May 29, 2020


Donald Trump unmasked: Culture-war nihilism is his last line of defense (HEATHER DIGBY PARTON, MAY 29, 2020, Salon)

Perhaps it's because Trump was a celebrity with a TV show long before he entered politics that makes his fans love him so unconditionally. Whatever it is, Trump and his supporters have an unusually personal and almost intimate bond. It's clear after three and a half tumultuous years that they will follow his lead no matter what.

The political implications of this are profound. This weird relationship between president and base now completely dominates the Republican Party, apparently making it impossible for any prominent national figure in the party to allow even the smallest daylight between himself or herself and Trump. (Frankly, very few even seem to be trying.) 

The red MAGA hat serves as an official symbol of Trump loyalty, and there is a certain part of his following that uses it as a tool of intimidation. Even more disturbing, there has been a spate of mass shootings and other acts of violence by people who have named Trump or his ideas as motivation.

In order to maintain his supporters' devotion, Trump has stoked the culture wars at every turn, ruthlessly dividing the country in order to keep his fans engaged. They receive such hypocritical gestures of solidarity as his newfound "pro-life" zealotry with enthusiastic gratitude -- but what they really love are his brutal assaults on those they consider their political and cultural enemies. In that, Trump and his base are one.

So it should come as no surprise that when Trump faced the first crisis of his presidency that was not of his own making --- and failed to meet the challenge --- he would reflexively fall back on culture-war tactics to reinforce his base. His response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been abysmal, with the death toll now over 100,000 and the economy in dire straits. After bungling the response so badly that it will be studied by historians for centuries as an example of poor leadership, Trump is returning to his original instinct, which was simply to deny that the whole thing mattered, or was even happening.

Suppose, for the sake of argument, that we take the infamous Flight 93 essay seriously for a minute and grant that it delineates the mission Donald and the Trumpbots are embarked on: they are so alarmed by our Republic's destination that they prefer to try and seize control and crash it in the ground.  This sort of pure nihilism is easy enough to scoff at, because we think of death cults as utterly fringy.  But polling consistently indicates that about 18-20% of Americans are on board with every last bit of it.  The basis for this despair is clearest in the most extreme manifestos: whites are being "replaced" demographically; white men can't dominate in free employment markets; women find these true believers unlovable; etc.  The Trumpists, therefore, want to just destroy the entire liberal order because they can not compete in it.  

Let us return now to the Flight 93 analogy: a group of men are trying to hijack control and destroy the Republic.  What is the proper response?

Maybe this?: "Extremism in defense of liberty is no vice. Moderation in pursuit of justice is no virtue."

Posted by at May 29, 2020 9:41 AM