There have been many attempts to understand how anyone could have voted for Donald Trump, and how anyone could still support him now. In this blog, I myself have marshalled various logical arguments that one might use to try to turn someone from the path of Trumpism. But there is a hard core of Trump support that does not respond to appeals based on the kind of logic most of us understand. They have a weird logic of their own, in which the worse things get under Trump, the closer they are to their goal. Fortunately, this hard core represents the floor for Trump’s approval rating, and the figure now appears to be 35% or less of the voters. That’s still enough to win elections in some parts of the country, but not to keep control of the nation as a whole. For now, these people are aided and abetted by cynics like Paul Ryan, who believe that they can control the Trumpites, and use their support to advance their own agenda. Ryan is from the faction I described over the last two weeks, who can not tell the difference between the financial markets and the economy. The Trumpites, however, have a completely different set of beliefs and goals.
The Trumpites believe that our system of laws and governance has failed. They do not distinguish between themselves and anyone the system may have worked for, believing instead that it has failed everyone. Hillary Clinton’s promise to defend the status quo was the last thing they wanted to hear. Where Bernie Sanders promoted the argument that it was a moral imperative to do better, the failure of his vision for positive change only reinforced the Trumpites’ idea that the system we have would never allow such change to occur. It doesn’t matter who has rigged the system in this worldview, only that the system is rigged. The only way to change this pattern, in the eyes of the Trumpites, is to first utterly destroy the system we have now. For these supporters, Donald Trump’s job, the one they helped elect him to do, is to be the agent of this destruction. Trump’s performance over the last two weeks was a great success in this view. Trump placed strain on our alliances in Europe and pledged to remove us from the Paris Accord. It’s all good, the Trumpites feel, because it attacks the established order of the world. Trump’s budget represented a frontal assault on the welfare state, and that too must be destroyed.
The Trumpites did not suddenly emerge during the election last year. They represent the logical end point of ideas the Republicans have been promoting for years, only in a context that establishment Republicans never imagined. Paul Ryan is only the most recent in a series of warriors devoted to shredding the social safety net and undoing the legacy of the New Deal. Grover Norquist has long promoted the notion of “starving the beast”, cutting taxes to the point where the government could no longer afford to help the needy. Republicans have also long promoted the notions of restoring American purity in their arguments for immigration reform. But, where establishment Republicans pursue these goals within our systems of governance and laws, Trumpites want to see it all destroyed. They perceive a government that has never done anything for them, and they have no further use for it. They have been taught by Republicans for years that it is shameful to take government handouts, that it is a sign of moral weakness, so why should they care if those “handouts” cease to exist? And why should they care if those who are morally weak suffer as they wreak their destruction?
The Trumpites are of course what the media have decided to call the “alt right”. Given my formulation, you can see how evangelical Christians fit in. Trump, for them, is a deeply flawed human being, but he is the agent of change who will bring on the end days. While certainly a sinner himself, his proposals will redeem him by punishing the real sinners, and cleansing our society. The racial and ethnic implications of this make it clear why the Trumpites include racist and neo-nazi organizations. What may be less clear is the fact that some former progressives also fall into this camp. I touched on how this can be with my comment earlier about Bernie Sanders. Look up the story of a man named David Horowitz. Horowitz was, at one time, very involved in the left wing politics of the Vietnam War era. He was even an editor at Ramparts. But one day, he woke up disillusioned, and quickly became a rabid “conservative”. Horowitz was an important mover behind the scenes in last year’s election, with Trump benefiting greatly from his help.
On the left, we also feel a great deal of anger. We find it hard to accept a system that can not give us either universal healthcare or sensible gun control, even in the face of clear public support for both policies. The vitriol that was exchanged during the primaries between the Sanders and Clinton camps was a symptom of this frustration. We must be aware that, as Yoda said, “that way leads to the dark side.” Trumpism is that dark side, and David Horowitz is proof that any of us can go there. So engaging with the Trumpites and trying to reason with them is dangerous for us. Their anger may prove contagious. The Trumpites are properly understood not as some edgy new genre, “alt right”, but as dangerous extremists, right wing anarchists who represent a tangible threat to our way of life. And they should not be allowed to call themselves patriots as they trample on the Constitution. Patriots can believe that our system of laws and governance is ailing, as long as we recall that the means for a cure are built into the system itself. I have a primary to vote in on Tuesday, where I will do my bit to try to affect a cure.
Jackson Browne wrote Before the Deluge in 1974. At the time, all of the implications of the loss of 1960s idealism were not yet obvious, but Browne instinctively knew at least some of the dangers.