I see people passing this meme around from time to time. It’s pretty devastating, actually, or at least it ought to be. This of course makes the meme an awful lot like a lot of criticisms directed at the Trump camp insofar as one could really wonder why this isn’t an end-game argument? Except, in this case, there is a clear answer. The quote in the meme is not real.
At least, it’s undocumented.
The quote really is just a bit too perfect, really. It seems almost as if it was made up for the sole purpose of discrediting the man along with anyone foolish enough to vote for him. And the unfortunate fact is that it was probably made up for just that very purpose. In any event, there is no evidence that Donald Trump ever really said this.
Maybe this would have got some folks attention.
Then again, so many other things that should have mattered when he ran for President didn’t, not in 2016 anyway, and not now for those still waiting for the second coming of the deplorable messiah.
In any event, a few other folks have checked into this quote (The Reno Gazette Journal, Snopes, Politifact, CNN, etc.); all have found the quote to be spurious. Several noted that the meme itself first made an appearance in 2015, but all of those who checked for an actual source have come up empty.
Significantly, the meme attributes the quote to a statement made to People Magazine in 1998, but the image likely shows an appearance by Donald Trump on Oprah Winfrey in 1988. More on that later…
From time to time, I have tried to suggest that people refrain from passing along this meme as it does not appear to be accurate, and of course I encounter the usual bullshit responses from people too keen on their delicious gotcha-game to give it up on account of pesky questions about evidence. (It’s a little bit more frustrating to see such weak sauce coming from folks you might otherwise agree with than it is to hear it coming from the mouths of the deplorables, but anyway!) I still figure anone who thuinks they have to use a likely fake quote to criticize Donald Trump has not been paying attention to the living train wreck that is his public life.
One thing does fascinate me…
I have frequently encountered people who swear up and down that they have heard Donald Trump make this very statement.
One of the reasons this caught my attention is the fact that I too once thought I remembered seeing a video clip of Trump saying this very thing. In the run-up to the 2016 election, I recall making a point to find the clip so I could post it on every corner of the net that I could reach. (I really wondered why a link to the clip wasn’t the obvious answer to every pro-Trump statement any republican could make? Only I couldn’t find the clip anywhere, nor could I find an audio-recording, or even a credible written source. I did find a clip from the episode of Oprah in which she interviewed him about the possibility of making a run for the Presidency, but Trump does not say this on that clip. (In fact, his tone is wrong for the quote anyway. In the clip, he is trying to sound moderate and thoughtful, not brash and rude as he appears in the quote, or pretty much at any time during his Presidency.) Realizing that was likely the clip I thought I had remembered, I chalked it up to a bad memory and accepted the fact that I was likely wrong on that subject.
Yet people still insist they too have seen the clip and/or that they know other people who can verify that Trump did in fact say the very thing attributed to him in this meme. When I Tiked a Tok about this in 2020, a couple people told me that they would look around the net and get back to me when they found it. When I Tiked another Tok about it a couple weeks back, well over assured that it was real. A few people even got downright testy with me for doubting the matter. All of which leads me to winder…
Is this the Mandela effect in action?
I know, pop-psychology is another net-hazard, but I can’t help thinking this instance might add up to a decent case for it. For those unfamiliar with the term, “The Mandela effect” refers to a shared memory that turns out to be false. It gets its name from a woman named Fiona Broome who had become convinced that Nelson Mandela had died in prison in the 1980s. She was also convinced that thousands of others shared this belief, all of which must have made his tenure as president of post-Apartheid South Africa from 1994-1999 rather surprising). Some might have their doubts about this particular source, but there are plenty of other examples of the Mandela Effect to be found. I’m not entirely sure why the notion of a shared false memory is all that surprising to begin with. We know that memory is a creative process, and it shouldn’t surprise us that perfectly public sources of information could skew the memories of more than one person thinking about any given subject. So, before, anyone goes off to see this as proof of an alternative universe wherein Trump actually did say this…
I suddenly realize I should have written this entire post on the premise that these are memories of an alternative universe in which Trump actually did say this, and perhaps even one where the Mandela effect really is proof that alternative universes do exist, but I can only hope that there exists an alternative universe wherein the American people were smart enough to say ‘no’ to this festering bloodfart back in 2016, but then, dammit, why do I have to live in the one where a whole buncha people just weren’t?
…Okay, so, before you go off thinking this effect points us to alternative universes, let’s just say this is just the sort of distortions that we ought to expect from perfectly fallible people trying to reconstruct our perfectly fallible memories in the present.
Anyway, the point, is I can’t help thinking the number of people who seem to remember seeing and hearing this (likely fake) quote might be a good example of the Mandela effect.
One person told me the quote comes from Playboy magazine, but I have yet to see any direct reference to any specific publication.
Others have suggested the quote comes from an interview that Trump did with Howard Stern, but I think this is actually a reference to a clip in which Stern describes Trump as being contemptuous of his fan base. The stern clip is interesting, but its not Trump saying it himself, and I have yet to see any other relevant clips coming from Stern or any of his shows.
Quite a few folks have pointed to People Magazine, but this claim has been checked pretty thoroughly (see the fact-check links above), and nobody has found any evidence for it.
By far and away, the most common angle is to suggest that the actual quote comes from the Oprah interview that seems to be the source of the image contained in the meme. This is the most common clip from that interview. As you can hear from the clip, it does not contain the quote in question. A search on Oprah’s website, reveals a couple other clips that seem to come from the same interview, which appears to have occurred on April 25th, 1988. What I can’t seem to find, on Oprah’s website or any other source on the net, is any full-length recording of the complete interview. Apparently, others cannot find such a clip either.
The inability to find a recording of the complete Trump interview with Oprah creates an interesting problem. Why can’t we find such a recording? I for one have no idea. I don’t know how Oprah’s archives work, how thorough they were back in 1988, or just how common it would be for people to have at least an old VHS tape (or even a Beta) of the interview. I really haven’t assessed the odds against this absence of an episode actually happening by natural chance. For at least a few folks, however, this is all so damned suspicious. They will commonly tell us the complete clip has been scrubbed from the internet, and that the elites (including Oprah) have conspired to prevent any evidence of the quote coming out. We could talk about how likely this is (and here the Streisand effect might also make an appearance), or we could insist on asking for solid evidence for the authenticity of the quote, rejecting any excuses for the lack of it. That so many people swear they remember hearing Trump actually speak the words contained in the quote doesn’t count for nothing, but eye-witness testimony isn’t the most dependable source of information. It’s a little less dependable when it’s provided by random guys on the net. At the end of the day this leaves us with a larger question…
What do we do when we don’t know?
What do we infer (or simply assume) when we don’t get a definitive answer to our questions?
Short of any substantial evidence in support of the alleged quotation, this effort to suggest the absence of evidence isitself evidence of a larger conspiracy isn’t the least bit helpful. I like my conspiracy talk in the other guy’s camp where it can keep good company with the likes of Q-Anon fans, Birthers, and Truthers, none of whom have anything worthwhile to add to our present-day politics. I think it far more likely that all the people who think they remember seeing and hearing Trump speak the words in this clip are reading them into their memories of the common Oprah clip. It’s a shared memory, but it’s a false memory.
…and Trump is every bit as awful as any of us might remember. That memory isn’t false.
…and we don’t have to make up anything to criticize Trump.
