And never the twain shall meet…
(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Republicans are all upset and feeling betrayed because 92-year-old former
president Bush the Elder has made it clear that he cannot support Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. Actually, none of the Bushes intend to support Trump. In fact, no living former president will endorse him, and a good number of them and their families have made it clear that they intend to vote for his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton. True to form, the Trump campaign has responded to that news by launching Twitter attacks on the turncoat Republicans and calling the reluctance of their fellow GOP members to endorse bigotry, xenophobia, racism, misogyny, paranoia, compulsive lying, ignorance, and hate speech “a slap in the face”.
Leaving aside for a moment the observation that the Republican nominee richly deserves a slap in the face and more, the Trump campaign’s reaction tells us a great deal about the state of polarisation in American society. Trump interprets anything short of adulation and unconditional approval to be treachery and betrayal. When he hears of any prominent figure who has publicly disagreed with him or even failed to praise him with sufficient fervour, his reaction is to tweet an insult, usually dismissing his critic as a loser, or a lightweight, or a failure, or as unintelligent. Then he will tweet several more attacks, now incorporating a new nickname, typically projecting one of his character flaws on his new enemy; “Crooked Hillary”, “Lyn’” Ted”, “Little Marco”, or the like. Not for a moment does it occur to him that someone may not support him because of a fundamental disagreement with one or more of his policies; in Trump’s universe, it’s always personal.
Of course he has good reason to reject the notion of a policy-based lack of support; he hasn’t articulated a single policy that he hasn’t walked back, flip-flopped on, said he was only joking about, or flat out lied about advocating. It’s pretty hard to support a policy that is as elusive and vague as some of his are; or as utterly unfeasible constitutionally, financially, or logistically as the rest are. It is hardly surprising that many people are attracted to Hillary’s proposed policies simply because they are laid out in detail and are available for scrutiny, for discussion, and for clarification if needed.
For Trump, these are tedious irrelevancies. For Trump, policy, platforms, and plans are all tedious irrelevancies. All that matters to him is blind loyalty. He is unabashedly striving to create and enlarge a cult of personality. And, like all narcissistic demagogues, to Trump, you are either blindly and devotedly on his side, or you are an enemy to be crushed and destroyed.
The man claims to be a uniter of people, and the only one who can rescue the nation from his imaginary precipice of humiliation and defeat at the hands of foreigners who laugh at the country’s weakness; that weakness, of course, being the result of the failure of Barack Obama’s leadership. He claims to be dedicated to restoring the country’s greatness. To make that claim resonate, his entire campaign is based upon manufacturing an image of the United States as being downtrodden among the community of nations, of having slid into a cesspool of uncontrolled violence and swamped by parasitical and criminal illegal immigrants bent on imposing Sharia law on good, upstanding bible bashers. Thanks to foreign-looking people, the economy is in the toilet and people have no hope of escaping their misery. The country, in Trump’s dystopian fiction, is little more than a battleground in which the white, Christian, hard-working, poorly-educated, salt-of-the-earth, “real Americans” are fighting a rearguard action against violent, atheistic yellow, brown, and black thugs. Christians, in this fantasy, are a persecuted group suffering discrimination that is far worse than any other group has endured, including African Americans under slavery. The inner cities, he has claimed with a straight face, are more dangerous than Afghanistan. For Trump to position himself as a saviour, it is necessary for there to be something from which to save the people; hence the hellish depiction of contemporary America.
The right wing, especially the “alt right” represented by Donald Trump, is desperate to embrace the absurd and factually inaccurate vision of America because to do so confers upon them the right, even the obligation, as the only patriotic Americans to speak and even to act upon their latent racial and cultural animosity. Trump’s hardcore base needs his doom and gloom rhetoric because it is the only thing that legitimises the cold, dark, hatred at the centre of their damaged souls.
The fact that Obama has done everything the Republicans have promised over the years but failed to deliver is simply brushed aside in a wave of denial. The economy was turned around under a Democratic White House. Obama presided over the longest unbroken streak of job creation in history. More people were raised from poverty last year than at any other time; more people are now covered by health insurance, the Dow Jones has risen past the point it was at before the bubble burst; the balance of trade is beginning to reverse itself, Bush’s deficit has been reduced by half a trillion dollars. By every measure, including crime statistics, the United States is in better shape than when George W. Bush left office; the Obama presidency is an unadulterated success. Nevertheless, none of that makes any difference to Trump’s people, because they need to believe in Trump’s nightmare to justify voting for the most overtly racist candidate since George Wallace, and the most self-evidently unqualified candidate in US history. And as long as they get to express their fundamental hatred, they’ll deny the truth and ignore the facts; they’ll even believe a narrative that, deep down, they know to be unadulterated bullshit.
On the left, however, there is another dynamic at play. By and large, left leaning voters tend to be persuaded by things that mean little or nothing to the right wing. Things like voting records, histories of public service, knowledge and understanding of the constitution, foreign policy, economics, history, and proven diplomatic chops. They will never vote for Trump; but that doesn’t mean they are committed to Hillary Clinton. For whatever reason, many will lodge protest votes, write-in votes, or simply abstain. Nothing will sway a Trump voter but Hillary is held by traditional Democratic voters to a higher standard. She is actually expected to speak and act like a president; Republicans are satisfied with voting for a blustering ignoramus.
For that reason, when a Republican defects and expresses support for Hillary, the Trumpies go batshit crazy; they can’t understand how one of their own has abandoned their race-baiting and nonsensical worldviews for policy and a promise of good governance. This election comes down to just a few things: how many Republicans will decide to leave the dark side and vote responsibly; how many centre and left of centre voters will actually come out and vote against the evil represented by Trump. If, as Trump seems to believe, there is a significant block of closeted Trump voters, poll respondents who are embarrassed to voice their position, and at the same time a lack of enthusiasm among Democrats to support Hillary, we may well be looking at a Trump victory and the very real cataclysmic results of his ascension to the most powerful office in the world.