Tag Archives: base

I Just Don’t Get It

It’s really getting to me.

A week or so ago, a federal court ordered Donald Trump to pay two million dollars to charities he had defrauded by using his ostensibly charitable foundation as a personal and political slush fund. Veterans were among the causes from which he stole.

Veterans.

A Facebook meme I’ve seen several times since that court order says something to the effect that “what if you lived in a country whose leader stole from charity—and no one cared? You live in that country.”

Of course, that isn’t accurate. A lot of us care. But then, there are Americans who clearly don’t–Americans who continue to support Donald Trump no matter what despicable things he does– and for the life of me, I can’t understand why.

I realize that most people who support Trump neither follow nor understand public policy, and are basically unaware of the dreadful policies pursued by his administration. They also aren’t watching the Impeachment hearings–they’re just hearing about them from Fox.

Given all the data about civic ignorance, I can also believe that most of his “fans” don’t have the faintest idea how government works, what the Constitution requires, or how much of an assault on critical democratic norms his administration represents.

But here’s the thing.

According to polls, some 40% of voters still support Donald Trump. That’s despite an unending stream of disclosures that have been so widely reported that even people who watch Fox News could hardly have escaped hearing about them. It is virtually impossible to live in the U.S. and not know about the infamous “grab ‘em by the pussy” tape, or his payoffs to porn stars, or the numerous women who’ve accused him of sexual assault. They could not have avoided witnessing his crude, rude and ignorant behaviors, or reading at least some of the unending series of tweets in which he brags, lies and insults using ungrammatical English and misspelled words.

People who voted for him because they thought he was a businessman must now know about his multiple bankruptcies. Even if they dismiss those as “smart” strategies to avoid paying what he owed, surely his increasingly frantic efforts to hide his tax returns would have raised a question about what it is that he’s so determined to hide.

Voters and elected Republicans who still support him have rejected the Mueller Report. They’ve ignored pictures of refugee children in cages. They have refused to believe the testimony of war heroes and longtime diplomats. I could go on and on…but everyone reading this blog can supply additional examples.

Andrew Sullivan recently described the phenomenon:

“The GOP as a whole has consistently backed Trump rather than the Constitution. Sixty-two percent of Republican supporters have said that there is nothing Trump could do, no crime or war crime, no high crime or misdemeanor, that would lead them to vote against him in 2020. There is only one way to describe this, and that is a cult, completely resistant to reason or debate. The tribalism is so deep that Trump seems incapable of dropping below 40 percent in the national polls, and is competitive in many swing states. The cult is so strong that Trump feels invulnerable.”

The question is: why?

I understand partisanship, and the reluctance of people who have voted for someone to admit to themselves and others that they made a mistake. I understand the loyalty of the White Nationalists who see Trump as the Great White (Christian, male) hope. I’m even prepared to recognize that there are people who simply don’t read or listen to any news other than Fox.

But surely that isn’t forty percent of American voters.

I understood the people who wanted to have a beer with George W. Bush. He was personally pleasant, at least. Donald Trump, however, is personally repulsive—someone with no apparent redeeming characteristics. He’s a walking, bloviating example of everything American schools and churches and nonprofit organizations purport to reject. I can’t believe there are people who would want their children or grandchildren to model their behaviors on his.

So—why? Surely, 40% of our neighbors aren’t all bigots.  Could 40% of Americans actually believe Trump’s transparent lies?

My (formerly conservative Republican) brother-in-law thinks they do. He quotes Abraham Lincoln’s famous line  “you can fool all the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time…”  and says that the 2020 vote for Trump will provide an exact count of the number of Americans who can be fooled all of the time.

Other theories are welcome, because I just don’t get it. I’m at a loss.

 

Peter Wehner Explains The Inexplicable

Like most Americans today, I occupy a bubble. My friends, family, colleagues and neighbors all tend to see political reality largely the way I see it.

So I was taken aback–floored, really–by a conversation I had during a weekend visit to New Buffalo, Michigan. Our daughter and son-in-law had treated us to the visit and a tour of the 1932 World Fair’s “Homes of the Future” sponsored by Indiana Landmarks. We were staying in a lovely Bed and Breakfast, and while I was getting coffee, I chatted with a guest who turned out to be from Carmel, a suburb of Indianapolis.

What began as a cordial exchange devolved when he mentioned that he “loved” President Trump. (I’m sorry to report that I didn’t bite my tongue; I suggested he’d been drinking the Kool-Aid, and he stomped off.)

This encounter bothered me immensely. Here was a person who was obviously comfortable financially, who didn’t look like someone who ignored the news, or was mentally incapacitated. Why would he “love” this pathetic excuse for a human?

My husband’s theory was that Trump justifies the guy’s probable racism, but the exchange was still rankling when I read Peter Wehner’s column in Monday’s New York Times, titled “What’s the Matter with Republicans?”

One might hope that some of the party’s elected officials would forcefully condemn the president on the grounds that there is now demonstrable evidence that he had crossed an ethical line and abused his power in ways even beyond what he had done previously, which was problematic enough.