Believe it or not, there was a time when liberals were the civil libertarians of American politics and conservatives were the folks most likely to advocate repression of individual rights. I do not mean simply that this was the substance of our nation’s politics at that time. No. I mean, that this was largely the understanding of people across the board of American politics. Lest you think this makes liberals the obvious good guys and conservatives the obvious baddies, I should add that a good portion of conservative rhetoric stressed the excess and indulgence of civil rights themes in liberal politics. The Republican Party was also much more invested in a kind of Edmund Burke version of ‘conservatism,’ so they were explicitly concerned with the preservation of long standing traditions, even at the expense of individual rights. Hell, they used to tell you so!
I don’t know how far this pattern stretches back in American history, but as I came of age in the 80s, it was sufficiently common to be taken for granted by a good number of people on each side of the battles we then fought. Back then, liberals consistently played the underdog, a stance often granted without challenge. For their part, conservatives often spoke with the authority of the ages; they spoke on behalf of powerful institutions, and they were the voices most likely to wield power consciously at the expense of individual rights.
A lot has changed.
…at least in the way we Americans typically talk about politics.
This is all broad strokes commentary, of course, but I think you can see it in the general tenor of the times. William F. Buckley, Jr.s first book, for example, was an appeal to Yale to crack down on the damned unbelievers at that institution. It was liberals who fought the banning of books. It was liberals who defended artists in music and film facing censorship from government in one form or another. It was liberals who supported birth control, gay rights, and much of the sexual revolution. It was liberals who defended the burning of the flag, and so on. In those days, before the right wing learned how to tell stories of ‘political correctness’ there was a definite sense that in any political battle you could expect the liberals (and along with them, many on the far left) to side with advocates of individual liberty and conservatives would tell us why something else mattered more.
There were exceptions of course, the most significant ones lying in the area of economics, which threw actually skewed the normal response to power inn both liberal and conservatives politics. So, we could certainly find some battles where the dominant themes were reversed. Also, some of the battles outlined above still track the same way now, but even there, the vocabulary has changed. One topics such as racism, for example, even the moderate left is no longer interested in individual acts of discrimination. If it ain’t systemic, it ain’t racism in left wing circles anymore. Meanwhile, the right wing is happy to use individual acts of racism as a wedge in which to insert the word ‘reverse’ into any discussion of racism in which they willingly take part. If it ain’t reverse racism, it ain’t racism in right wing circles anymore. It’s an absurd situation, to say the least, and part of what got us here is a massive shift in the means by which left and right wingers frame the issues in American politics. The left (and here I am including moderate liberals) wants to talk about larger issues; the right just wants to talk about individual rights.
What we don’t talk, at least not with each other, is how these themes intersect.
How the left got to where it is today is an interesting question, but I am not going to talk about that in this post. I am more interested in how the right got to where it now sits, utterly blind to the public welfare and completely disingenuous in its sense of individual rights.
Suffice to say that I do not think this evolution has been a positive force in American politics. The right wing embrace of individual rights hasn’t done much to enhance them.
Far from it!
How did we get to the point where a significant portion of America’s right wing thinks it’s acceptable to set aside the results of an election on little more than rumors and pornographic conspiracy narratives? How did we reach the moment in which the President of the United States would incite a riot and shut down our government over this very thing? How did we arrive at the principle that protesters could occupy federal buildings with weapons on their person?
The extreme violence of this event has been repudiated, of course, even by those who helped to stir that very mob to its frenzy, and the great bulk of Republican leadership is still unwilling to see in this event – the bloodshed spilled in our government buildings on behalf of a sitting President – anything so significant as to merit impeachment or invocation of Amendment 25. Mike Pence, one of the very people literally hunted by the domestic terrorists at the head of this riot (people who would have counted him an ally just last month), even Mike Pence doesn’t think this is worthy of removing the lunatic from the office Trump trashes with his very presence.
And still concern trolls all about the country urge us all to try and understand the perspective of Trump and his supporters!
How did we get here?
I think a large part of the answer to that question lies in the way ‘conservative’ ideas about authority and individual liberty have changed over the last couple decades.
In a name, it was Bill Clinton!
No, I don’t mean to suggest that it was anything Clinton did that caused this change, though Goddammit he sure did enough to lend credence to the worst of his detractors. What I mean to suggest is that his own Presidency signaled a radical change in the way that conservatives approached our government. They didn’t like Carter before him, no, but they REALLY didn’t like Clinton. More to the point, they simply didn’t accept losing control of the White House.
During the administration of Bill Clinton, elements within the Republican Party abandoned any pretense to work with their opposition. Newt Gingrich led the charge in Congress, abandoning efforts to compromise on actual legislation and putting the GOP political machine on permanent campaign mode. He repudiated the very notion of putting country over party, and made it the norm to fight on any and all fronts, even at the expense of the American people.
I mean, what the Hell? You can always blame the other side, right?
That’s what Newt would do.
It’s what he did.
What happened to cultural conservatism was more important.
What happened there was Rush Limbaugh. First Morton Downy, Jr., of course, but after him, Rush Limbaugh. I still don’t think the majority of Americans quite realize how important Limbaugh was back in the early 90s. It was Limbaugh who taught countless bullies and bigots to call themselves ‘conservatives,’ people who weren’t really all that interested in politics but were happy to laugh at anyone supported by liberals and to berate any woman foolish enough to call themselves ‘feminists.’ Limbaugh entertained his audiences by attacking a parade of underprivileged people seeking help in various forms, and he gave his audience the weapons to hurt such people for generations to come. It was also Limbaugh who transformed the culture of conservatism from a Burkeian defense of tradition into the smart-ass voice of a teen rebel, or for that matter an internet troll. Limbaugh never really made a serious case for cultural conservatism, but he was relentless in his critique of liberalism and his challenge of any authority liberals might come to wield. Whether it was the campus speech codes coming into fruition at the time or inclusiveness in the academic curriculum, the authority of the Bureau of Land Management, efforts to enlist government in combating the AIDS epidemic (yes, Limbaugh made fun of that!), or any number of issues in the culture wars of the time, what Limbaugh did most was to poke fun at liberal pretense and tell stories about the abuse of authority by liberals. Conservative use of similar authority was never at issue on his shows, but this was simple hypocrisy. It was a conscious effort to equate liberalism with the abuse of authority, to delegitimize liberal use of authority in any form, and where necessary, to burn down the authority of any institutions then dominated by liberal voices. Attendant to this cause was a willful erasure of thought about conservative use of authority, and erasure of consciousness that that could ever really happen. Even when conservatives were in charge, their actions would be measured, henceforth, in terms of the response to liberal authority. Limbaugh’s audience bought that story to be sure.
It was through Limbaugh that countless Americans came to see authority as the domain of liberalism, so much so, that even a sitting president could count as an underdog, so much so that Hillary’s years in Washington could have made her responsible for everything that happened in government in the decades before 2016, that Biden’s years in office could now make him the new fall-guy for everything done by the Federal government over the last 40 years, so much so that Biden rather than Donald Trump could be the man most responsible for America’s failure to mount an effective response to the Covid outbreak.
So complete is the equation of authority with liberalism in right wing thought at this stage in our history that Joe Biden, a private citizen in 2020, was regarded by many cultural conservatives as more responsible for our nation’s disastrous pandemic response than the very President of the United States!
In right wing thought, all government power is liberalism. Conservative use of power is by definition the opposition to liberalism, the opposition to big government, even if the policies in question expand the power of that government. If a conservative is found to have expanded the power of the feds in the end, well then they were never really a conservative after all.
It takes cultural conservatives the time it takes to read a tweet now to wash their hands of one of their own.
Any of their own!
