Saturday, March 05, 2016

The five stages of Trump

It’s impossible to discuss this election cycle—by which of course I mean the unexpected viability of Donald Trump’s shockingly repugnant candidacy—and the Republican primary voters who are hurtling Trump toward the nomination without resorting to what would usually be considered ad hominem attacks. This is because two of the three things all Trump supporters seem to have in common is that they’re angry, and can only be objectively described as stupid.

Perhaps they’re gullible, too, but they’re mainly pissed off and in no mood to critically analyze any kind of empirical data, which makes for a misguided and ill-informed constituency. Perfect for a snake oil salesman like Trump.

For context, I live in an extremely god-guns-and-guts part of the country, and not a single conservative of my acquaintance is a Trump supporter. [Note: all I have in this state are conservative friends, so this is a rather large cross-section of the community we’re talking about here.] From the quiet one who sits at the end of the bench and doesn’t talk much, to the one who believes Hillary should be in jail due to the trail of bodies in her wake (“Wake up, Fang!”), nobody likes Trump. Where the hell are all his supporters coming from?

In interviews, many of these people have said they like Mr. Trump—for president, mind you—because he had a reality-tv show they enjoyed for many years. They’ve had him in their front room, he’s funny, he’s familiar; he’s their TV friend! Most of the other man-on-the-street Trump supporters featured on various media platforms just repeat assorted applause lines from Trump stump speeches: PC is bad, strong is good, failing is bad, America is failing! All his enemies are jealous of his wealth because they’re losers and have tiny dicks, etc.

You know, an R-rated version of the kind of set-up/knock-down insult comedy that used to be the staple of family hour on ABC. Except now it leads the news every night.

Judging by everything I’ve heard Trump’s enthusiastic fans say to anyone with a camera and time to be yelled at, the third thing Trump voters have in common is that none of them are perceptive enough to know when someone is looking them in the face and telling whoppers. Not even when video evidence surfaces, on issue after issue, providing empirical proof of the fact of his repeated falsehoods, the boldness of Trump’s prevarications. Not even when he gets in front of a roomful of evangelical voters to profess his long- and deeply-held Christian faith, then quotes a passage from “Two Corinthians,” a mispronunciation no one who has ever seen the inside a Christian house of worship would ever make.

And who did those evangelicals vote for afterwards? Mr. Trump, in droves.

See what I’m saying? Poor decision-making that not even the most transparent of dissembling can sway, not even when the lies specifically contradict foundational tenets of the belief system that binds the particular group of supporters together.

To believe one thing but do another requires willing suspension of critical thinking, which is by definition—as well as in practice—stupid. Trump could serve steak tartar to a rally full of vegetarians, and they would choke down every bloody bite with one hand while waving a misspelled cardboard sign in the other.

And the thing about stupid is, you can’t argue it away. You can’t smash it into submission with clever rhetoric or distracting ‘facts’. Frankly, stupid resents how clever your rhetoric is, and your facts are just the bought-and-paid-for byproducts of Big Smartypants, looking down from their ivory college towers. You can’t reason with stupid, and you sure can’t buy it off by offering to pay for it to go to college!

[Note to Mitt Romney and the GOP establishment: You also can’t trot out the last election cycle’s failed candidate to rally an already alienated base. I’m not sure how helpful it was to have the guy the Republicans didn’t like enough to vote for last time give them a big lecture this time. Point goes to Trump; unforced error.]

Unfortunately, one piece of traditional political wisdom seems to be holding true; that every big election—like after the reign of a two-term president—is a ‘change election.’ Arguably, one of the most significant reasons Barack Obama sailed to election in 2008 is because the country couldn’t find a politician less like the bellicose, act-now-and-think-after-Monday-Night-football-is-over approach of George W Bush. A change election produced a change candidate then as it has now.

Still, even given that this a change election, how much change can our experiment in democracy endure? Why are there enough people in the U.S. willing to suspend objective interpretation of provable facts and decide to vote a race-baiting, xenophobic, sloganeering carnival barker with Tourette’s—who plans to rewrite the First Amendment so he personally will be allowed to sue more people—into the White House. Where exactly does his constituency come from, besides apparently everywhere except the town I live in?

The motivation of Trump’s base couldn't be clearer, though. Rally photos and footage bear out the allegation that Trump’s appeal is limited virtually exclusively to white people. A number of whom were still alive when civil rights came into vogue into the 50s and 60s, and it turns out a lot of them didn’t much like the way it turned out. Both liberals and conservatives of my generation and before never thought we’d live to see a black president. When Obama was elected, the liberals rejoiced.

The conservatives did not.

Modern-day Trump rallies look like George Wallace campaign hootenannies, complete with the candidate egging his already unruly crowd on to violence. Recent history is filled with scratchy black and white video of would-be tyrants and tin-pot dictators encouraging their swooning hordes to acts of mass violence, back to the beginning of the last century. Between them, the only things that change are the languages and production values.

But Trump’s ace in the hole is his understanding of how to play the media. Marco Rubio clobbers him in a debate? Wheel out the dazed-looking Chris Christie the next morning for a surprise endorsement and ride that news cycle instead of the unflattering one from the night before.

And the media that doesn't play ball? Before now, the stupids knew who they could trust to deliver their daily quota of deep thought: Fox News and talk radio. Everyone but Fox and right-wing radio was all part of the same Big Media establishment that had been talking down and lying to them for years. But now Rush is talking trash about their candidate and Donald Trump has said that Fox News itself has fallen under suspicion for their discourteous treatment of him. Pity Trump’s credulous know-nothings, who are bewildered to discover they can’t even trust their favorite opinion delivery vehicles anymore. To whom can they turn for the hatest news?

Trump über alles?

And how about us progressives? We pride ourselves on being so damned smart; how did we let it get to this, and what are we supposed to do now?

Well, strike the first question. We’ve already covered it. The horse is out of the barn and needs his medication.

There are, however, a few things we can do to prepare for the worst, and we’ve done more than half of them already. I call them The Fives Stages of Trump.

• Denial: What the fuck? Trump is running? Oh, want a lark, what a gay romp it shall be! See how foolish he looks descending the elevator to make his announcement, complete with those awful, racist comments about Mexican rapists? He’ll be the most reviled, laughed-at asterisk in modern American history! Ah, ha ha ha ha!

• Anger: Okay, what the fuck? Seriously, what the fuck is going on here?

Bargaining: Well, at least he has a fucking ceiling. He’ll play in the hinterlands, okay, but there’ll be enough educated urbanites to not want to see their country descend into the mad vision of a narcissistic TV reality show host.

• Depression: Oh fuck. He crushed Super Tuesday. Barring an unforeseen miracle, it looks like it’s going to be Trump vs Clinton in November. Granted, all kinds of weird shit has already happened this time out, and God preserve us, the actual election is still 9 months away. That’s enough time for one of two things to occur: Something unexpected happens and the paradigm shifts dramatically, dethroning the current Republican front-runner; or worse, it gives the rest of us the time to get used to the idea of a Trump presidency. Less time than it takes to accept, and prepare for an unexpected addition to the family; a little red-faced, tantrum-throwing thin-skinned bundle of rage issues.

• Acceptance: We’re fucked.

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