The State of the Union speech is over. Right wingers are thrilled with network snap polls of those who watched it. They show approval ratings over 70%. Never mind that network snap polls are the love child of ill informed marketing types. Pundits and other commentators shrug it off, labeling the speech as adolescent, trite, a dud. Fact checkers list the exaggerations, lies, and mostly true statements. Congressional body language is studied far beyond credibility. So here are a few related thoughts, not so much about the speech, but about Trump’s ability to create and maintain a loyal base.
Not long ago there was a five second news clip of someone saying he likes Trump because he is a “stand up guy who tells it like it is.” His five seconds echo what many local folks say, and aren’t shy about taking up a lot more than five seconds. It’s confusing to me because I think of stand up guys as men and women whose integrity and personal courage give them the confidence to proclaim and defend what they believe to be right, even in the face of overwhelming opposition, and to do it without deception. Trump, as a stand up guy, has all the integrity of an infomercial huckster, and demonstrates courage only when backed by a mob willing to do his bidding. Whether Tump intends to deceive is another matter. He may have bought so deeply into his make believe world that it’s real to him. He may be deceived about how deceptive it is.
On the other hand, Trump does tell it like it is in the sense that he gives public voice to real and imagined complaints some have about how they’re ignored, disrespected, and cut out of decision making by elites, people of color, feminists, and immigrants, all of whom, to avoid being labeled as prejudiced, are lumped together as socialists out to destroy the American Way. He does it with the consummate skill of a Robespierre like provocateur demanding that heads roll.
The source of all the complaints has been thoroughly explored, so it only remains to say it’s a combination of declining hope for economic well being, isolation from the centers of society as depicted on television, increasing political power of women and minorities, and an unwavering commitment to the myth of rugged individualism that takes perverse pride in belittling government.
Among the harvest reaped from seeds sown by tea partiers, and brought to maturity by trumpism, are very odd fruits.
- Anti-science fundamentalism that often imitates the forms and language of Christianity.
- Combative politics in which nothing is ever ceded and negotiation is impossible. It’s win or lose, live or die, do as much damage as possible to the other.
- Gullible susceptibility to threatening conspiracy stories wedded with resistance to verifiable contrary information.
- Fear of imminent harm from low probability incidents.
- Disregard of harm from high probability incidents.
- Revealed ignorance of basic American civics.
- Distrust and disrespect for government, including the very programs providing them with needed services and quality of life.
It adds up to a kind of determined Trump supporter: one unwilling to be an independent thinker, and who has bought trumpian ideology in toto. They remind me of pie eyed erstwhile American Communists in the 1920s and 30s who had been convinced there really was a Bolshevik paradise. They adhere to the party line without deviation, and are convinced it’s all the others who are not thinking.
But there is another kind of Trump supporter: one who is knowledgable, conniving, calculating, power hungry, and decidedly anti-democratic. It’s been said before that they are disturbingly fascist like. And they are, no matter how hard they try to look like good conservative patriots. Curiously, they hold the first type of Trump supporter in utter contempt, easily manipulated, needed only as the means to get and keep political control that will benefit their own interests.
In between are others unwilling to believe a sitting president could be both incompetent and malevolent, so are willing to give him every benefit of doubt as they seek ways to work constructively with him. There aren’t any. Occasional outcomes of good turn out to be coincidences, a lucky roll of the dice, or the product of actions from other sources. They never offer a foundation to build on.
We live in perilous times.