican party cabal and apparatus now aimed at grinding James Comey, Robert Mueller, and Rod Rosenstein—Republicans all—into enemies of the state looks familiar. Haven’t we seen it before? Weren’t the techniques practiced and perfected first on Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama? Isn’t it apparent that the concerns about Benghazi, the server, the missing emails and the Clinton Foundation were a con? Isn’t that obvious now?
If reasons to back Trump are disappearing, if signs of his unfitness for office are multiplying daily, and if our culture of political portraits is morphing into gargoyles and grotesques on the Internet, isn’t it time to do something different?
The Republican Party has undergone a a devolution since Trump took office. While this has left them wasted, wallowing like a dying animal, they still act boldly, heads unbowed. The facts are these:
Republicans today occupy the Presidency and both houses of Congress. They have been able to steal one Supreme Court seat and control a second. They have been busy packing the court system with likeminded jurists.
Republican voters support Trump overwhelmingly. Republican office holders know they will lose primary contests if they oppose the President, so they don’t. Critics within the party like Senators Corker and Flake decided not to run again because they knew Trump voters wouldn’t vote for them. Dozens of Republican incumbents in the house are declining to run because their democratic opponents will defeat them. It’s Trump’s party for better or worse. There is no effective resistance to Trump within the party.
Fox News is the mouthpiece of the President and his party. The Daily Caller, Gateway Pundit, Breitbart, and Infowars are also Trump friendly.
The Republican party decided some years ago to go it alone, believing the United States would be better as a one party state. In their view, the ideals and values of the Democratic Party are completely wrong and deserve total rejection. Conversely, they tell themselves the ideals and values of the Republican Party, tabbed “Conservatism,” are complete, clear, and excellent. Republican leaders of both houses of Congress refuse to include Democrats in their planning.
Despite its dominance in Washington, party intellectuals, including the best known, have bailed on Trump and the party in protest. This started early in the 2016 campaign with the symposium compiled by The National Review, “Conservatives against Trump,” and continues unabated. George Will, Michael Gerson, Jennifer Rubin, Steve Schmidt, Charley Sykes, Joe Scarborough, and Max Boot are just a few of dozens of examples. Will and Boot are calling on citizens to vote for the Democratic candidates in the fall election of 2018 for the good of the country.
Void intellectual legitimacy, Congressional leaders, the President, and Cabinet Secretaries continue to fly the “conservative” banner to justify their conduct. Under it, they are enacting every untested and mean idea ever dreamed up in its “think tanks.” Medicaid recipients are put to work; swaths of regulations are voided; food (SNAP program) is taken from the mouths of poor people; consumer protections are eviscerated; the end of the war on poverty is announced; climate change is denied; scientists are fired; public schools are deemphasized; community police training is curtailed; imprisonment is encouraged; and, health mandates are voided. Deficits skyrocket, Free trade stops. Bailouts are forced upon farmers hurt by tariffs. ICE officers intrude on people’s privacy. No one complains. Long-standing principles of conservatism are violated and abandoned.
All of this is done hurriedly and haphazardly, as if the problem is to get the animals out of the barn before fire overtakes it. The Republican party is a shell of its former self, a sleepy monster, and the fall elections are coming. Robert Mueller’s investigation portends indictments. “Ashes to ashes all fall down.”
But what then?
“There’s a fear down here we can’t forget
Hasn’t got a name just yet
Always awake, always around
Singing ashes to ashes all fall down
Ashes to ashes all fall down.”
The Grateful Dead, Throwing Stones, 1990
President Trump on August 3rd took time from his schedule to publish a pithy tweet on Twitter, opining a gratuitous insult: “Lebron James was just interviewed by the dumbest man on television, Don Lemon. He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. . . .” James had just announced the opening of a new school he had established in his hometown of Akron, Ohio.
Rumors are spreading from “Fake News” that Trump’s Lebron James and Don Lemon slam was in retaliation for Barack Obama’s nasty slam of Trump’s friend. Tom Brady. Obama is rumored to have said: Tom is such a nothingburger! No, Obama didn’t do that, but look around, you paused for a moment, didn’t you? Can you see where we are at here?
The President’s indiscretion against James reminded many of the negative slams he had laid upon Andrea Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany, and Theresa May, Prime Minister of United Kingdom. As women, they were not in his league; that seemed to be his point. Anyhow, The First Lady came quickly to the aide of James, returning civility to “the First Family.”
There is shocking, hilarious comedy video in which an employer is interviewing an attractive applicant to whom he sporadically offers a job and urges him to take it. Meanwhile, current employees interrupt from time to time for direction on small matters, at which point the employer jumps up in a rage, assaults the employee, and beats him or her to a bloody pulp, apparently killing one. After each such act of murderous rage, the employer returns calmly to the interview, apologizes, explains that it was necessary, asks “where were we?” and resumes his pitch to sell the applicant on the job. Of course, the applicant runs for his life, much to the puzzlement of the employer, who wonders what had gone wrong with his sales pitch!
President Trump has turned into a stone thrower without a cause!
When Donald J, Trump blames someone for something, ask yourself: what on God’s green earth has he done now?
Being a man of honor, and an equal opportunity impugner, he would not accuse another of a crime he hadn’t committed himself.
If Ralph Waldo Emerson’s magnificent question from the opening of his 1844 essay Experience is asked anew:
Where do we find ourselves?
I will answer CRAZYLAND if your inquiry is about a dwelling place.
I will answer CRAZINESS if your inquiry is about our era or times.
I will answer CRAZY If your inquiry is about personal feeling and mood.
I will answer FACTS-BASED THINKING if your inquiry is about a return to sanity.
No one knows what’s happening and what will happen next, but it’s crazy out there: I’m crazy; you talk crazy; politicians talk crazy, President Trump seems crazy. Given his power and crazy talk, I watch him warily every day to see what crazy thing he’ll say or do next.
My aim in this series of musings is to invite back to sanity as many Trump voters as I can reach. I seek to converse with voters who lost themselves temporarily in what they thought was good reasoning, but know now that it was not. No good reasons exist for supporting Trump any longer. Only sane, ethical, evidence-based reasoning can anchor a person, a citizen, a life, and democratic conversation. The future of the nation depends upon it. It’s either personal responsibility and rational self-government, or it’s crazy talk. Which will it be?
Will Callender, Jr. ©
August 8, 2018
Author of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good