Trump is a symptom, not the illness

It’s easy to dislike Donald Trump. I can’t stand the son of a bitch. He is a prime example as to why no one should ever jump from the private sector into being a country’s head of government without some previous experience in government. I have many issues with this presidency, but ultimately Donald Trump himself is a secondary problem; the biggest problem, to me at least, is the legitimacy of an irrational right-wing political tribe.

There’s value in limited government. There’s a worthwhile debate that could be had about how far a central government could feasibly go to resolve issues both foreign and domestic. But buried beneath the buzzwords of “liberty”, “freedom”, “snowflake”, “libtard”, and “libertarian” lies an uncomfortable truth about the contemporary American right-wing that in reality has always been present — there is nothing of value that is offered. Well, except for a spirited defense of a social order that is either treated with historical revisionism, bigotry, or just outright willing ignorance. And even then, that is nothing worth celebrating.

A political personality like Trump was going to come along sooner or later. Lacking any real ideology aside from the usual conservative talking points and sheer ignorance of domestic and foreign policy, Trump became a modern day William Jennings Bryan; the only real difference is that Trump is a member of the elite class that Bryan ranted against and Trump actually won his presidential election. As former speechwriter Jon Favreau recently quipped on Real Time with Bill Maher, Trump is essentially an “uniformed voter who became President”.

Trump took advantage of what was there for the taking — a synthesis of white populism and conservative tribalism that could be amalgamated into a political force that would crystallize behind a charismatic person that spoke to them at their level. Trump’s bluster appealed to misinformed (and uninformed) and bitter voters that didn’t care about truth just as long as it felt true. These were the voters that saw themselves as part of a tribe that was under threat from a society that was on offense with advancing socially liberal and progressive values that carried with it a sheer intolerance to whatever would be considered as “backwards thinking”.

From voters tired of apologizing that they’re white to being tired of apologizing for their “conservative values”, these voters embraced a perverse pragmatism that was best conveyed as an emotional statement that yielded a particularly shocking victory. While astute observers, such as filmmaker Michael Moore, predicted a Trump victory (in his case, by accurately pointing out the increasingly conservative electorate in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin), many writers and pundits have still struggled to explain why such an inexperienced politician what was a total batshit idiot in policy was decidedly worth taking a risk on.

The answer is not in Trump; the answer is in the tribe.

Aside from a lack of discipline and astounding ignorance, Donald Trump would have been not much different from say a John Kasich, Ted Cruz, or Marco Rubio. Kasich was looked at as a moderate, but only because he was not the extremists that Cruz, Rubio, and Trump portrayed themselves in being. You only have to look at Kasich’s record on reproductive rights issues and stance against unions to see that he as much of a follower of the conservative orthodoxy as anyone. But no matter how personable Kasich is or no matter how much of a partisan purist that Cruz has shown himself to be, both lacked the charisma and the media savvy that Trump brought to the campaign — which is surprising, considering that Kasich spent years after his congressional career as a Fox News host.

This is a desperate tribe and that desperate tribe was a fertile to be swept up. They have been long desperate for a captain of their purportedly sinking ship.

They pined for legitimacy. They pined for victory. They pined for power. They pined for the opportunity to stick it to “the liberal” (or uh, “librul” or “libtard” or “snowflake”), a gross, almost comical caricature that has taken shape over the past three decades as a scapegoat for anything that they see wrong with their life at a socioeconomic and sociopolitical level; especially when it comes to the idea that their worldview is deemed to be archaic. They designed this “liberal” caricature to be dismissed as too weak, too caring, too undeserving, too colored, too emotional, too needy, too feminine, too lawless, too devoid of order, and too accepting.

It helped create a binary, hyper-partisan, compromise-is-weak sociopolitical landscape. One’s worldview had to either lean “left” or “right”. Practical solutions that should be above and beyond partisan lenses have been relegated to causes that are only advanced based upon political persuasion. Neutral facts and reason are now concepts that are “liberal” — useful only when they are applied (and stretched) to support the right-wing worldview. While this is not necessarily anything new, the virulence that has manifested since the alignment of previously distinct social and fiscal conservatives in the 1970s has currently reached a fever pitch. The American right-wing has evolved into a cult-like status; this “liberal” caricature is their enemy, scapegoat, and their cause célèbre to the point of sickening obsession.

