One of the questions that is repeatedly asked about the Republicans under Trump is, “How could they continue to support him?” Well, the simple and obvious answer is that they shouldn’t. Mona Charen produced an excellent piece over at The Bulwark summarizing the argument against it and castigating those who would vote for him. She has a long history as a Republican and a conservative; as a speechwriter for Nancy Reagan, she held confidences with that first family. She’s also been a firm advocate for the value of science, writing an entire book taking liberal feminists to task for ignoring proven fact as recently as 2018. In theory, she’s a perfect advocate against Trump. In reality, she will be ignored by many.
It’s not that she’s is working in the wrong medium. Michael Medved, a syndicated talk show host and long time Republican stalwart, lost many stations when he refused to promote then-primary candidate Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign and today strongly endorses Joe Biden for President. If Republicans are unduly swayed by talk radio, he would be an option for sanity. Instead, the usual suspects have retained most of the listeners they had four years ago.
Those are two very prominent Republicans who oppose Trump. There are dozens more. They are grossly outnumbered by the sycophants, but anyone seriously looking for a core of morality and decency still present in the party doesn’t have to hunt very hard. People who are still eager to cling to the history of the Republican party would have incentive to line up behind them and some others at the Bulwark or the writers purged from Red State. For the most part it hasn’t happened.
The bulk of the blame has to go to three sources. First is Trump. He has no shame, no sense of morality, no sense of propriety. His offenses are legion and well cataloged. Second are his media and political enablers. Whether driven by fear or greed, they have decided that amplifying and validating Trump’s lies are the best thing for their careers, and they have chosen that option over their long-stated principles.
Third are the people themselves. They bought into the lies, and they are responsible for that.
Why did they do it, though?
I’ve seen it posited that the Republicans have always been this way, they’ve merely hidden it. I find that theory completely unbelievable, even though it’s been presented by Max Boot and Stuart Stevens. It’s unbelievable because it would mean my experiences through life didn’t happen.
I’ve watched as people – my friends, my family, Republican acquaintances I’ve known – have not just argued for racial equality and justice but have donated money and time to help others. The notion that they were secretly harboring evil intent seems a bit hard to swallow. I recognize that there has always been a vein of racism within adherents of the party, whether it stemmed from the anti-Lincoln attacks in Ron Paul’s newsletter or Pat Buchanan’s fears of the loss of an ill-defined utopian and stagnant American culture or Mark Steyn’s panicked admonitions about the Muslim nations taking over Europe by breeding out whites. I also recognize that most Republicans regarded Ron Paul as a bit of a crank, rejected Buchanan’s arguments about culture and told Steyn to focus on the humor instead of the hysteria. Ultimately, these people had about as much power in the Republican party as Cynthia McKinney did as a Democrat – they had their followings, but their philosophies were anything but dominant.
Racism has grown stronger in the Republican party since 9/11, in direct response to not just those attacks but the subsequent attempts at terrorism. It shifted to encompass Mexicans in direct response to DACA, stoked by political fears… Mexicans had turned California blue, the story told by Limbaugh and others went; therefore they must be kept from becoming citizens and turning the entire country Democrat. All of the other negative connotations and slurs spread into the populace as a direct result of those political concerns.
This would normally be the time where honest discussion might help things. But it wasn’t possible, because the Democrats had lied too often.
For those who forget why Fox developed its following in the first place, I should call to mind the rampant allegations that Reagan had ignored AIDS because he hated gay people, that he had directed the CIA to disperse crack through black neighborhoods, that he had Alzheimer’s for the majority of his Presidency, that he’d arranged with Iran to hold the hostages until Carter left office and that he desperately wanted to start a war with the Soviets. Or the allegations that George H.W. Bush had a secret mistress and was trying to make his family richer by abusing Savings and Loans. Fox grew under Clinton as a venue which promised to push back against the regular lies. By the time that guests on other networks were repeatedly suggesting that maybe W. hated black people and didn’t care about the damage of Katrina, people could turn to Fox and be free of the unjustifiable attacks. For a change, people who accused first Reagan, then George H.W. Bush, then W. of being actual Nazis and fascists weren’t being taken seriously
Many of the people who are still supporting Trump are doing so because they had news channels which were demonstrably biased to the point of promoting lies, and they became convinced that everything said on those channels was a lie. This isn’t necessarily because they’re blind or stupid, it’s because they were conditioned by repeated false narratives.
This is not unique to one side. For as long as I’ve been alive, Republicans have been lying about Democrats, accusing them of being one election away from handing the country over to the communists. In 2008, we got to the point of having an active progressive in charge and… it didn’t happen. Did we roll over for Russia a bit too much, open up to Cuba, and put the ACA into place? Yes, and none of those thrilled me, but objectively it was less than LBJ did. The constant fearmongering and description of Democrats as closet communists was a bunch of lies repeated until they had the comfort of familiarity.
We have paid for our immaturity with Trump. All of those false accusations leveled in the past against Republicans were actually true with him. He is a racist, he did have secret mistresses, he was trying to make his family wealthy by abusing the financial system, he is a fascist. But many on the Republican side have heard the accusations for so long that they automatically discount the truth as just another lie.
When we’re taught the story of The Boy Who Cried Wolf as a child, the lesson seems obvious: the boy lied repeatedly and when he told the truth he wasn’t believed; the boy was eaten. Upon consideration, there’s another lesson: the townsfolk abandoned their duty as rational adults and merely assumed something, and as a result a wolf ate one of theirs and likely many of their sheep as well.
We set ourselves up for the con perpetrated by Trump and his enablers. I expect he’s going to be tossed out of office in less than a week. The citizens of this nation need to guard against this sort of thing in the future by ending the casual calumny for cheap political gain. I’m not certain if we can do so, but it has to start with each of us in turn.