Sunday, November 06, 2016

Who goes Trump: The rot in America's soul

James Kirchick in Tablet (Who goes Trump?):

It is an interesting and somewhat macabre parlor game to play at a large gathering of one’s acquaintances: to speculate who in a showdown would go Trump. Having gone through the experience many times, I have come to know the types: the born Trumpkins, the Trumpkins whom democracy itself has created, the certain-to-be fellow travelers. And I also know those who never, under any conceivable circumstances, would go Trump...

Since Donald Trump declared his candidacy for president 16 months ago, it has become a lazy journalistic trope to attribute his rise to the economic travails of the white working class in an era of globalization. Contrary to popular conception, however, the median household income of a Trump primary voter is a healthy $72,000 a year, well above the $62,000 national average and higher than the median incomes of those who supported both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. 

Meanwhile, 44 percent of Trump voters have college degrees, far more than the 29 percent of the general adult population. According to a Gallup working paper based upon interviews with some 87,000 Trump supporters over the past year, the most exhaustive statistical analysis of the Trump phenomenon completed thus far, “There appears to be no link whatsoever between exposure to trade competition and support for nationalist policies in America, as embodied by the Trump campaign.” The same study also found “little clear evidence that economic hardship predicts support for Trump, in that higher household incomes tend to predict higher Trump support.”

What does drive enthusiasm for Trump? According to the American National Election Survey, the best determinant of whether someone is a Trump supporter—even more than Republican Party affiliation—is if they think President Barack Obama is a Muslim. Eighty-nine percent of those who believe this racist conspiracy theory will have a higher opinion of Trump than Clinton. 

A Pew poll, meanwhile, reports that Republicans who believe America’s impending non-white majority is “bad for the country” are overwhelmingly positive toward Trump, while a qualified sample of 10,000 Trump Twitter supporters finds that a third follow white nationalist accounts...

Take Eric Metaxas and Erick Erickson. Both are evangelical Christian conservative media personalities, the former a Trump supporter, the latter a mainstay of the #NeverTrump movement. Reading Erickson over the past year, one witnesses a fundamentally decent man grappling with what it means to be a Christian in the face of a Republican nominee who so wantonly disregards fundamental biblical teachings. For speaking out against Trump, Erickson and his family have been subject to constant death threats from the nominee’s supporters.

Contrast Erickson with Metaxas, a Trump proponent and what passes these days for a conservative evangelical “intellectual.” Metaxas is a biographer of abolitionist William Wilberforce and anti-Nazi pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Christians of heroic moral conscience and courage who are also heroes to the country’s liberal elites. Writing recently in The Wall Street Journal, Metaxas audaciously likened voting for the fascistic Trump with Bonhoeffer’s joining the Valkyrie plot to kill Adolf Hitler. 

Metaxas can make this claim with a straight face because, like many other Trump supporters, he has been peddling a form of apocalyptic political extremism that sees the Democratic Party as hell-bent on a mission to destroy America. “The fascistic globalism of HRC/Obama is similar to the threat that German fascist nationalism was in Bonhoeffer’s day,” Metaxas recently tweeted in the style of a doomsday prophet. “Both are anti-God.” Metaxas’s calling the bloodlessly centrist Clinton “Hitlery” is thus the logical conclusion of this catastrophizing mode of ex cathedra discourse. He is Elmer Gantry in a nicer suit.

Turning to conservative talk radio, consider Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck. Both men have played a role in poisoning our political discourse with their uncompromisingly partisan ranting that demonizes political adversaries as traitors. But it is only Beck who has reflected upon his past divisiveness and repented for it. “I think I played a role, unfortunately, in helping tear the country apart, and it’s not who we are,” he remorsefully told Fox News’ Megyn Kelly in 2014. Today, not coincidentally, it is Beck who opposes Trump, while Hannity serves as his most loyal mouthpiece.

David Horowitz and Ron Radosh have experienced similar life trajectories as Jewish, ex-radical-leftist historians who eventually made their homes on the right. Radosh, however, has always been a mensch—a gentle soul who still likes to play the folk music he learned at the feet of the Stalin-loving Pete Seeger. Horowitz, by contrast, remains the thug he was five decades ago when he was cavorting with the Black Panthers, still a Stalinist but of the right-wing variety. Guess which septuagenarian Jewish conservative is the Trump critic and which the pro-Trump fanatic?

While we’re on the subject of Jewish Trump supporters, Dorothy Thompson (Who goes Nazi? 1941) made an interesting observation about the unlikeliest of Nazis. “I know lots of Jews who are born Nazis and many others who would heil Hitler tomorrow morning if given a chance,” she wrote. Reflecting upon some Jews of my acquaintance who have twisted themselves into supporting Trump, a candidate whose campaign has stirred anti-Semitic passions to a degree unlike anything in recent American political history, I can claim a similar familiarity. 

Can I really profess surprise that the admirer of Meir Kahane I’ve known since high school backs Trump, a man who, like the late Jewish fascist, promises to ethnically cleanse his country of millions of people? Elsewhere, back in January, David P. Goldman, a Tablet contributor who sometimes writes under the pseudonym “Spengler,” was asked by an Israeli politician to characterize Trump. “Imagine if Hitler had liked Jews,” he replied. I couldn’t have put it any better myself. Today, Goldman has come around to support the man he described, less than a year ago, as a philosemitic Hitler.

More than any book I’ve read or lecture I’ve attended, the Trump phenomenon has explained the 1930s for me. Witnessing so many otherwise rational people fall for the lies of a demagogic con man who promises that he “alone” can “fix” all of our country’s problems and bleats about throwing his opponent in jail (when he’s not urging his raucous crowds to kill her), one begins to fathom how a modern, educated, advanced country like Germany went Nazi. You already see the stirrings of a nascent fascist movement in America. The parallels between the GOP’s amoral cowards willing to do anything to achieve power and the German leaders who thought Hitler could be “controlled” are as pathetic as they are frightening.

We spend too much time attacking Trump’s person, fooling ourselves into thinking he’s just a sui generis figure, without listening to those who support him. Plenty of people who voted for the Nazi Party weren’t motivated by anti-Semitism but other, worthier concerns like rampant inflation, an atmosphere of violent political chaos, and Germany’s diminished place in Europe. Like Trump supporters, these Germans wanted to regain a sense of individual and national respect that they felt had been lost. Weimar Germany was awash in distrust, fear, and resentment, feelings that, while not nearly as acute, characterize much of America today.

It’s true that some Trump supporters loathe the man’s behavior and more outré positions, but nonetheless see him as something of a savior figure. They are willing to put their faith in a sociopath because they have convinced themselves that the alternative will literally destroy the country. On the other hand, many, perhaps most, Trump supporters aren’t voting for him in spite of his talking like a thug, demeaning women, and hurling racist insinuations at the country’s first black president, but because he does these things.

“Believe me, nice people don’t go Nazi,” Thompson wrote. “Their race, color, creed, or social condition is not the criterion. It is something in them. Those who haven’t anything in them to tell them what they like and what they don’t—whether it is breeding, or happiness, or wisdom, or a code, however old-fashioned or however modern, go Nazi.” 

Trump supporters are people who, were he to become president, would explain away the mosque firebombing or Attorney General Chris Christie’s “opening up the libel laws” against The New York Times, just as passive Nazi voters looked away from the “Don’t buy from Jews” graffiti spray-painted on the neighborhood grocery store. These people are lacking “something in them,” a moral code, and their very large numbers are a troubling indicator of a rot in the American soul.

Labels: , ,

Labels: ,