I’ve been harping on the role of pictures in generating social change–how the flood of visual testimony of racism, culminating in the video of George Floyd’s murder, has forced recognition of a reality too many Americans hadn’t previously understood–or wanted to acknowledge.
But a couple of recent columns–one by Michelle Goldberg and one by Russ Douthat–have expanded on that observation. Both writers suggest that seeing Donald Trump and experiencing the travesty that has been his administration have also been “pictures.”
Goldberg notes “two big examples” of how Trump’s presidency has triggered progress.
The sudden, rapid embrace of the Black Lives Matter movement by white people is a function of the undeniable brutality of George Floyd’s videotaped killing. But public opinion has also moved left on racial issues in reaction to an unpopular president who behaves like a cross between Bull Connor and Andrew Dice Clay.
And the thrilling 6-3 decision the Supreme Court just issued upholding L.G.B.T. equality wouldn’t be as devastating to the religious right if it had happened under a President Clinton.
Goldberg suggests that the Supreme Court’s LGBTQ decision dealt a real blow to the “but the Supreme Court!” argument made by conservative supporters of Trump. (And this was before the Court slapped him down on DACA.)
We’ve all encountered those people: yes, they’ll admit, Trump is an offensive ignoramus, someone we’d never socialize with or hire, but we need to support him in order to put conservative judges on the courts. (The argument used to be accompanied by “and look at your 401K!”–but that justification disappeared with Trump’s criminally incompetent “management” of the pandemic.)
The phrase “But Gorsuch” is shorthand for how conservatives justify all the moral compromises they’ve made in supporting Trump; controlling the Supreme Court makes it all worth it. So there’s a special sweetness in Gorsuch spearheading the most important L.G.B.T. rights decision since the 2015 ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which established a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.
Goldberg quotes one conservative for the sentiment that, if Trump’s appointees can’t deliver Supreme Court victories to social conservatives, “there’s no point.” If that reaction means that social conservatives will be less enthusiastic about heading to the polls in November, it makes the Court’s decision even more satisfying.
On the Sunday before announcement of the Court’s decision (which, I am happy to report, was accompanied by others that cheered me: refusal to hear a challenge to California’s refusal to co-operate with ICE, refusal to hear challenges to state gun control laws, and one protecting the Clean Water Act) Russ Douthat, one of the conservative columnists at the Times, attributed the increasingly leftward shift of public opinion to Trump’s Presidency, suggesting that “so long as he remains in office, Trump will be an accelerant of the right’s erasure, an agent of its marginalization and defeat, no matter how many of his appointees occupy the federal bench.”
In situations of crisis or grave difficulty, Trump displays three qualities, three spirits, that all redound against the movement that he leads. His spirit of authoritarianism creates a sense of perpetual crisis among his opponents, uniting left-wingers and liberals despite their differences. His spirit of chaos, the sense that nothing is planned or under control, turns moderates and normies against him. And finally his spirit of incompetence means that conservatives get far less out of his administration than they would from a genuine imperial president, a man of iron rather than of pasteboard.
Douthat concludes that Trump has been little short of a disaster for conservatives.
What we are seeing right now in America, an accelerated leftward shift, probably won’t continue at this pace through 2024. But it’s likely to continue in some form so long as Trump is conservatism, and conservatism is Trump — and four more years of trying to use him as a defensive salient is not a strategy of survival, but defeat.
For principled conservatives–in contrast to the more numerous racists and homophobes who’ve adopted the label–the Trump Presidency has been that very bad car wreck at the side of the road–the one every passing car slows down to gape at.
It’s a horrifying picture, and they can’t look away. None of us can–and the compelling pileups keep coming.
Friday’s effort to fire the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York–this administration’s “Saturday night massacre”– looks to usher in an even more dramatic and compelling collision, as Barr frantically tries to keep the lid on pending disclosures and indictments…
As a friend recently posted to Facebook, this isn’t government–it’s the Days of Our Lives.