Since I began this blog last spring, virtually every piece I’ve written has been a variation on two themes:
- The real problem isn’t Trump himself, but the tens of millions of Americans that worship him as a living God and the rotten culture that made this acceptable.
- We have ignored this unpleasant truth as a matter of convenience, but will soon be forced to confront it.
Trump is a symptom. The disease is the proud ignorance, amorality, selfishness, and unfounded arrogance of the American right. In word, in action, and in what could laughably called their “values”, they have metastasized as a cancer America refuses to acknowledge, even as it convulses the nation.
They embody all the worst in our country, the ugliest of ugly Americans. Yet even as a deranged mob of ornery hicks storms our Capitol in an act of open and armed sedition, attempting to overturn a fair and open election simply because they didn’t like the outcome, the media narrative has, as always, coalesced around Trump and his role in inciting violent rebellion.
Like most of you, I spent most of this afternoon frantically opening tabs, clicking headlines, linking others to articles I barely had time to read. Everyone is reeling today. Nobody is in charge of anything. The illusions of silly little social constructs like “power” and “authority” are looking dangerously naked and afraid. Angry mobs are torching our most sacred institutions to the ground on a mindless whim. This is, on every conceivable level, Burke’s worst nightmare.
The good news is that pretty much every sane person can agree on is that things have completely spiraled out of control, and for once, people are ready to take serious action against Trump.
Everyone’s finally banding together to express just how gosh darn OUTRAGED they are at Trump and the damage he’s done to our Republic and this time he’s gone too far and blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. Why, there should be an investigation! We demand accountability!
(I will, for the time being, ignore that all these Courageous Republicans who are finally turning on Trump were freshly re-elected and waited until he had less than two weeks left in his term to discover their conscience.)
But what about the millions of Republican voters that continue to enthusiastically support him? What about their role in this? What about that Personal Accountability Republicans never shut up about? When are we going to address the actual elephant in the room?
Silence. As always.
Because contrary to the blatant spin of what can laughably be called the “conservative intelligentsia”, this isn’t some abrupt new development that sprung out of the ether. It developed gradually and proudly, openly flaunting its anti-intellectualism, its selfishness, its barbaric sadism and cynical amorality.
It made no effort to conceal its existence because it saw no reason to.
Trump wasn’t beamed in from outer space, imposed upon us by some external force. He was enthusiastically embraced by the Republican electorate. Despite intense opposition from establishment Republicans, he won a grueling primary against a sprawling, diverse field. It’s probably the first and only thing he legitimately earned in his entire life.
The Republican electorate had a choice, and they chose him.
This is a coup. This is treason. This is a betrayal of the most basic principles upon which our country was founded.
It’s also entirely in character.
You can’t say they didn’t warn us. If nothing else, they were considerate enough to give us a heads-up. We just couldn’t accept it. We refused to believe our own brothers and sisters could so easily betray us. We viewed them with a sympathy and a humanity they would never afford us.
That’s because moderately intelligent, empathetic people who have spent their whole lives viewing the world in terms of complexity, ambiguity, and nuance generally tend to be deeply uncomfortable making sweeping, black-and-white condemnations, even when they happen to be completely true.
It’s hard for us to flatly say the other side doesn’t love their country, that they’re treasonous, irredeemable cowards and fools. No matter how angry we get, part of us wants to believe that, if the chips were down and we were facing some existential threat, we’d set aside our differences and work together as Americans. We want to believe in redemption, in humanity.
No. They would kill us, pose for photos with our corpse, upload them to Facebook, and bathe in the Likes and Tearful Laughter emojis.
But we denied it, choosing instead to play by their narrative of “two equal sides”. We kept looking away, coming up with all sorts of excuses and strategies and justifications for avoiding the difficult yet necessary work of admitting that the problem isn’t politicians, but “We, The People.”
Let’s drop the political correctness, then, and start acknowledging what’s been in front of our nose this whole time: Violent betrayal and lawlessness has been romanticized in their culture for centuries.
The greatest lie Obama ever told was that the differences between Red States and Blue States are largely superficial, and deep down, Americans all across the country all share the same core values. There is not a Red America and a Blue America, there is the United States of America.
No. We are not one people.
If 2016 taught us anything, it’s that our values are profoundly and fundamentally different, and only the hopelessly naïve would try to project your beliefs onto these savages.
Only one side truly (if not imperfectly) loves what this country stands for. Only one side truly respects our institutions and the rule of just law. The other side is a pack of violent, unthinking apes that will blindly shoot at anything if fed the correct string of trigger words.
We love democracy because we believe every American citizen, no matter who you are or what you’ve done, should have a say in how our society is structured. Our unifying principle is that every one of us has value. That even the worst of us should be given an opportunity to participate, not because we endorse their ideas, but because we cherish the principle of respecting the autonomy of every human being so much we will voluntarily respect the rights of people whose ideas we find repulsive.
Believing in that requires sacrifice. It demands a certain humility to accept that you alone are not qualified to say who should and should not have a say in how society is run, to admit the limitations of one’s own worldview, and to accept temporary ugliness for the greater good.
Trump supporters are totally incapable of this. Their worldview is centered on selfishness, convenience, tribalism, easy answers and quick fixes. They have no idea what they want or what they stand for, but goddammit, they feel something! Very strongly!
Meanwhile, Republicans have gone out of their way, over and over again, to rig the system in their favor, to pick and choose who gets to vote over arbitrary criteria cherry-picked for personal convenience, then behave as if they have some supermajority, even after losing the very game they’ve rigged.
They are mentally incapable of accepting that they are the minority because their entire worldview is built off the illusion of unearned superiority.