It was Rush Limbaugh that taught cultural conservatives these narratives. His message has been re-enforced, of course, by countless pundits in the echo-chamber, but no other voice in American politics could was ever so consistent, so loud, or so shameless in its repetition of this theme. He played the smart-ass in the back of the room mocking the liberalism as though it were a teacher hated by every student (American citizen) in the class, and he played that role so well, it became the dominant trope of right wing politics.
At least one other major development in U.S. politics helped to shape the rise of underdog themes in American conservatism, and that is a series of conflicts that reshaped the way conservatives thought about (or at least talked about) police power. Oh they are still happy to back the blue, of course, so long as we are talking about treatment of individual suspects, and certainly in relation to just about any conflict with persons of color, but during the early years of the Clinton administration, America’s right wingers added a new victim narrative to their own list of stories about police power.
They did this in the wake of Waco and Ruby Ridge.
I still think about this with a bitter sense of irony as I remember conservatives around me responding to the initial conflict at Waco by telling me how much they worried that the Clinton administration would simply let those bastards get by with it. Police had been shot, and they were deeply worried that a liberal softy might prove soft on the thugs who did it. After the travesty, I also remember conservatives laughing and telling me how glad they were that those idiots got what was coming to them.
That was before the Branch Davidians became martyrs to conservative politics, along with those killed at Ruby Ridge.
In the wake of these tragedies, Federal authorities doing much the same as they had under Republican administrations suddenly became symbols of liberal authoritarianism. The right wing folded in complains of a “New World Order” to be ushered in by Bill Clinton in with the horror stores about Waco and Ruby Ridge, all the while while forgetting that George Bush, Senior, had used that very phrase to help sell his war in the Gulf (a war most of these folks had openly supported). Everywhere fears of oppression by big government made their way into right wing rhetoric. G. Gordon Liddy spoke openly of shooting ‘jack-booted thugs” in the head, and countless cultural conservatives forgot that Liddy himself had been one of the worst of these thugs, the most openly corrupt.
Everything the Feds did under Clinton became fodder for these stories. When Elián González became embroiled in a custody dispute between relatives in Florida and his father back in Cuba, he too became a symbol of liberal excess. Countless Republicans declared Janet Reno’s determination to send González back to his father as the height of liberal abuse. How, they asked, could we send a small child back to a miserable life in Castro’s Cuba?
…as thousands of Haitian refugees, including their children, rotted in an internment camp at Guantanamo Bay.
The right wing wing spin on these events was shameless in the extreme.
And it worked.
A substantial portion of America’s so-called ‘conservatives’ embraced these themes about conflict between private citizens and “jack-booted thugs” serving the Federal Government. That these thugs were presumed to serve liberal interests goes without saying, not that that story makes any sense. All of this dovetails with the standard rhetoric from the NRA (“from my cold dead hands…”), and it must have been a real comfort to white supremacists to see otherwise mainstream Republicans taking common cause with them on conflicts with Federal authorities. If the KKK and its brethren had lingered in the wilderness of American politics for a time, this narrative about armed conflicts with the Feds brought them in out of the cold.
Today’s Republican Party gives them a place at the table.
On a personal note: it was this theme that led me to wash my own hands of the gun culture. I’d grown up with firearms, loved them at one point in my life, and still harbored a soft spot in my heart for firearms. Listening to the growing fanaticism of the gun lobby, back in the 90s, I came to see the gun lobby as a positive evil independent of the firearms themselves. Whatever the ins and outs of gun control, it just isn’t a good thing to have a substantial portion of the American public openly fantasizing about armed conflict with the Federal Government. In selling its products to the right wing through such stories, the NRA and their allies do us all a great disservice.
It’s one thing to talk about gong to war with the Federal Government, but that begs the question of just who will you be fighting when that happens. When Timothy McVeigh addressed that question in 1995, his answer was people in a government building in Oklahoma City.
Those people included children.
Anyone who couldn’t see this coming was beyond blind to the realities of right wing politics.
Then, as now, they talked about such things openly. One has only to take them at their word.
I still recall a leader from the very Michigan Militia which McVeigh had ties with speaking at a televised “Town Hall” meeting after the bombing. He cited a long litany of abuses by the Federal government as partt of the reason for his own politics. I still remember that one of the horrors he cited was the Sand Creek massacre, an event carried about by the Third Colorado Cavalry, in affect a local militia. The American public learned about events at Sand Creek largely through the efforts of Federal troops who refused to take part in it. None of this prevented the event in question from becoming fodder for the relentless story of big government run amok and the hope that militias could counter that.
The irony of that was excruciating!
I thought about all of this when I heard that Michigan Militia had recently plotted to kidnap and put Governor Whitmer on trial. I thought about that plot recently as I watched video of a domestic terrorist inside Congressional buildings with his face covered and police-style zip-ties in his hand. I try not to jump to conclusions, but it’s hard to escape the notion that he was looking to make his political enemies into hostages. And if that seems to extreme to think about, one has only to remember that McVeigh’s own efforts to put right wing rhetoric into practice.
It should not surprise us to find that people who speak of the government as their enemy would be willing to carry out violent attacks against that very government.
In the past few days I have been told by numerous people that the recent attack on our government was carried out by extremists, that the actual violence was done by Antifa, and that no-one, not even Donald Trump himself has sanctioned their crimes or their violence. Of course it isn’t the first time that right wing violence has been blamed on Antifa, but this is a particularly shameless version of that theme. Anyone who thought this was going to be peaceful would have been naive in the extreme to do so. Anyone who thought Trump wished it to be so was ignoring the extremism of his own rhetoric (and the precedent he set in encouraging people to beat protesters at his rallies back in 2016), Plausible deniability is an art form in right circles, and Trump is one of its greatest practitioners, but the extremist rhetoric used to sell the “wild” protest could hardly be thought innocent. Trump wanted a disruptive presence in Washington on the day his loss would become official. Nothing short of stopping Congress in its tracks would have served his purposes.
Anyone who says that Donald Trump or his supporters are not responsible for these events is a Goddamned liar.
I have also been told that one of the problems here is the degree to which the media, the courts, and the rest of us have been dismissive of concerns about the integrity of the election. This was an insurrection to be sure, but it was an insurrection led, so I am told, by people whose voice and whose votes have been silenced by the powers that be.
And here we have it!
This is the ultimate pay-off for all these years of underdogging right wing politics. An action carried out in the service of the President of the United States, a man born to wealth and sporting a long history of abusing it, will count for so many cultural conservatives as being done out of love for the common citizen. An effort to set aside the legitimate votes of 80 million Americans is, in effect, no more than an effort to protect the rights of the voters. And a mob full of people who literally attacked our nation’s government still counts as patriots! Those whose hatred of American government, of liberal politicians, and even of the newly demonized Vice President, still count as having acted out of love for their country.
As I watch the election coverage tonight, and I wonder how a President who has compromised our national security, broken countless laws, enriched himself at the public expense, and willfully allowed an infectious disease to kill thousands of Americans is still in the running, or even on the ticket at this point, I am thinking more and more about the way Americans think about the electoral college.
What first got me thinking about this?
It was the election maps deplorables began circulating after 2016, maps showing how much of America voted in favor of Donald Trump. Comparing the vast swaths of red turf against the lonely spots of blue on these maps, it was easy to think of Trump’s victory as fitting. How could the rest of us doubt his legitimacy if so much of America voted for him? This wasn’t even close.
Clearly, the vast majority of America wanted Trump as President!
