Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Radicalism that Enables Trump

Human beings are complicated creatures. Many Trump voters are probably more upstanding in their personal character than I am. Yet, as a collective political force, Trumpism represents the barbarian horde at the gate. If they break through, it's not clear our civic institutions can withstand the damage.
The Course of Empire -- Destruction. Thomas Cole. 1836
Trump is the warlord leading this frenzy, but he did not start it.

A growing sense of fragmentation in our society and declining trust in our institutions are broad-based, bipartisan, and long-term phenomena, as Daniel Rogers has shown in his book, Age of Fracture.

But the radical conservative movement (a contradictory phrase) has deliberately catalyzed this disintegration. Stoking fear and paranoia, an alternative media apparatus has joined with radicals in congress to tell Americans that science is a hoax, that academia is a secular cesspool, that mainstream media is too biased to have any use, and that the Democratic Party is trying to destroy the country. Now, in the internecine conflict of the Republican Party, we see the radicals eating their own. There is no natural end point to this orgy of destruction.

Last night on Twitter, Matthew Yglesias wrote, "My guess is that in a Trump administration angry mobs will beat and murder Jews and people of color with impunity."

If you're familiar with Yglesias, you know that he is frequently snarky and ironic. So in this case, I assumed he was joking. He wasn't.

If you're not tuned in to political twitter, you might not be aware of what I'm about to tell you. Jewish journalists and journalists of color are being bombarded daily with genocidal racism from Trump supporters. I won't repeat the depravity here. But these journalists have never experienced anything like this before. It's unprecedented. And Trump's campaign knows full well exactly what is happening. Not only have they declined to discourage it, Trump and his son have retweeted some of these White supremacists.

If you were confronted by thousands of people online saying they want you to die, and the Republican nominee encouraged their behavior, how would you feel about the prospect of him becoming president?

It's easy enough to see how this sense of impunity would migrate from the online world to the real one. As President, Trump would have enormous power, the levers of federal law enforcement at his hands. We know that he is vindictive and cruel, a man ruled by his passions. This is an incredibly dangerous combination. At a time when there is broad understanding that police reform is needed, Trump has called for new oppression, more "tough" policing, and nationwide stop-and-frisk. Trump's language and demeanor is perfectly calibrated to create a culture of impunity, not only for police but for ordinary White citizens. And with his plans to oppress people of color publicly declared, Trump has won the support of law enforcement. So it's not just what Trump would do. It's about the permission structure he would create for thousands of police officers who chafe against current restraints.

A Trump presidency is not an abstraction. It would mean new kinds of oppression, and no prospect of mitigating its existing forms. It would mean more death. But Trump supporters can't see this because their radicalism has produced an alternate reality.

On the far right, the following claims are routinely thought to be true:

Democrats are trying to destroy the country.

Democrats who support a moderate kind of capitalism tempered by a social safety net are actually hard leftists or communists.

Barack Obama has purposely stirred up racial tensions.

Whites face more discrimination than people of color.

Voter fraud is a big problem.

There's a Christian twist on this radicalism too. It's a world where "liberal" is an antonym of "Christian" and you can be "pro-life" without actually supporting policies that would reduce abortions.

This post-truth, post-Christian politics enables Trump. If the other side is trying to destroy the country, the logic goes, then we are justified in burning down their institutions in order to save the country. What about the harm to poor people and racial and religious minorities? For some Trump supporters it's just collateral damage. For others, hurting people of color is precisely the point.

I have not given up hope that there are still people on the fence, and even Trump supporters, who will yet do the right thing and withdraw their support. For those who stay with him, have the courage of your convictions as the White supremacists do! Instead of voting for Trump while saying you take racism and sexism seriously, just admit that you aren't prioritizing these concerns.

I know that abortion looms large for many Christians. But if that's the single issue on which you're voting, go ahead and make that honest case. I still haven't heard anyone make this argument.

If people think that the dim prospect of reducing abortions under a President Trump is more important than all other forms of injustice put together--his racism, his misogyny, his gross ignorance, his intention to commit war crimes, his plans to oppress immigrants and Muslims and promote tougher policing--they should say so. What they must not do is wave all this away and create a fantasy world in which Trump didn't run a racist campaign and revel in his own ignorance and cruelty. If White evangelicals think we should elect a biblical fool to the presidency, they should say so, and they should explain why. What we're getting instead is a Maoist approach to truth, where what is true is whatever lie the party has declared for the day. Trump's campaign isn't racist like there was no famine in the Chinese countryside in 1959.

The seriousness of pro-life voters can be measured by the range of solutions we are willing to support. If we can tolerate an ignorant demagogue to advance our anti-abortion politics but cannot tolerate wealth redistribution and health care policies that would reduce the demand for abortions, our politics is not as pro-life as we imagine. Even if you're a single-issue abortion voter, I still think Trump is the wrong choice.

Are you willing to look people of color in the eye and tell them you don't care about them? Because that's what it feels like if you vote for Trump. Are you willing to tell them that they're wrong to be concerned, that you know more about their lives than they do?

There is still time to do the right thing.

(My standard disclaimer: I'm not urging people to vote for Clinton. I'm simply urging Christians not to vote for Trump, and to use our vote, or abstention, to put the interests of others ahead of ourselves).

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