That caricature has proven to be a motivational force, giving Newt Gingrich political superstardom in the 1990s; Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly, Jones, Levin, Carlson, Ingraham, and the rest of that right-wing ilk multi-million dollar media careers; a dominant cable news network in Fox; and as a more recent development, the emergence of a hyper-masculine, faux-intellectual online right-wing, “anti-liberal” community (and no, I will not use “alt-right” because, honestly, “alt-right” is a bullshit, meaningless term).

It’s easy as the centrists, progressives, liberals, libertarians, and rational conservatives to segue into Trump derangement syndrome and zero in on Trump as the ultimate existential threat, but in truth he’s merely a footnote. Trump is only the result of an irrational outcome; making him the focus of ire and political action might be beneficial in the short term, but long term footing is a different story. Right-wing voters — educated and uneducated, wealthy and working class, bitter and comfortable — saw a torchbearer, a great hope in Donald Trump. It is not so much as Trump as a hero himself rather than Trump as the savior that would provide legitimacy to their worldview.

And despite all of the excitement surrounding what seems to be the Trump facade crumbling, there’s still the issue that the next three men in succession for the Presidency — Vice President Mike Pence, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, and Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, the president pro tempore of the Senate — are all right-wing Republicans. If Trump is forced out of office, which is extremely unlikely, but plausible if the Republican power brokers see Trump as a liability more than an asset, a Pence administration would be able to advance a right-wing tribal agenda with lethal effectiveness.

As I said previously, this is not an attack on the ideals of limited government and fiscal responsibility. There’s reasonable arguments for those. What is unreasonable, however, is a sociopolitical tribe that is advancing a reactionary dogma that treats civility, sensitivity, and charity as rewarding irresponsibility and promulgating a purist adherence to a tunnel visioned social order that ignores the various shades of gray that shapes our reality until it is convenient.

This right-wing tribe has little to offer to our discourse. Come with facts? Get dismissed with name calling. Express concern for poverty? Attack the immorality of their poverty and blame their materialism. Create caricatures of the undeserving and deserving poor. Dismiss potential solutions to various socioeconomic and sociopolitical problems because they sound too “liberal” or “socialist”. And to top it all off, profess a blind loyalty to the political figures that are almost seen with religious reverence.

This tribe has also began to affect the left and the center. For those of us that consider ourselves centrists, we’re seen as an enemy on both sides because we value pragmatism and reason over ideological drunkenness; the left has billowed with great anger — most of it understandable and agreeable, but at other times too petulant and unreasonable. There has been a serious breakdown in our ability to discuss and problem solve; issues that have always been present ever since the introduction of the party system, but even more so glaring today as one end of the spectrum has embraced political tribalism and has dragged the rest of it to play along in this disgusting game.

But where do we go from here? Whether we like it or not, we’re in the midst of a right-wing zeitgeist — you can see it by looking at a political map and seeing how many state legislatures, governorships, and congressional seats are in the hands of right-wing Republicans. But this zeitgeist is unlike anything else in history: the right is motivated by irrational insecurity and a rigid sense of historical revisionism to rebuke ideas; not advance new ones that would make society more inclusive and well-informed. This is about scoring points with history and asserting control; not about moving forward meaningfully.

This tribe, unfortunately, must succumb to the hubris that comes with the amount of power that it has right now before reason and clarity can take hold. Whether that fall comes in 2018 or 2020 or beyond — who knows — but the legitimacy of their worldview must be crippled before the divisions that exist in our society can begin to even heal.

It is time for an realignment of sorts: a fight for government — and society — of facts and reason instead of one that is solely driven by emotion, complicit ignorance, and puritanism and considers facts (and the blatant manipulation of them) to only be tools of convenience instead of a starting point of a conversation. We must resist demagogic and divisive groupthink and embrace legitimate, thoughtful, fact-based debate about the issues facing our society and the world at large.

For now, we must realize that Trump is not the threat; the real threat is the perverse worldview that has found the ultimate legitimacy through the vast amount of political power the progenitors of said worldview currently hold.

Somewhere between a classical liberal and a modern liberal.