Of course these maps show us territories, not people, a fact easily demonstrated by accounting for population using a 3D projection.
Once you do that, the story quickly changes!
If you are counting territory on a map, Trump’s win back in 2016 looks impressive as Hell. It’s a decisive victory. In fact, it’s a grand slam! How could any Democrat even show their face in public after such a one-sided slaughter?
Once you account for actual people, however, it’s easier to remember that Donald Trump didn’t even win the popular vote. He won the electoral college, but the majority of Americans who weighed in on the 2016 election actually chose the other candidate.
If the will of the American people had determined the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton would have been president these last 4 years.
The discrepancy between the popular vote and the actual outcome of the 2016 election kicked off a new round of discussion about the electoral college. Democrats had a new reason to oppose it. Republicans had a new reason to defend it. This of course means some of us were treated to a whole new round of sophomoric semantics over the difference between a republic and a democracy.
Which brings me to a fascinating argument in favor of the electoral college. You see this a lot from the right wing, the notion that without the electoral college, a few states would dominate our national politic. According to some of these folks, L.A. County alone would have more impact than many states. New York City would have more impact than quite a few states. The Electoral College is, according to this narrative, the only thing preventing ‘coastal elites’ from dictating every major political decision at the expense of the more rural states.
It’s a fascinating narrative, one with clear villains and clear victims. The story elicits a genuine fear for the states that would be oppressed under such conditions.
What’s particularly fascinating about this narrative is that its characters are geographical units. They are stretches of land. Without the electoral college, it is the Dakotas that will suffer, Montana, Wyoming, or even my own state of Alaska. Actual people appear in this story, only as the loosely implied victims of oppression by virtue of being within the rural states of our nation. The implication that anything is wrong only emerges so long as you remain focused on geography, forgetting how the electoral college actually skews the significance of individual voters to begin with.
As a citizen of Alaska, my vote counts more than that of the Californians in my family. Hell, it even counts more than those of the Texans! It is the electoral college which makes this possible, because it boosts the impact of smaller states, giving us more representation per person than than states with larger populations. This means each individual voter gets more impact out of a vote cast in a rural state than she does in a vote cast somewhere like New York. Without the electoral college, our votes could be given equal value, and if certain states have less impact in such a system, it would only be because our individual votes are actually given equal value. The present system gives some people more of a say over who becomes President than others. Equalizing our the votes of individual citizens effectively skews the significance of regions, even as it puts us on a level playing field with each other. So, the narrative which has us crying about mistreatment of rural sates has the ironic effect of making equality look like its opposite, and that only works if we mistake states for people.
So, what does this mean? It means the prospect of keeping or rejecting the electoral college poses a decision over which matters more?
When exactly do you suppose America was great according to Donald Trump?
When do you suppose it was great in the minds of his supporters?
America is not great now, at least not in the minds of Donald Trump, and it certainly wasn’t great when he ran for office. That much is clear from the very nature of his old campaign slogan. “Make America great AGAIN,” certainly means it’s not great in the present age, at least not when he decided to run.
Perhaps Trump and his supporters might think to claim the economic stats he used to parade as success stories in the first 3 years of his administration made the difference and pulled us all the way from something else to greatness. How those economic trends differed from those under Obama is a different question, and whether or not Trump did anything but coast his way to a good look on paper is another. Either way, I could imagine he and his supporters might see in that enough cause to claim putting his label on the nation had made us all great again, but that would be a thin pretext indeed. Regardless, the moment in which this pretext could be claimed is long since gone at this point, and we are back to the same other-than-great world Trump seemed to see in America back in 2016.
So, when was America great in the minds of Trump and his supporters?
Could it be when Thomas Jefferson said that “all men are created equal?
Or when Martin Luther King challenged us all to live up to that very principle?
Some folks might say ‘both,’ and maybe so, but that is the answer to a different question. I didn’t ask which message you approve or admire? I asked when do you think America was great in the minds of Donald Trump and his supporters?
Maybe the former, but only if we discount the latter. They might well love the promise of equality and freedom, but only so long as that promise remained unfulfilled for a great many Americans. To the deplorables, the gap between American ideals and our political realities is an essential feature of our greatness. The greatness they seek is always gained at the expense of others.
I really don’t see how there could be any doubt in the matter. This man is a bully, and he has a bully’s sense of the world around him. His heroes are bullies. His villains are those that stand in their way. The vast majority of mankind are but cannon fodder by which his heroes distinguish themselves. They are the human sacrifices by which true greatness distinguishes itself from the mere men and women of ordinary humanity. Greatness in the world of Trump is a boot ground into the neck of someone unable to do anything about it.
(Or a knee.)
When was American great according yo Donald Trump and those who support him?
When slaves were sold on the market in Charleston, South Carolina, and when the profits from slavery flowed into all of the United States, North and South alike. This was greatness in Donald Trump’s world.
When Confederate Statues went up all across the south, reminding African-American that those who held slaves in bondage were the real heroes of their time, that was greatness in the world of Donald Trump. The suffering of African-Americans in slavery, and in segregation was (and is) a small price to pay for the greatness made possible by the profits of slavery.
…and the second class citizenship which was to follow.
There are those who would return African-Americans to that very second class status in the most explicit terms possible. Trump is a hero to these people. He would deny it of course, but countless White Supremacists have organized in the wake of his rise to power, encouraged by a dog-whistle here, a slow condemnation there, and of course the occasional glaring statement of racist sentiments by Trump or those in his inner circles.
There were those who thought the existence of a plebeian class in America was critical to republic, the price of greatness for those free enough to enjoy it. Clearly, a number of Americans see in Trump’s rise to power the chance to reconstitute that servile class of Americans who don’t quite enjoy their full rights.
For those who share this vision, every confederate statue is a memorial, not just to history, but to a natural aristocracy. Most, I expect imagine themselves the righteous heirs to that aristocracy, denied their proper station by the corruption of liberals and various minorities who are but pawns duped by the white liberal agenda.
It’s a message driven home every time right wingers tell us about the evils of the “Democratic plantation,” or tell us, as Phil Robertson once did, that African-Americans were happier in the days of Jim Crow than they are now living in the shadow of this very ‘plantation.’
For a good portion of Trump’s base, greatness lies in hierarchy, but only when it’s the right kind of hierarchy. In their world, we are all a little happier with slavery or something as close as they can get to it. Equality just means people end up in the wrong places within that hierarchy. For America to be great, each must be in his or her proper place.
Lest anyone forget this greatness, the greatness of slavery, it is celebrated in the Star Spangled Banner before every ritual in America’s one true religion, professional sports! This celebration takes the form of the star Spangled Banner, a song which triggers in every good American the obligation to display their loyalty and love of the nation by standing with their hands over their hearts for all to see. Any athletes who take exception to this on behalf of African-Americans mistreated by the police become enemies of America itself, and of its greatness, at least in the eyes of Trump and the deplorables.
That the full song includes a stanza celebrating the return of escaped slaves to their former bondage is perhaps a little more significant than this little-known passage would seem to suggest. That great celebration of freedom is also a celebration of slavery.
A point well made every time Trump and his fans demand obesiance of players and seek punishment for those who hesitate.
When Jewish women jumped from the upper floors of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in hopes of escaping the flames consuming the building and those within it, that was greatness to Donald Trump. It was greatness, because it was the price paid for great profits and a nation of industry unfettered by regulation or those Goddamned unions and all that bullshit red tape that comes with them. Those were days when Captains of industry were free, dammit, free from the death of a thousand paper cuts that require working fire escapes, reasonable work hours, and countless other protections for the safety and dignity of workers. That world without such regulations, that was greatness to the likes of Donald trump. The women who died in that fire? They were the price paid for the captains of industry to thrive, and the success of those men was worth every life snuffed out in the Triangle Shirtwaist fire.
