Nichols uses the speech Trump delivered at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last week to make his point. For those who intentionally ignored it, it was a speech redolent with threats, insults, and dark, violent imagery that evidently foreshadows how Trump will conduct his 2024 campaign.
RELATED STORY: CPAC represents the core of Republican activism—and speaking out against the Jan. 6 coup is verboten
But rather than dwelling on the speech itself, Nichols sensibly asks how we as a nation are supposed to engage with people who clearly revel in such a demented attitude willfully displayed by a candidate for the U.S. presidency.
As Nichols notes, the media in this country have effectively dodged this issue for years.
In the past, reporters have approached such questions gingerly, poking their head into coffee shops, asking for comments at rallies, and claiming to overhear conversations at gas stations, all in the service of trying to understand Trump voters. (Only The Daily Show’s Jordan Klepper has ever managed to get anywhere in such interviews, and the answers he elicits are often terrifyingly dumb.) These respectful conversations with Trump voters have produced almost nothing useful beyond failed theories about “economic anxiety” and other rationalizations that capture little about why Trump voters continue to support a posse of authoritarian goons.
RELATED STORY: The New York Times interviews random Republican voters for the millionth time, still learns nothing
Nichols reminds us that the spectacle of a violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, Trump’s abysmal malfeasance during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the litany of election-related lies haven’t had any noticeable effect on his core base of support. That suggests his base would simply tolerate any future abuse of power Trump could possibly commit. It’s abundantly clear by now that if Trump were reelected, he would swiftly refashion the tools of government into the steel claws of a fascist state, one in which, as Nichols observes, “they won’t even pretend to care about the Constitution or the rule of law.”
Yet those same adoring masses stand ready to bow to Trump’s every edict, no matter how twisted or malignant. That’s a unique circumstance in American history, and it reveals just how off the rails a huge segment of the population has gone.
And this is where Nichols arrives at his core conclusion:
By now it should be clear that the people listening to Trump don’t care about facts, or even about policy or politics. They enjoy the show, and they want it back on TV for another four years. And this is a problem not with Trump but with the voters.
It is long past time to admit that support for Trump, after all that we now know, is a moral failing. As I wrote in a recent book, there is such a thing as being a bad citizen in a democracy, and we should cease the pretend arguments about policy—remember, the 2020 GOP convention didn’t even bother with a platform. Instead, anyone who cares about the health of American democracy, of any party or political belief, should say clearly that to applaud Trump’s fantasies and threats at CPAC is to show an utter lack of civic character.
We shouldn’t minimize what Nichols is saying here. A sense of morals is more or less the foundation on which all pretense of human decency rests, at least in this country; to assert a collective “moral failing” on the part of millions of Americans is not simply an accusation, it is a stunning condemnation of millions of Americans as fundamentally indecent people. And to possess “an utter lack of civic character” objectively means to have no sense of the obligations of civil society, and thus to offer no intrinsic worth to the nation.
Nichols essentially urges both the media and the rest of the American citizenry to stop coddling these people as some kind of “concerned citizenry,” and treat them like the nihilistic pariahs they actually are, “with media outlets holding elected Republicans to account for Trump’s statements—but also with each of us refusing to accept rationalizations and equivocation from even our friends and family.”
Hillary Clinton once called Trump voters “deplorables.” Nichols’ point here simply confirms that her description wasn’t off the mark, and goes a long way towards explaining why so many of them wore that label proudly, like a badge of honor. People with no moral compass and a lack of any civic character cannot be insulted, because they cannot fathom why their behavior could possibly be criticized. To the extent they have “beliefs,” those beliefs are wholly centered on resentments against those they feel are undeserving, compared to themselves. They simply want the show to go on, fed by a malevolent personality who they have effectively deified. Where all of this ultimately ends up—at least in their minds—isn’t that hard to predict, either.
RELATED STORY: Let's be clear: Trump is threatening to take his MAGA base and walk if he's not the GOP nominee
Admittedly that reality may be hard to square with your smiling neighbor, the Trump supporter down the street who waves to you as he mows his lawn, the friendly Trump-supporting couple with the “Let’s Go Brandon” bumper sticker on their SUV, or the old friend turned Trump supporter from high school who sends his heartfelt condolences on the death of your father. All of these folks manage to display some moral sense, at the micro level of ordinary human interaction.
But what’s really inside their heads when it comes to politics is a cipher that we don’t have the tools or the time to unlock. We don’t attend the rallies, we don’t converse across their kitchen tables or in their social media bubbles, we don’t see them glowering at the TV while Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson feed them the hate-ridden propaganda that sustains them. We just see the little clues they occasionally wear on their sleeve, hear the talk radio station they listen to in their driveway as we pass by, notice the off-the-cuff remark or the knowing sneer or occasional glares directed at you or someone else.
“I am your retribution,” Trump intoned to the delight of his CPAC audience, capturing in a single phrase everything we need to know about that swath of Americans who continue to support him. But the fact that so many people in this country just want to watch it all burn down doesn’t obligate the rest of us to condone or continue tolerating them, treating them as something special that needs to be “understood” while they proceed to poison our democracy and its institutions.
No more tolerance for the moral failures and bad citizens. Democrats already understand enough, and we have for a very long time.
RELATED STORY: Republicans are colluding to stop Trump in 2024. Now all they need is a plan
Comments are closed on this story.