The Problem Isn’t Trump. It’s the 39%.
Forget Left and Right. We Need Right and Wrong.
In less than three months, Donald Trump will be fired from his job and evicted from the White House. The daily carnival of terrors and outrages that have defined the past four years will end.
It will not be a close race. Regardless of the final outcome, Biden’s victory will be touted as a “blowout”, and there will be some truth to this, because in modern America any election that doesn’t place the fate of the free world in the hands of 300 Ken Bones is a surreal miracle. Democrats will boast of winning Arizona for the first time in decades and losing Texas by a razor-thin margin.
And the reason we will all collectively agree upon is that after four years of daily scandals, injustice, betrayal, corruption, incompetence, cruelty, stupidity, and humiliations, the only thing that mattered to Undecided and Lean Trump voters was that if Trump continued to be President, they would physically die.
Everything else — children in cages, jackbooted thugs gassing protesters, selling us out to the Russians, pussy grabbing, impeachment, the shameless worship of Nazis and tyrants, and the incomprehensible, ever-expanding Omniscandal that defined his entire tenure — would be lumped into a big bag of “So What?”
In the end, it would be self-interest and a deus ex machina that lead to Trump’s downfall, not the immeasurable suffering he’s inflicted upon others.
As I write this, in early August, I am skeptical that Trump will follow through on his push to open schools this year despite the obvious danger because if he did, the obvious result would be thousands of children contracting Coronavirus, and at least one of them would die. At that point, “murdering children” would become the defining crime of the Trump Presidency, the final plague visited upon the Pharaoh for his callous obstinance. Then, and only then, would his base truly crumble and his support finally collapse.
By which I mean he’d only get 38% of the vote instead of 39%.
Even if COVID deaths skyrocket past 200,000 dead Americans come Election Day, even if unemployment surpasses 20%, even if Trump threatens to use the military to cancel the election, arrest Biden, and imprison dissidents, when we look at an electoral map of the 2020 election, we will see a blood-red sea stretching across the Heartland and the South and think nothing of it because That’s Just How It Is.
Because the true horror of Trump’s election isn’t Trump himself, but rather what he has revealed about our national character. His administration has been, if nothing else, a four-year fire drill gauging how America’s institutions would fare against an actual competent fascist takeover of America, and it has exposed a fundamental weakness in our moral, cultural, and intellectual fabric that should give pause to even the most jaded and cynical among us.
For all the damage Trump has done to Western democracy and our credibility as a nation, we can take solace in the fact that he was unsuccessful at dismantling it; in the end, we won’t even need to worry about him running for a third term because he won’t be around for a second. It would be easy to think of these years as one long hurricane that, despite superficially damaging our homes, failed to knock any over.
That is, until you start looking back and remember everything Trump exposed about the character of millions of “Red State” Americans.
There’s an old trope in comedies where a character, thinking they’re about to die, says or does something embarrassing, only to learn seconds later that the danger has passed and they have to return to work knowing they kissed Mr. Burns. Here, America managed to avoid a full-blown authoritarian takeover, but what we learned from this brief flirtation is that Republican voters would burn the world to the ground if it meant owning the libs.
I honestly don’t think the Left truly appreciates the degree to which the Right has been successfully brainwashed by their media into seeing non-conservatives as a dangerous Other. Let’s be totally honest with ourselves: liberals, as a whole, understand nuance a hell of a lot better than conservatives. There’s more complexity, more self-doubt. We understand the world is complicated and messy, and this idea is so deeply ingrained into our worldview that we tend to feel deeply uncomfortable when placed in situations that really are black-and-white.
So as much as we may hate Trump voters, we’re constantly making excuses for them, trying to humanize them, to rationalize away their sheer stupidity and ugliness with a liberal application of quasi-sociological buzzwords. After all, if push came to shove, they’d do the same for us, right?
They really do hate us. They do not see us as respectable opposition. They do not see us as Americans. They will gladly take away our right to vote. They will gladly sit back and watch us die.
This is not hyperbole. This is not a hypothetical thought experiment. It’s happening right now, right in front of us, every single day.
As of today, COVID-19 has claimed over 150,000 American lives. The most recent CDC forecast predicts 11,000 Americans dying each week through the month of August. To anyone with even an ounce of humanity, that number should horrify and enrage you. A single death is a tragedy; 150,000 deaths is 150,000 tragedies.
How many of this week’s 11,000 will have contracted it today without knowing it? How many will unknowingly spread it to people they care about? How many of them are going to bed right now with no idea that, by the end of the week, their story will come to an end?
