Several times, on liberal forums, when I have advocated for addressing “Trump’s 37%,” readers have rejected the idea (for some of the reasons given in the next installment, “The Liberal Failure to Be Their Brothers’ Keeper”).
But those who reject taking on that task regularly disregard a major point I regularly make about that task: namely, that it’s necessary. Necessary in this sense that, as I assert, American can never be healthy so long as so large a component of the American people are in a state of thought and feeling in which they can look at someone like Donald Trump and think it a good idea to entrust to him the powers of the presidency.
When something is necessary to be accomplished, it hardly seems defensible not to do everything possible to accomplish it, however difficult the task. But the idea of that necessity, in my experience, is simply ignored– which of course makes it easier to reject taking on the difficult job.
Perhaps those who have ignored that repeated assertion of mine simply think it mistaken. Perhaps they think that we can be fine while leaving those 37% to stew in their own toxic juices, and don’t see any need to refute my dire assessment of what America’s future would be like if that 1/3-plus of Americans remain as they are.
That may be suggested by the references often made to the saving possibilities of the investigation being conducted by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, and the even more strenuous calls these commenters make for defeating the 37% at the polls in the upcoming (2018) election.
I agree entirely about the importance of both those components of an overall strategy to protect America from Trump’s dangerous presidency: Mueller to expose what we have every reason to expect will be considerable wrong-doing by this president, , and Democratic control of Congress so that Congress can do its constitutional duty (as the Republicans have so thoroughly refused to do), to impeach Trump and remove him from office.
Neither the successful completion of the Mueller investigation, nor the electoral wave sweeping in the Democrats, can be assumed, of course. But here’s the kicker: even the best scenario on both those scores will not free America from the danger emanating from Trump’s 37%.
Let me show the two ways in which that seems clearly so– one way having to do still with the threat that Trump poses to the healthy of the American political order, and one stretching out beyond this Age of Trump.
We’ve watched how Trump — along with his allies in the right-wing media and the Republican-controlled Congress — have worked assiduously to discredit Mueller’s investigation in the eyes of that 37%. These efforts have apparently been largely successful, as the polls indicate that majorities of Republicans harbor suspicions of the FBI and have an unfavorable view of Mueller himself.
The result is a considerable likelihood that regardless of the picture that Mueller’s report may end up presenting, many of Trump’s 37% will dismiss that picture as “fake news.” They will regard even the most compelling and damning case against Trump as the illegitimate effort of the deep state to rob Trump’s supporters of their rightful president. Despite even a well-substantiated case for major criminality — perhaps even treason — those people would likely stand by their man.
(It would not even need to be like what Trump himself declared, that he could “shoot someone on Fifth Avenue” and not lose any voters. Worse than that, they will reject the notion that Trump was the shooter, and be outraged at how their hero is being framed by his enemies– whom they are persuaded are their enemies as well.)
The Trumpian propaganda against the investigation does serve an immediate purpose: even in the face of the current news, Trump protects himself by keeping the Republican base aligned with him. So long as big majorities of Republicans (85% last I heard) approve of him, the Republicans will protect their own political skin by protecting Trump, even at the cost of violating their oath of office. (No big price for the members of today’s GOP in any case.)
But Trump can also put the propagandistic manipulation of the 37% to future use. For Trump has “weaponized” the 37%.
Even if we imagine an optimal scenario from the point of view of my liberal interlocutors — completed investigation showing quite sufficient “high crimes and misdemeanors” to lead a Democratic-controlled Congress to remove the President from office — Trump will still have a support base. And the wrecking ball that is Donald Trump might well put it to dangerous and destructive use.
The question that should be asked is this: if the impeached Trump were faced with the choice of withdrawing gracefully from the arena of power that had spit him out, or utilizing the weapon of the 37% at his command, what would he do?
When Nixon saw that he was defeated, he resigned and withdrew into private life. Doubtless it was painful for him, but he did it. Nixon had a degree of respect for the system within which he operated (even if he also was willing to violate it in covert ways).
