Is Trump really the problem?
As he flails, fails, fumbles and fulminates through this historic Covid crisis, President Trump has gone completely off the deep end, like Lear raging at the stormy heavens.
Trump’s deranged Mother’s Day tweet-storm showed a man on the precipice of insanity.
But likely there’s a method to his madness.
As we all know, from the day he descended his golden escalator, everything Trump’s done he’s done for his base. “My people,” he calls them. The red hats. The MAGAs.
Like a TV personality and over-pandering politicians, he plays to his audience and ratings. He dances with the ones who brung him. He never tries to soften his tone or act presidential to broaden his appeal because his base ain’t havin’ none of that. He’s all about his base.
His mounting mania suggests he’s worried his base is eroding.
It’s relatively small to begin with — only 20–30 percent of the electorate, of which the fake militia whack-jobs who costume in guns and cammo to protest the Covid shutdowns are a minority subset (while bigly spreading the virus).
But MAGAs are inordinately powerful thanks to old-school Republicans who are using them to slash taxes and regulations, and quirks of our electoral system distorted by decades of GOP gerrymandering. Trump owns the Republican Party, the Senate and nearly half the House because they both need, and are petrified of, his ride-or-die army.
Yet the Trump Brigade is shrinking.
“The continually changing electorate means that Trump, both nationally and in battleground states, will likely need to squeeze more advantage from working-class whites — through either higher turnout or a bigger margin of victory — just to offset his weakness with the [non-white] groups that are growing,” as Atlantic Monthly put it last fall.
So Trump needs to rally his base like never before, even if it means losing sensibly concerned Republican moderates and independents with every amygdala-hijacked tweet and Clorox claim.
Part of me pities Trump.
Everyone blames Trump for being Trump. Poor guy. The professional mainstream media (versus his right-wing media shoeshine boys) pummels him daily for his unpresidential behavior as he gives them fresh reasons daily. Former presidents are throwing shade. Anti-Trump Republicans are attacking him more viciously — and effectively — than even Democrats are.
But MAGAs, who inspire and accept Trump’s worst impulses, have largely gotten a pass.
Especially by the real media. The “go to the source” profession treads sensitively when talking about the wellspring of Trump’s destruction, if at all.
This is understandable. Journalism’s traditional mission is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Trump’s base is truly afflicted.
Many in Trump Country are poor, barely employed people trapped in dying industrial towns and farm counties. Despair-driven opioid abuse, overdose and death — 47,000 in 2018 — may well be more rampant there than the Covid. The 21st century economy has downsized their employers, shipped their jobs overseas, or demanded education and training they don’t have. Pathology is rampant. The pandemic’s impact on the economy is hitting them hardest.
So they’re angry. Resentful. Cynical. Bitter. Even hateful.
Along comes Trump saying, it’s not your fault. You got screwed by the smarty-pants, college-indoctrinated PC liberal language police, their Washington swamp politicians, and the mainstream media who think you’re deplorably stupid, racist, misogynist, homophobic, xenophobic, and altogether horrible. The Democrats only care about poor minorities and immigrants who are stealing your jobs, spending your tax money, and destroying the America you know. White lives matter too. Etc.
So Trump becomes a folk hero, as New York Times columnist Charles Blow wrote a year ago, and whatever he does thrills his people. Many murderous socialist dictators came to power that way. But that can’t happen here.
But excusing MAGAs for making America worse by cheering Trump is condescending.
These are adults. They know better, or should. With power comes responsibility and accountability. Let’s do some of that:
— Trump has gleefully, gratuitously and childishly insulted nearly 600 persons, places and things, even his own appointees, and that’s just on Twitter.
Why? Because he’s a bully and his people love it. (While thin-skinned and playing victim when those they provoke push back.)
— Trump has made 18,000 false or misleading claims while in office, including lying about his lies. And he ramped up the lying when the Covid hit.
“As of early April, Trump has told 23.3 lies per day in 2020, a 0.5-lie increase since 2019,” Forbes reported. “Even during a pandemic, when the public needs to trust and rely on him the most, deception remains a core part of the president’s playbook.”
Why does Trump blithely lie? Because his people either believe or defend him, or don’t care. As Trump himself said in 1998, “If I were to run, I’d run as a Republican. They’re the dumbest group of voters in the country. They believe anything on Fox News. I could lie and they’d still eat it up.”
— Trump has systematically destroyed the Affordable Care Act that guarantees healthcare coverage to people with health needs who don’t have employer insurance, Medicare, Medicaid or VA care. With Covid shutdowns throwing millions out of work and employer coverage, we need the ACA more than ever.
Why does Trump continue to kill the ACA lifeline? Because he promised his base to replace it with something much better, which of course never happened. Many in his base will be hurt first and worst, and we’ll all pay. But they’ll blame Obama.
— Trump has whipped up racial hate and division, cheered white supremacists, and demonized non-white immigrants and minorities who, by the way, are 40 percent of our fellow Americans. Now he’s smearing the Chinese to get reelected.
His white base loves it. If they didn’t, he wouldn’t. But don’t you dare even hint that makes them racist.
I dearly want to respect my fellow MAGA Americans.
As a high school dropout who enlisted in the Navy at 17 to escape a bad home situation in a dying industrial town, I appreciate how lucky I was to get away and go on to earn a college degree on the GI bill, and have the privileged life I have.
But I don’t understand the cynically vicious, venom-dripping tone that emanates from Trump Nation, which, chicken/egg, goads him as he goads them in a classic vicious circle.
And no, the usual MAGA whatabout — Democrats are meaner! — is the dog that won’t hunt. Democrats don’t chant “lock her up!” about a former First Lady, or “send her back!” about emigre congresswomen, or “Jews will not replace us!” They don’t storm public places bristling with military weapons. They don’t wave despicable Nazi regalia to attack governors elected by their fellow Americans who are trying to protect all of us.
And don’t give me, “What about Antifa? What about AOC and The Squad’s antisemitism? What about Maxine Waters telling supporters to harass Trump’s cabinet? What about Nancy Pelosi ripping up the president’s speech? What about Rachel Maddow and the rest of the liberal mainstream media attacking Trump?” Please.
In another fiercely divided time, President Lincoln urged us to heed the “better angels of our nature.”
Are Trump and his base that guides him following their better natures? I wish they would.
Since Trump listens to MAGAs, I’d love for them to tell him to knock off the nastiness. It’s un-American, it’s not who we are, it’s tearing us apart and it’s making us worse, not greater. Please.
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer.