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The Trump test

August 12, 2019

Those who are trying to pin down Trump’s bigotry might fail to bring that into sharp focus. He is, first and foremost, a charlatan and bullshitter. While he is quite happy inciting the nativists, the bigots, and the white supremacists who support him, that doesn’t mean his beliefs around those run much deeper than managing his network of allies and foes. He turns on a dime, from laughing when one of his fans proposes the shooting of immigrants, to pretending concern for the victims of a mass shooting that, from the evidence at hand, was committed from the same rage against immigrants that Trump encourages at his rallies. That is just one example of his frequent gaslighting. Every president past could offer sympathy to the victims of a tragedy without stirring controversy in the doing of that. Normal human concern crosses a broad range of political viewpoints. But what is an offer of sympathy, when it comes from a conman? Something grotesque.

Trump’s signal characteristic is his complete disregard for truth. That divides conservatives today into roughly three groups. The first are principled conservatives, from Max Boot and Charlie Sykes to George Will and David Brooks, who are so repulsed by that they refuse to support him. Despite the fact that he has united their political party and given it power, the never-Trumpers cannot bring themselves to align with him. This first group is important, partly for their demonstration of some integrity, perhaps more that their writing serves as historical witness to the fact that Trump’s mendacity was publicly visible from before his entry into politics. Many writers across the political spectrum pointed it out. No one will get by saying, “I didn’t know at the time.”

The second group are those with honesty enough to see Trump for who he is, yet who give him their hedged support from political calculation. They weigh the most corrupt administration in US history as the cost that must be paid today for their tax cut or their Supreme Court justices. Living in south Texas, I know many people who will continue to vote the straight Republican ticket, despite shaking their heads weekly over Trump’s latest lie or dishonest act.

The third group, the Trumpistas, are the supporters who cozy up to his lies. Some will try to excuse them, pretending that he is no different in that regard than any other politician. Many will carry them and repeat them. Some of his supporters will do so cynically, recognizing the lies as nonsense, but wanting to share in the victory of the winning story and in the trolling of their enemies. Some will claim his lies carry a “deeper” truth, that what he says must be taken “seriously, not literally.” Some simply are incapable of distinguishing fact from falsehood. Many slide back and forth between those poles, as the discomfort of one tactic causes they to flip to another. Trump and the right-wing media repeat each others’ lies, making any of those routes easier for those attuned to the latter. Bizarrely, there is a right-wing site that generates propaganda its audience repeats seriously — or should I say literally? — despite the fact that it labels itself satire.

Whichever of those routes they take, the Trumpistas show the holes in their own integrity from how they support their liar-in-chief. They will find their failure affects them long after Trump is dead. Those seeing their contortions today will and should laugh when a Trumpista in the future pretends any concern for political corruption, media bias, or any other issue of integrity.

More, the Trumpistas will find their failure runs deeper than normal politics. Short of violence, there is nothing less civil than Trump’s firehose of lies. Their alliance with that will change how Trumpistas are viewed by their friends, by their colleagues, and by their family members. The trust they destroy will not be restored when the political winds blow differently. They are being given a test, in the form of media channels that peddle the lies they like to hear, and in the form of a conman who uses those lies to make himself their leader. They fell for the con, or decided to play a role in it. Whether or not they eventually see themselves as winning at that game, they mark themselves. At best, such individuals are deluded Dale Gribbles. Every other possibility speaks worse of their character. Much worse. They need to remember that, when they think it is “mere” politics that has again come between one of their relationships. It is politics. But the kind of politics that reflects character.

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