…and every indignity suffered by any worker ever sacrificed in the name of that greatness.
When Custer died for our sins on the greasy grass, THAT was greatness.
A great sacrifice.
And before that when Custer sacrificed the lives of Cheyenne Women and children at the Washita River, that was greatness, a greatness beautified by the music of Garyowen. Garyowen was the song played by Custer as he attacked Black Kettle’s encampment in the early morning of November 27th, 1868. Still reeling from the massacre at Sand Creek, Black Kettle had come to the Washita River in the hopes that he and his people could camp in peace and stay out of the fighting (just as they had tried to do at Sand Creek 4 years earlier). Custer showed them American greatness!
Lest the lesson be lost on any of us, the Trump administration made a point to play Garyowen at their July 4th celebration at the Black Hills this last summer. Most of America would have missed the message sent to Native American activists that day, perhaps noticing only a slight trace of nostalgia for the old west upon hearing the tune without quite knowing how they had come to form that association. For those that knew the tune, however, the message was unmistakable. What made American great was its willingness to slaughter Native Americans, not to respect them or their lands or anything else about them, but to slaughter them.
Accompanied by a catchy tune!
This message should have been clear enough earlier in Trump’s administration when he honored the Navajo Code Talkers.
With the name ‘Pocahontas’ falling from his sneering lips.
And the image of Andrew Jackson presiding over the whole scene.
Was greatness Abigail Adams telling her husband; “Remember the Ladies?” Or was it John Adams’ response, dismissing her concerns with platitudes about who is really in charge? Does greatness lie in Susan B. Anthony’s efforts to cast a vote in direct violation of the laws of her day. Or does it reside in the fine levied against her for doing so? Perhaps it can be found in Trump’s decision to pardon her? Or in the decision of the Susan B. Anthony Museum and House to reject that very pardon?
Could her greatness reside in the courage to break an unjust law, a greatness only erased by Trump’s worthless pardon?
Or did greatness actually reside in Trump’s pardon itself, a gesture which effectively put Anthony in a league with then likes of Sheriff Arpaio, Roger Stone, or Dinesh D’Souza, all men who have spent their entire lives punching down at those less fortunate than themselves? Some might think these men unworthy of respect. Clearly, they meet Trump’s standards of greatness. I somehow doubt, he’d have thought to put Anthony on par with these feckless whores if she were alive today and ready to give him a piece of her mind. A few a Republicans have indulged in fantasies about taking the vote away from women since Trump’s rise to office. If Anthony really does count as great to Trump, it is for a cause that neither he nor his supporters seem eager to support themselves. I don’t think Trump has suggested taking the vote away from women himself, at least not in public, but it’s easy enough to see how others might see it in Trump’s willingness to trash any woman who stands up to him in public.
…a point driven home withe every humiliation Trump unleashes on any woman who dares to stand up to him in public.
…or when facile deplorables make a point to remind us of the women who Trump always finds to speak on his behalf.
…as he punches down at others.
I could go on of course, but you get the point. If America was ever great in Trump’s eyes, it was precisely when America’s greatness was clearly obtained at the expense of others, and that expense was itself celebrated openly in full view of bystanders and surviving victims alike.
For both Trump and his supporters, it must be said, the cruelty is always the point. If there is anything about America that they well and truly love, that is it.
That is what passes for greatness in the land of Trump.
The only wall Donald Trump ever meant to build was finished a long time ago. He built it with phrases like “lock her up” and “fake news” along with countless outright lies and bullshit stories. He didn’t put the wall on the border. It was never meant to go there. No, Trump built that wall right down the center of the nation, and each of us ended up on one side or another. Trump’s wall divides us completely from one another, and that is all it was ever intended to do.
It’s the one meaningful promise that bastard actually kept.
So, the Trump campaign has launched a brand new website intended to help their supporters ‘win’ arguments over the Holiday dinner tables. (No, I’m not linking to the damned thing; you can find it yourself if you like.) I seem to recall the deplorable pundits encouraging their faithful to harass us at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Now they’ve decided to press the fight on into Christmas as well.
…and supposedly, it’s liberal secularists that are trying to ruin Christmas, but whatever!
How are they pitching this little bundle of disinformation? According to CBS News:
“We’ve all seen the news articles about liberal snowflakes being afraid to see their MAGA relatives at Christmas or holiday gatherings, so the Trump campaign wants people to be ready,” Kayleigh McEnany, Trump campaign national press secretary, said in a statement. “We’re not helping snowflakes avoid arguments – we’re helping Trump supporters win them! As 2019 draws to a close and 2020 approaches, President Trump and Americans are going to be winning, winning, and winning, and then winning some more!”
Which brings to mind a certain question. Why is it that we liberals are the ones ducking these Holiday discussions? Why is it that we are the ones consciously trying to avoid politics with friends and family over the Holiday season. I suppose there may be some counter-examples, obviously there are, but I do think the general pattern is those pushing this sight see it; liberals are the ones who would rather not engage even as deplorables are only too happy to spill their love of the Manchurian Cheeto all over the room, regardless of the season.
Frankly, I think this quote, commonly attributed to Bill Murray sums it up rather nicely. (Speaking of which, does anybody out there know when Murray said that? Or if it really was him?) It isn’t a fear of losing the argument so much as the knowledge that any argument worth making will be wasted on some folks. We’ve all been there, and the headache just isn’t worth it. Also, quite frankly, the fear of seeing the darker truths about people we know and love. It sucks when you realize that someone you really care about shows you that that they are only of egg-nogs away from telling a bunch of really racist jokes. It’s unpleasant to realize that a close friend or relative doesn’t check his facts before opening his mouth and can’t be corrected when called out on it. It’s genuinely horrifying to realize that someone you love is just fine with seeing certain people suffer needlessly (ahem! Children in cages on our borders or living under the bombs in any number of places around the world). It isn’t just the unpleasantness of disagreement that makes some of us wary of Holiday discussions, it’s those moments when you can’t help seeing a trace of cruelty or willful deceit underlies the politics of some people you’d like to love. Sure, sometimes people make a reasonable argument from the other side. Even a right wing clock is right twice a day, so to speak, but sometimes, all-too-often really, it isn’t the challenging case that makes us uncomfortable, much less the cold hard-to-explain fact, it’s the moment you see the genuine cruelty in a friend or family member. Politics brings that out in people, some people at any rate.
With Trump in the White House, politics is bringing it out of them a lot more often.
If Hell is the impossibility of reason, then Holiday Hell is the impossibility of reasoning with a half-drunk uncle. The White House wants to see more of that happening today and tomorrow. Apparently, this year it isn’t enough to fight an imaginary war on Christmas or to do as Trump has done in the past, which is to take credit for the fact that people are wishing each other Merry Christmas again, and hope that people won’t notice that most never stopped in the first place. Now they want us to argue more over Christmas.
This is just one more example of trump’s old promise that he will deliver countless wins to his followers. Like so many other ‘winning’ moments, this one is a manufactured moment of one-up-manship, a pointless battle designed to give someone lacking any semblance of character a chance to feel he got the better of someone else. It is neither patriotism nor conservatism. It certainly isn’t Christianity.
And it really isn’t much of a win when you think about it.