Through poll taxes, voter ID laws, baseless claims of nonexistent “voter fraud,” the Electoral College, and God knows how many other mechanisms, Republicans have a clear and consistent pattern of opposing democracy unless it’s blindly biased in their favor, and even then they’ll bitch about how unfair their own system is.
So let’s pull the camera back and think about what we’ve tolerated as a fun, quirky part of redneck culture and not what it actually is: A warning sign that we ignored.
Remember all those Second Amendment types that would never shut up about their self-insertion fanfic where they overthrow the government and commit acts of terrorism in the name of “We, The People”? Remember all those proud Facebook posts they’d make where they’d brandish an assault rifle over their massive gut and say “COME AND TAKE IT”? Remember all those lovingly detailed murder fantasies your uncle would proudly share on Facebook?
They’d tell you their love of guns was dispassionate and pragmatic, a self-defense tool for The Real World that limp-wristed libs could never understand. This too was an obvious lie that we accepted. The fetishization of guns went far beyond self-defense, and we all knew it. These people get visibly horny while fantasizing about shooting a burglar. They didn’t dread taking a life. They looked forward to it.
We let it slide because we knew it was a pathetic fantasy of a fat old man that couldn’t be bothered to take a jog around the block, let alone form a militia. So we didn’t say “That’s terrorism, you fucking idiot.” We normalized it.
We accepted their narrative as valid and worthy of debate.
In our country, in our courts, in our laws and our institutions, we have internalized the absurd notion that violent government overthrow is a totally acceptable solution that anyone should be free to consider.
We have states that, to this day, have bronze monuments in courthouses and public squares lionizing the traitors and parasites of the Confederacy that betrayed this country and murdered their own brothers so they could own human beings with black skin as slaves, to torment and subjugate and humiliate from birth until death.
Everything about this is monstrously evil. They don’t care. That’s just their way of life, isn’t it?
Until recently, Republican voters proudly waved the Confederate flag at sporting events, plastered Confederate bumper stickers all over their cars, wore trashy t-shirts proudly proclaiming themselves “rebels”. We accepted their infuriating narrative that Robert E. Lee wasn’t a sadistic monster with a reputation for cruelty among his slaves, but rather a noble pacifist that spent all day staring at sunsets and not, you know, mass-murdering American citizens.
We trivialized all of this as “unimportant”, as superfluous “culture war” distractions preventing us from focusing on more serious, concrete problems. We were so focused on the economy, on terrorism, on COVID, that we brushed it off as annoying and wrong, but nothing to become deeply alarmed about.
But just because we stopped looking doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.
For decades, these gullible, unthinking cattle have been fed a steady diet of nationalist, race-baiting, anti-intellectual propaganda by their puppetmasters in the right-wing media, who smugly assured us that they had this under control, even as signs of their grip loosening became more and more apparent.
As if to almost as if to flaunt how utterly incapable their audience was of even brief moments of critical reflection, they even made “liberals are brainwashed by the media” one of their go-to talking points.
Consider, just for a moment, how many of the tens of millions of Americans said “liberals are brainwashed by the media” for years without once thinking “Hey…isn’t Fox News part of the media?”
But rather than directing our scorn at the ignorant, racist individuals that proudly swallowed this codswallop, we largely avoided direct criticism of the voters in lieu of channeling all our anger at the small handful of high-profile individuals profiting from it.
Trump was the perfect boogeyman, a sadomasochistic human punching bag incapable of hiding how badly the nonstop criticism was eating at him. The media unloaded on Trump himself day after day, while awkwardly pretending his supporters were some sort of anthropological abstraction, mythical Tolkeinesque creatures to be examined from a distance.
Even though Trump voters had been conditioned to hate “The Media” with a searing, all-consuming fury, “The Media” was struggling to find nice things to say about them, to create excuses for them, to treat them as innocent victims, not willing participants. “It’s not her fault she supports Trump — she’s from Kentucky! All those people are ignorant savages!”
And the reason for this couldn’t be simpler: Attacking a distant public figure who happens to be a loudmouthed asshole is easy. Attacking individuals — pathetic, gullible, low-income individuals — is hard, and, if you’ve got advertisers to please, deeply unprofitable. You think CNN is ever gonna do an expose on your racist grandma? Even though she’s the physical embodiment of the problem?
(Sidebar: If you ever need an example of how even smart people can delude themselves with the right narrative, just take a moment and reflect on what a load of codswallop “Grandma can’t help it she’s racist because she’s old” is. Your white supremacist grandma is, what, 80? And at no point did anyone anywhere tell her the world was changing and racism is despicable? For 80 fucking years? Was she just teleported here straight from the 50’s and didn’t have, you know, eight decades to adjust?
Your grandma sucks. That’s my thesis statement.)
So instead, we kicked the can down the road, praying this would all go away if Trump lost, deluding ourselves into thinking that Trump’s defeat would break the curse and his millions of paranoid, violent, conspiratorial lunatic followers would just, I dunno, take up crocheting or something.
That’s the bell I’ve been ringing from Day One. When Trump leaves, Trumpism will remain, it will mutate into a more vile and desperate strand, and it will be impossible for “The Media” or for individuals to fall back on the comforting lies they’ve fed themselves.
Today was America’s moment of clarity. Today was the day we were forced to acknowledge the severity of this problem. These are not innocent rednecks of peace that just so happen to look at things differently. These are millions of rabid, heavily armed authoritarian attack dogs fueled by a bottomless reservoir of blind hatred.
And they will kill you.
I’ve harped on this issue so much that I’ve lost track of how many pieces I abandoned halfway through because I didn’t want all my writing to be about how much hillbillies suck.
In hindsight, my biggest regret is that I didn’t say more.