But Trump is no Nixon.
Trump is utterly lacking in respect for the system. Nixon operated as President, and without the presidency had no power at his command. Trump uses the presidency to continue — as in his pre-political life — to cultivate his fan-base (and to enrich himself), and he has cultivated a following whose angers and fears and hatreds he has stoked, and who seem to follow him blindly. (That is the one area where Trump has a certain genius: he is able to use fear and rage to keep a whole lot of people with him.)
We know that in Trump’s worldview, there’s nothing more important than being a “winner,” and nothing worse than being a “loser.” So how would he respond if the system functions properly and casts him out? I do not imagine him being willing, in some press conference (like Nixon in 1962), to simply declare — in his bitterness at losing — that the press “won’t have Donald Trump to kick around any more.”
Furthermore, we know that Trump is vindictive. So how easily can we imagine Trump not striking back, when he has any weapon at all with which to retaliate? (Trump’s early mentor, Roy Cohn, taught him that if someone hits you, you hit back many times harder.)
What all this adds up to is that it is difficult to imagine — and impossible to assume — that Trump would go peacefully, after the system has stripped him of his power and sent him off into disgrace. (No Nixonian pseudo-triumphant raising of arms at the door of the presidential helicopter, while taking a smiling departure into obscurity.)
Which means that there’s a real possibility that Trump would continue the battle, even if removed from office. The more people he has supporting him, and angry about a judgment they profoundly misconstrue, the more capable Trump would be to incite his weaponized base to strike back at the system that has defeated him.
Whether wittingly or not, Trump has laid the groundwork for some kind of insurgency — potentially violent from its more rabid fringes — that could continue to damage the American political order for years to come. (He gave us some preview of this during the campaign: when it looked highly likely that he would lose the election, Trump convinced his base that the system was rigged. Is there any way that his discrediting of the election could be of any use to him except after he’d lost?)
Not only did they nominate and elect him, not only does their support continue to protect him, but also — I’m saying here — they could give Trump the means to sow enduring discord, and perhaps even insurrection. Means that would be in character for him to utilize.
One more big reason that everything possible must be done to reduce Trump’s 37% in order to protect the nation.
Even if Mueller’s investigation and the Blue Wave yield their ideal fruit.
One more point.
All of that is about all the ways the 37% contribute to the danger to the nation posed by Donald Trump.
But before there was Trump, there was a Republican base whose political consciousness had been rendered so toxic that it seized on the chance to make Trump president. Trump then wasn’t the problem. He was the symptom of a profound problem that had been growing up in the component of the American electorate driven crazy by a quarter-century of ugly-but-clever right-wing propaganda.
From which it should be readily understood that getting rid of Trump, urgent though it may be, does not rid us of the poisoned set of thoughts and feelings that made the unthinkable — “President Trump” — a reality.
So to those liberals who haven’t yet grasped the necessity of addressing the problem of Trump’s 37%, I say this:
In 2015-2016, these people did terrible damage to America by giving us the Trump presidency.
If in the years to come, there remains such a sizeable number of Americans whose consciousness inclined them to do that, what other catastrophes might they bring down upon our nation in the years to come?
It is a mistake — a failure of imagination — to suppose that inflicting a President Trump upon the nation marks the worst that this substantial component of the American population might do to the nation. What they did in 2016 — in nominating and then helping to elect such a atrocious person to the presidency — would have been unthinkable a mere generation ago. The history of the 20th century demonstrates that there is no reason to assume that, over the course of the next generation, Trump’s 37% could not be led into a place whose darkness is just as unthinkable to us now as a President Trump was unthinkable a generation ago.
How can it be prudent to leave them to their deceivers and manipulators, when there seems to be no limit to how dark and broken this force that’s taken over the political right may be willing to go?
Let us turn next to what is in the way of Liberal America being ready, willing, and able to take on the challenge of going after the 37%– even though, I argue, that may be required for the kind of victory that America needs for us to win.