Which is to say that it is just like everything else Trump has brought to us over the last 3 years.
Yesterday, the Idiot-in-Chief retweeted this little bit of tripe from one of the lesser grifters riding his crappy coattails to fame. This retweet is an entire Gish Gallop in a single tweet. Seriously, you could write a book on the many ways in which this is simply stupid.
Idiots will idiate!
But the particular idiocy that I keep coming back to is this. This is the President of the United States, and Epstein was a high profile suspect in a Federal institution. Epstein’s welfare was the direct responsibility of federal officials, and those officials answer to Trump. If Jeffrey Epstein was killed by ANYONE, it is ultimately the responsibility of Donald Trump. More to the point, that Epstein died in this facility absolutely IS Donald Trump’s responsibility. No hypotheticals needed! Yet trump sits there, just like any other couch-potato, musing on the possibility that something awful might have happened as if he were not himself implicated in the very rumors he is spreading.
Donald Trump is arguably the most powerful man in the world. (Well, to be honest, that status would probably belong to Putin, but that aside,…) Trump is arguably the most powerful man in the United States, and yet he still reacts to major political events as though he is simply Archie Bunker sitting in the comfy chair with nothing better to go on than his first impression of a news item and no more responsibility for the events in question than any other guy who just walked into his living room tired from a long day of work and sat down in a chair to learn about events well beyond his scope of power and expertise. The problem here is that Donald Trump isn’t just another guy sitting in a chair learning about the news from the pundits of his personal choice. He is in charge of the institutions in question and this death happened on his watch. Ideally the President of the United States should do more and know more than this President appears to, and there is every indication that this appearance of a hapless hackwit with neither self-awareness nor public consciousness is absolutely the underlying reality of this living facade.
There is no underlying truth to anything Trump says or does, no deeper meaning or real intention underlying the many misleading slogans which constitute the entirely of his political engagement. Donald Trump is the surface impression he creates, nothing more and nothing less.
…all of which is why it is so disturbing to see the President talking as though he were not implicated in events unfolding under his own authority. Donald Trump is the proverbial man (as in ‘the man’) talking about the politics of his day as if he were just another underdog, just another guy trying to make sense of another scandal, a scandal in which he doesn’t seem to see himself, even though he is all over it.
It’s an iconic moment, this tweet. Trump at his Trumpiest. It is also the present GOP and its most GOPest, a party completely devoid of any sense of responsibility for anything it or its members do.
I suppose Republicans have played the underdog for as long as I can remember, but that particular theme wasn’t always quite so prominent as it is now. There was a time when it was substantially overshadowed by themes of respectability and adherence to time-honored traditions. When I was in college Republicans were more likely to hold themselves up as the standard of moral and intellectual propriety from which liberals sought to free themselves. Back then the proverbial Man was understood to be a conservative Republican, and Republicans typically assumed a level of authority across the board which is fundamentally inconsistent with the ethos of rebellious underdogs fighting the powers that be. They were the ones telling the rest of us how to live, and quite often they were happy to tell us why they had the authority to do that.
If you ask me, it was Rush Limbaugh. It was Limbaugh that taught conservatives the joys of playing the smartass in the back of the room instead of posing as the Professor and then having to answer somebody else’s smartass questions. Limbaugh never tried to assert the authority of tradition; he always preferred to mock the efforts to liberals in whatever they happened to be doing. He set aside the authority tat was once so central to ‘conservative’ politics and instead opted to play the underdog fighting against somebody else’s authority.
It was also Limbaugh that taught bigots and bullies all over the country to think of themselves as conservatives, and to filter their hatreds through a political lens. You don’t hate blacks or Mexicans or women or homosexuals, or any of these people, so went Limbaugh’s message. No, you hate liberals, and you can always identify a liberal by their willingness to advocate for any of these groups. What looks on the surface to be hatred of an oppressed minority is instead, according to Limbaugh, rebellion against the oppression of those who would tell you how to think and act. That was a powerful message, a bigotry-laundering, and a successful one at that. Today’s bigots don’t just come out and say that they hate this group or that group; they consistently tie their contempt to some narrative about liberalism. It’s liberalism that they really hate, so they want to believe, even if their anti-liberalism means consistent attacks on underprivileged minorities.
In point of fact, Limbaugh’s hyper-politicization of prejudice goes hand-in-hand with his assumption of under-dog status. In retrospect, this was the real-pay-off for decades of PC-bashing. It enabled ‘conservatives’ to disavow any sense of responsibility for the real world outcomes of anything people experienced as a result of the culture wars. In their rejection of political correctness, hateful words directed at the powerless became spirited rebellion aimed at the real powers that be, and those who sought to help the unfortunate became oppressors in the new plantation system. (Don’t laugh, the DNC as a plantation system is a prominent theme in republican circles. It’s shit, yes, but the deplorables are eating that shit right up!)
What Limbaugh did was to help the racism goes down by teaching conservatives to think of someone else as the real authority. That authority could be the liberals, the Democrats, the coastal elites, Hollyweird, or whatever else you care to imagine as the over-arching power behind any policy that might help the underprivileged. Either way, someone else always had the power, and the expression of prejudice became, under his influence, resistance to that authority. When you use the N-word, you’re not really attacking African-Americans. No, you are just offending liberals. If they weren’t so touchy, then you wouldn’t have done it, right? How many times has Limbaugh played this gambit and countless others like it? And how many of those now flashing the ‘OK’ sign in racist circles have done so just because it would offend liberals, not because they endorse white supremacy.
…supposedly at any rate.
Anyway, my point is that all this PC-bashing which has long since become central to ‘conservative’ Republican thinking effectively transformed the GOP’s relationship to power and authority. They are no longer the 80s-era Christians telling us who to marry or what books to read or how we should dress. No, now they are the ones defying authority. And thus punching down has come to look an awful lot like standing up to the Man in the rhetoric of cultural conservatives.
Donald Trump took over the market for this message in his Presidential campaign. PC-bashing was a big part of his act from the very beginning. Nobody has ever inhabited the role of the politically incorrect rebel with such abandon. Under Trump, defiance of political correctness became everything from the usual racial epithets and sexist slurs to outright violence against protesters or explicitly discriminatory policies. In being politically incorrect, Trump wasn’t just hurting people’s feelings; he was declaring his intent to hurt people in very real and very tangible ways. Lest we dwell on his victims too much, trump has always (true to form) called our attention to some external power, some liberal authority, that is always the real reason things had to get so ugly. Trump’s every exercise of power counts now as defiance of the ultimate power, the ‘deep state.’ With such a fictional power somewhere out there, how could any mere mortal be anything but an underdog?
…unless of course that person was an emissary of the deep state!
But that role, the role of a deep state emissary, is of course reserved for Trump’s enemies. By definition, they are the real powers that be. If someone gets in his way, they are the ones working to maintain the status quo. And Donald trump’s every abuse of authority takes on the significance of fighting the power of that deep state and its surrogates. The children who have suffered in his internment camps are really the victims of that deep state, so the deplorables tell us, just as those who died in those camps are really victims of the deep state. Everyone he hurts is really the victim of that other power, the shadowy deep state that made all of this necessary. That is reality as Trump and his ilk understand it. So when this faux-Underdog in orange is sitting on his ass learning that his own people have let an important prisoner die, then he too can imagine that it must really be the fault of someone else.
Someone with REAL power!