But things are very different today than they were in the summer of ’74. Mr. Trump was on to something when he famously said, during the 2016 campaign, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters, O.K.? It’s, like, incredible.” What most people took to be hyperbole turned out to be closer to reality.

Wehner–who was formerly a staunch  Republican–then asked the same question I had asked: why? What would account for continued fealty to someone who is not only a demonstrably unfit President, but a truly repulsive human being with what Wehner accurately describes as “a mobster’s mentality”?

Why, then, are so many Republicans yet again circling the Trump wagon rather than taking this opportunity to denounce what the president did and declare some independence from him by doing so? Why has Mr. Trump, an ethical wreck of a man both before and after he reached the White House, earned such fealty from Republicans?

Wehner says it isn’t policy, and I agree.

Understanding the close compact between Mr. Trump and the Republican Party starts with acknowledging the false hope many establishment Republicans placed in the shady real estate mogul as he rose to power. They misdiagnosed the individual they were dealing with, assuming that Mr. Trump would “grow in office” and that they, the “adults in the room,” would be able to control and contain him. At the outset of this unholy alliance, they were convinced they would change Mr. Trump more than Mr. Trump would change them. But the transformation turned out to be in them, not him.

Wehner acknowledges that politicians’ self-interest is threatened by the loyalty of the GOP base to Trump. But what accounts for the devotion of that base–of people like the man I had encountered?

As a conservative-leaning clinical psychologist I know explained to me, when new experiences don’t fit into an existing schema — Mr. Trump becoming the leader of the party that insisted on the necessity of good character in the Oval Office when Bill Clinton was president, for example — cognitive accommodation occurs.

When the accommodation involves compromising one’s sense of integrity, the tensions are reduced when others join in the effort. This creates a powerful sense of cohesion, harmony and group think. The greater the compromise, the more fierce the justification for it — and the greater the need to denounce those who call them out for their compromise. “In response,” this person said to me, “an ‘us versus them’ mentality emerges, sometimes quite viciously.”

“What used to be a sense of belonging,” I was told, “devolves into primitive tribalism, absolute adherence to the leader over adherence to a code of ethics.”…

As the psychologist I spoke to put it to me, many Republicans “are nearly unrecognizable versions of themselves pre-Trump. At this stage it’s less about defending Trump; they are defending their own defense of Trump.”

“At this point,” this person went on, “condemnation of Trump is condemnation of themselves. They’ve let too much go by to try and assert moral high ground now. Calling out another is one thing; calling out yourself is quite another.”

And then there’s that shared racism….

 

Gerrymandering Is A Two-Sided Sword….

There’s an old adage heard among real-estate developers and businesspeople: If you owe the bank several thousand dollars, you have a problem; if you owe the bank several million dollars, the bank has a problem. Guess which debtor is most likely to be successful in renegotiating the terms of the loan?

So–I hear you asking–what in the world does that have to do with our currently dysfunctional GOP, or with partisan redistricting, aka gerrymandering?

Among the Republicans in Congress, there are plenty of “true believers”–fanatics and zealots of various types. (Honesty compels me to note that there are also some nut jobs among the Democrats, although not as many.) The crazies in the GOP, however, are widely outnumbered by people who do actually know better, people who have managed to get elected by playing to the ignorance and bigotries and extremism of voters who probably do not represent the majority of their constituents, but who can be depended upon to turn out, volunteer and vote.

The problem is, once they have energized that “base,” it owns them. The voters who make up the GOP base–in both senses of that word–demand fidelity to their passions, and their Representatives know it. That base controls a significant number of districts.

When the national Republican Party engaged in a wholesale redistricting coup after the 2010 census, that effort was wildly successful. (I have referred to the book “Ratf**ked” before; it sets out chapter and verse of “Operation Redmap.”)

Too successful.

There were two consequences of that wholesale gerrymander. The first was intended: Republicans won many more seats than their vote totals would otherwise have garnered. The second consequence, however, was both unanticipated and extremely damaging. The people elected to Congress from those deep-red districts the mapmakers created don’t feel any allegiance to the leaders of their party, or to reasonable or productive policymaking. They are only interested in doing the bidding of the voters to whom they are beholden, and avoiding a primary battle that–thanks to the gerrymander–can only come from the right.

The political reporters babbling on cable news consistently express surprise at the inability of the Republican part to govern, to control the factions that range from Hard Right to “wow, that guy’s a Nazi.” The answer is the success of their 2011 gerrymander.

The sane among them have a problem–and a choice.

If they have any integrity, they can follow their consciences, risk being primaried and defeated, or quit. (Every day, it seems, a GOP Representative announces a decision not to run again, and it isn’t hard to see why.) If they don’t have any integrity, they accept that they are wholly owned by the most rabid members of their base, and they simply pander accordingly. (In Indiana, we have a delegation composed entirely of True Believers and panderers. If you live in the state, you can decide who’s who.)

Unfortunately, this country needs two rational parties populated with adults in order to function. So not only is the GOP broken, our whole government is broken.

Happy Valentine’s Day…