There are no shades of gray in a situation like this. An apolitical force of nature is indiscriminately maiming and killing hundreds of thousands of Americans. We can’t stop it, but we can significantly weaken it, maybe even get it under control, by taking a small handful of simple, straightforward precautions that anyone can follow. All the experts in the field are in total agreement, and support their reasoning with hard numbers, statistics, and basic common sense.
Nothing about any of this should be remotely political. People are dying and the economy is cratering. Here is some hard data on what to do. Follow these guidelines and you can save countless lives and trillions of dollars. Never has such a horrific crisis had such a simpler solution. Yet who among even our darkest cynics could have thought people would fuck it up this badly?
None of this had to happen. None of it was inevitable. Virtually every other world leader besides Trump and Bolsonaro did exactly as they were told and are beginning to safely reopen their countries without a fraction of the losses we’ve suffered.
We’ll never know for sure how many of the dead would be alive today had conservatives simply behaved like adults, only that the figure is heartbreaking both in magnitude and pointlessness.
How many people are dead because the President of the United States was playing on his phone, whining about his bullies, and mumbling unsolicited medical advice about gargling bleach instead of protecting the people he literally swore to protect? How many people are dead because Trump politicized and discouraged wearing a mask?
How many people are dead because all the “sane” Republicans, who were fully aware that Trump was condemning thousands of Americans to death said nothing, did nothing, and deliberately chose to build their careers on the corpses of their countrymen?
How many are dead because they didn’t seek treatment for fear of an astronomical hospital bill?
How many are dead in my home state of Michigan because the President of the United States would not provide desperately needed ventilators because our Governor “said some Very Mean, some Very Not Nice things about me and that’s okay, I just don’t answer her calls”?
Yes, people and their institutions will always be imperfect and some degree of human error and frailty are to be expected, especially in stressful, dangerous situations. We’re all human. But what we’re seeing are not “mistakes.” They’re calculations, and every single one, no matter how complex, can be reduced to “my job>your lives”.
In a just world, every single politician that in any way hindered our COVID response to further their personal ambitions would be hung for murder. Because they are murderers, and they should be treated like murderers for the rest of their lives, however much they will try to bury their atrocities under the guise of “politics being messy.”
But those are just the careerists. If nothing else, they have a coherent motivation and a big pile of money waiting for them and their disgusting garbage family. What about the Republican Base, those friendly, down-home, salt-of-the-earth blue collar roughnecks with a heart of gold? What’s their motivation?
To own the libs.
That’s all. You can be a good liberal that understands Nuance and Complexity and gild the lily all you want. You can say it’s not their fault due to this or that, you can tell me your mechanic is a Trump supporter and he’s the Nicest Guy You’ll Ever Meet, (“Without a racist bone in my body!”, he’d helpfully add, unprompted) but strip away all the pretense and you’ll always be left with “to own the libs”, no matter how moronic, childish, or self-destructive the justification.
But who are the libs? What do they want? Why are they mortal enemies? Why do they hate them so much they’re willing to start blindly torching the country they supposedly love so much? Don’t worry about it. If you’re even asking these questions you’ve officially put more thought into their worldview than they have.
It’s honestly hard to put into words without sounding condescending, sarcastic, or reductive, but sometimes when you find yourself in a situation like this, you come to realize that’s because what you’re describing is truly beyond parody: When Thanos I mean high-ranking Republican economists began actually demanding human sacrifices to appease the Free Market, the Republican base helpfully formed a death cult to protect a game show host from having to receive medical advice from doctors.
The Republican base has been successfully conditioned to not only ignore the deaths of tens of thousands of their fellow Americans, but to cheer them on, to laugh them off, to blithely dismiss the unfathomable pain and suffering this is inflicting on millions as just more fake news. They’re too dumb to notice this, but their narrative will casually vacillate between “libs are dying and it’s hilarious” and “nobody is dying and it’s hilarious you believe it.’”
If that pattern sounds familiar, that’s because the logic is extremely similar to Holocaust denial: The people who deny that it happened are the same people that wish that it had.
I know there is no lower cliche in political discourse than comparing the opposition to Adolf Hitler, but don’t worry, I won’t invoke Godwin’s Law. Republicans aren’t Nazis. They’re more like ordinary, everyday German citizens that enthusiastically bought in to all the lies and propaganda of the Third Reich, lost interest the moment Nazism became uncool, and then spent the rest of their lives denying their involvement.
Which is where we’ll be on January 21st. Trump will be gone, but we’re going to have to return to some approximation of “normal life” knowing that our neighbors tried to strip us of our rights and intentionally spread a lethal virus for no reason besides vague, unjustified anger. They won’t feel any shame or realize what they did. But we will.
Because we have to go on living with that blood-red stain. For now.