It stands to reason that Trump would blame the Clintons. Of course they too may have reasons for wanting Epstein to be silent, so he can make a case for it, but Trump has other reasons for pointing at the Clintons; those that have more to do with story-line. The notion that the Clintons did it fits the narrative he has been using since the 2016 campaign. Far from diminishing her authority, Trump inflated it. He made Hillary into a surrogate for anything the government had ever done that his fans might have found objectionable. Whatever powers she might have had as a Senator or a former First Lady, they were dwarfed in comparison to the power that trump attributed to her in his campaign rhetoric. I lost track of the number of times Trump blamed Hillary for anything that did or didn’t happen in Congress when she was there (and even when she wasn’t). Trump held Hillary personally responsible for things well beyond her control so many times in the actual debates it was laughable. As if she, simply by being a Senator, were directly responsible for everything Congress (or the President) did. I wondered then, as I do now, how anyone could be so gullible as to believe him? But I also knew it was a powerful story-line. It made Hillary a symbol of government, of the establishment, of anything that disaffected Americans could imagine themselves to be up against.Trump then had only to oppose her to become a hero to many.
…even to those who would be hurt by his policies.
In Trump’s rhetoric, Hillary (and the Clintons in general) came to represent the government as it is and he came to represent government as anyone might imagine they wanted it to be. (That Trump never really provided policy details or even finished his own damned sentences certainly made it easier for others to imagine the details as they wished.) The logic of Trump’s rhetoric has consistently made Hillary (and the Democrats) responsible for actual policy and real-world consequences. He in turn occupies an ideal world of government that is divorced from anything, even his own policies. So, I suppose it really shouldn’t surprise us that the Democrats in Congress have been responsible for every failure of the Trump administration. Neither should it come as any surprise that we’ve been hearing “What about Hillary” for close to 3 years now. To the deplorables, she is still government as they imagine it to be, or at least everything that’s wrong with it, and Trump is still government as they might hope it will be. Anything bad that actually happens is still her fault. This symbolism just isn’t affected by facts. It never was. And that is why countless people look to her whenever something goes wrong, even if it is directly the result of something Trump himself has done.
It’s also why a President whose own Department of Justice somehow took one of the most important prisoners off suicide watch can sit there on his ass and wonder out loud if the Clintons didn’t really do it.
When I think of Donald Trump and his campaign for President, it always takes me back to one of the early scenes in Game of Thrones. It’s one of the few moments in that series where Geofrey Lannister proved himself almost human. In the scene, he and his mother Cercei were discussing a fight he’d had a young commoner. He’d come off rather badly, but still Geoffrey’s mother, Cercei, praised him for bravery that he didn’t show and recounted heroic deeds that he didn’t perform. Just this once (it’s the only time that I can recall), the little monster displayed a trace of honesty and corrected her on the facts of the matter. For just a moment, it seemed to matter to Geoffrey that he hadn’t actually lived up to the narratives his family were spinning about him.
Some day you’ll sit on the throne and the truth will be what you make it.
I always imagine Donald Trump as a man who learned that very lesson somewhere in the course of his life and took it very much to heart.
One of the most fascinating (and infuriating) things about Trump is the way he approaches questions of veracity. More fascinating still, the question of just why his fans support that approach. It’s easy enough to call the man a liar (and he’s certainly given plenty of cause), but it’s closer to the case to suggest that he keeps turning questions of truth on their head (perhaps in part by ignoring them). What is truth to this man? The answer to that question certainly isn’t what it is to the rest of us. And I still think Cercei’s quote is a good start on an answer.
One of the most frustrating things about Trump, for me at least, is his penchant for resolving complex problems and answering serious criticisms by simply declaring the case to be whatever he needs (or simply wants) it to be. Are there substantial reasons to believe he disrespects women? He simply tells us he always treats women with respect. Do his comments about Mexicans or Muslims reflect hatred and promote bigotry? He simply tells us he loves them and treats them well. Time and again, Trump answers serious questions simply by telling us the most convenient thing necessary to promote his own interests. Time and again, his claims are clearly counterfactual.
…and time and again, I hear Cercei telling us that truth is what a prince makes of it.
So many things about this quote seems so relevant, not the least of them being the image of a pampered aristocrat assuming the reins of power. It isn’t merely that Trump seems immune to basic fact checking or clear cases of debunkitation; he seems almost consciously to expect that the grounds of veracity itself will shift right along with his narratives. He has enough power to simply make some narratives stick, and he knows it. In time, his narratives (however disingenuous) may well become the standard by which other facts are assessed. So, he just presses onward. What counts as true is what he will make of it.
The notion that truth could be constituted in the exercise of power might seem a grad school cliché, but seldom do we see it in such a crass form, so naked, so obvious, and so orange.
Early in the campaign, Trump acquired a reputation as a ‘straight shooter’. Fans described him as a no nonsense guy who tells it like it is. All the tropes of tough love and brutal honesty were conferred on the gilded prince of kitch, which is of course at least as maddening as Trump’s antics themselves. Despite all the prevarication and notwithstanding countless instances of demonstrable falsehoods, one of Trump’s best qualities, according to his many fans, would seem to be honesty.
Does Cercei have an evil laugh? She must, because I could swear that I hear it right now.
KELLY: Mr. Trump, one of the things people love about you is you speak your mind and you don’t use a politician’s filter. However, that is not without its downsides, in particular, when it comes to women.
You’ve called women you don’t like “fat pigs, dogs, slobs, and disgusting animals.”
Your Twitter account…
TRUMP: Only Rosie O’Donnell.
KELLY: No, it wasn’t.
Your Twitter account…
TRUMP: Thank you.
KELLY: For the record, it was well beyond Rosie O’Donnell.
TRUMP: Yes, I’m sure it was.
KELLY: Your Twitter account has several disparaging comments about women’s looks. You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees. Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president, and how will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who was likely to be the Democratic nominee, that you are part of the war on women?
TRUMP: I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct.
I’ve been challenged by so many people, and I don’t frankly have time for total political correctness. And to be honest with you, this country doesn’t have time either. This country is in big trouble. We don’t win anymore. We lose to China. We lose to Mexico both in trade and at the border. We lose to everybody.
And frankly, what I say, and oftentimes it’s fun, it’s kidding. We have a good time. What I say is what I say. And honestly Megyn, if you don’t like it, I’m sorry. I’ve been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be, based on the way you have treated me. But I wouldn’t do that.
This exchange is fascinating, not because it’s intrinsically interesting, but because the narratives it spawned seem so very implausible on the face of it. Trump was insulted, and on his behalf Trump’s followers were also insulted. And thus Megyn Kelly became a right wing pariah for some time, which is hilarious, even if it is only a temporary problem. She became a traitor to countless right wing faithful, most of whom had sung her praises right up until that very moment. Yet, she was absolutely right? Trump himself bungled his answer, and that too seemed to count against Kelly. She had been the source of a genuine mistake on Trump’s part, and that was unforgivable. Like the Stark girls witnessing Geoffrey Lannister’s cowardice, Kelly had borne witness to something common men and women are not supposed to see.
Fire the witch!
What always fascinated me about this, is the fact that Kelly doesn’t appear to have set out for Trump’s blood in the outset. I find myself wondering if she couldn’t possibly have more to help Trump out with this question? First, she began by repeating the straight-shooter theme, thus paying the man a rather undeserved compliment and all-but answering the question for him. And then of course there is the whole ‘war on women’ theme, as if Trump’s personal rudeness had anything to do with the GOP’s campaign to restrict the rights of women in both the workplace and the field of health-care. It was a straw-man of course, and one Kelly skillfully placed in the mouth of Hillary Clinton. As tough questions go, this was a slow pitch straight up the middle, but it was too much for Trump.
And thus Kelly became a Pariah.
It doesn’t get much sillier than that. I can’t help wondering at her own internal monologue as she proceeded to spank Trump for his initial response. I can’t help but wonder if the word ‘child’ flashed through her mind as it did for so many others. And of course with Trump’s knee-jerk response he proved himself unworthy of her initial praise. His first reaction in this (as with so many other instances) had been to lie, and thus he was caught like a child with his hand in the cookie jar, telling us all it was just Rosie O’Donnell.
Did this shake the faith of Trump fans? Far from it! Well, it did shake their faith in Megyn Kelly and Fox News. They had stood for a moment as witnesses to the foibles of Prince Trump. Whatever facts or reasons Kelly might have had, they pointed only to her own disloyalty. The truth would be what Donald made of it, and it simply wasn’t Kelly’s role to stand against that.
For months after this dust-up, Trump, his campaign, and his fans simply kept telling us what a straight-foreword kinda guy he is. After awhile, you have to realize this isn’t simply a mistake, but it’s a damned odd epistemology. What counts as truth in this narrative is a willingness to tell someone something they don’t want to hear. It’s a common yarn that the “politically correct” left simply cannot handle the truth, as they say, and that the many epithets and racial slurs of right wing politics are a just brutal truth shouted in the face of milquetoast morons well deserving of any discomfort the whole affair may bring about.
The problem of course is that all this begs the question; is the source of discomfort really anything like truth? I for one can think of a few instances in which left wingers (or anyone for that matter) have thrown their weight behind some falsehood I wouldn’t mind seeing burst like a bubble cuddling up to a nice sharp needle. I can also think of a few times the left wing viewed seemed damned accurate to me, and all the cries of ‘political correctness” never did a damned thing to demonstrate otherwise. More to the point, the rhetoric of PC-bashing makes the particulars quite irrelevant, especially wielded as Trump does in his encounter with Kelly. PC-bashing makes of the entire range of left-wing politics nothing but a white lie, one just begging for that damned needle.
…and of course in Trump’s case ‘political correctness’ would eventually come to include things like not beating protesters. That might seem a novel use of the phrase, but of course making truth is hard, and sometimes it must be made at the expense of someone else’s nose.
Brutal honesty is understandable, but all-too-often brutal honesty is all brutal and no honesty. In support of this, Trump’s comments about women would be ‘exhibit A’ as far as I’m concerned. And yet countless Trump supporters seem not only to accept his deceits; they actually seem to count these deceits as evidence of his honesty. Honesty is functionally equivalent for rudeness in this story-line. What counts as truth is the ability to make liberals uncomfortable. If our discomfort is caused by counterfactual claims or clear errors in reasoning, well then those too seem to count as victories in the service of a higher truth. For truth is what Trump will make of it, and that truth is meant to make some of us miserable.
…which brings me to another feature of Trump’s relationship to honesty, that which makes his product irresistible, a sense of shared guilt. If you are like me, you can’t really bring yourself to believe that Trump’s fans actually believe the nonsense he spouts. Time and again, his reflex is to make a claim so obviously false it seeming doesn’t even seem count as a lie. Whatever else it is, is anybody’s guess. (We would need John Miller to explain it to us.) Time and again it seems painfully clear that anyone past preschool should see clearly that Trump is lying. But his fans still support him. It boggles the mind.
But only if you take the whole charade at face value.
They key to understanding Trump’s appeal, I think, is to understand that his supporters don’t really believe his crap anymore than the rest of us do. They simply see themselves as in on the con. If Trump is deceiving anyone it isn’t his followers, so the thinking goes. It’s someone else, someone square enough to take him seriously, to ask if his claims are actually true.
…someone like Megyn Kelly, who was, if only for a moment, foolish enough to think that when Trump said that he only insults Rosie O’Donnell, he actually meant that he only insults Rosie O’Donnell. Anyone with half an ounce of wit would have simply laughed and accepted this answer, knowing full well that it wasn’t literally true. After all, Trump had offered Kelly a perfectly standard whipping girl in place of an honest answer. Conservatives everywhere know that Rosie O’Donnell is fair game for any kind of abuse they care to heap on her, and the abuse of Rosie O’Donnell is a perfectly acceptable substitute for any answer to any more serious question, at least in front of the cameras.
That’s just how the game is played!
A moment of Rosie-bashing should have been enough. It would have been enough, except that for just that particular moment in recent history Kelly wasn’t hip to the con. No-one really expected Kelly, the audience, or anyone else to actually believe that Trump reserves all his misogyny for Rosie O’Donnell, but if Kelly is going to blow the con like that, she can’t really be in the fold.
This, I think is the key to understanding Trump’s reputation for honesty. It resides in a sense of truth as shared conspiracy. Those in the know cannot be expected to describe it accurately. That’s not what people in the know actually do. To speak the truth in itself would be an act of betrayal. And those who balk at the claims of Trump and his camp demonstrate only their own ignorance with every refutation they produce. Only a square would think it mattered that Trump’s claims were false, and only a complete square would make the effort to demonstrate this.
All of which brings us back to that wall Trump keeps telling us about. Is it important? Yes, but not because he actually means to build it. Maybe he will and maybe he won’t. It really doesn’t matter, because as an immigration policy, a wall isn’t much. But it’s a damned important symbol, and Trump supporters know this. Trump’s wall is the ultimate in us versus them politics. This is what makes it a powerful symbol. With his wall, Trump demonstrated an absolute willingness to separate the people who count from those that don’t, which is what garnered him the support of so many who count as conservative in Today’s politics.
…all of which is kind of standard.
But what escaped my notice at first is just how much that wall suggests a kind of epistemology. It isn’t just the benefits of being American that will be locked up behind that wall. It is the truth itself. One might think that one of the hallmarks of truth would be it’s capacity to overcome boundaries, to enable people who disagree to check each others’ claims and arrive at a common sense of what is and what isn’t the case. This at least is what sometimes happens in the course of a reasonable argument. But that isn’t the vision of truth driving the Trump camp. No, their Truth is not shared. It too is locked up behind that wall, and it isn’t shared with the rest of us.
First rule of fight club and all that.
Truth in the Trump machine reside in the boldness of his lies. In the cockiness of claims that couldn’t possibly be accurate. Every time the rest of us struggle to decide where to begin with Trump’s latest round of hogwash, his fans see only a knowing wink, another reassurance that he knows what they know, and that we never will.
Which raises the question of just who really is in on the con? So many of Trump’s supporters count him as a hero for the common man. What counts as a common man? Well it isn’t a liberal. It isn’t a Mexican. It isn’t a Muslim. It may or may not include other minorities, but certainly not any rude enough to stand up for their own rights. Join Black Lives Matter and you are definitely out of the club. Trump himself may make personal exceptions for certain folks (like the London Mayor), but that is the privilege of a Prince, to make exceptions to his own rules. But the real question is whether or not the working class will get a share of whatever benefits Trump hopes to hoard behind his walls. He keeps promising more jobs, and that promise may seem empty, but in the interim he has plenty of scapegoats to offer. And of course those scapegoats remain in the dark. It’s one of the most tangible signs of Trump’s loyalty to his own followers, his honesty, so to speak, his willingness to lie to (and about) the rest of us.
Truth is what Trump will make of it, and that Truth will come at the expense of a lot of people.
I expect some will be very surprised to find themselves on the wrong side of that wall.