This piece is appearing in newspapers in my very red congressional District, VA-06
I don’t know anyone who spends as much time trying to understand Republican/Trump supporters as I do. But I’m still puzzled.
The main puzzle is this: Do they not see what I’d expect them to see? Or do they not care about what I’d expect them to care about?
Here are some specific areas on which I’d like to ask such questions of my fellow-citizens who are voting Republican and/or approving of Trump:
Can you think of any good reason why it has been right for the United States to be the only advanced nation whose citizens are not assured of adequate health care? Can you make a case for why it’s the other couple dozen free and prosperous nations that chose wrongly on this issue, while the one outlier (the U.S.) got it right?
If you cannot, is it OK with you that the Republican Party has consistently worked to block or sabotage any policy that would give Americans that kind of security? Do you care if the Party you support seeks to prevent the United States from investing in the health of its citizens as every other major nation has done for many years?
For supporters of the Republican Party, which has long promoted itself as the Party of Patriotism, here are some questions regarding a another matter.
Are you aware that Trump’s representatives made two attempts to set up a back channel to be able to communicate with Putin’s Russian regime, out of sight of American intelligence? (One effort was made by Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn, meeting with the Russian ambassador, seeking to use Russian diplomatic facilities (!); and the other was made on Trump’s behalf by Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, meeting with a Russian oligarch in the Seychelles Islands.)
What do you imagine Trump and his people wanted to communicate to Putin that they wouldn’t want the CIA and the FBI to know about? Can you think of any explanation that an American patriot would approve?
Would you care if Mr. Trump and his group were sacrificing the interests of the United States to serve Russian interests instead?
The polls have indicated that the majority of Republicans approve of the recent tax bill passed by the Republicans in Congress. I wonder: are these Republicans aware that this tax bill – touted by congressional Republicans as a “middle class tax cut” – benefits mostly the very richest Americans and the corporate system? And do they know that the Republicans in Congress designed the bill so that the relatively small middle class tax cut expires in a few years, while those for the richest and the big corporations continue indefinitely?
Do you care that the Party you support was determined to increase the inequalities of wealth and income that are already wider than they’ve been in living memory?
The biggest political drama of this moment is doubtless the battle between Robert Mueller and his investigators on the one hand, with the President, his Republican allies, and Fox News on the other. The latter have been telling their followers that the investigation is a partisan “witch hunt”—and apparently with some success, with polls showing that Republicans (unlike the rest of America) have an unfavorable view of Robert Mueller and a distrust of the FBI.
I would like to ask the Republican voters and Fox News watchers: Are you aware that the major players involved in the investigation – Robert Mueller, Rod Rosenstein, Jim Comey, and Andrew McCabe – are all life-long Republicans? And does knowing that these men are Republicans make the Trump charge of this being a partisan plot against him less credible to you?
Would you care if the whole “witch hunt” rhetoric was part of an effort of the President to place himself above the law?
A list of such “do you know” and “would you care” questions could be expanded at length.
Between people not knowing, and their not caring, I would rather it be that people don’t know. The lack of knowledge seems more remediable, less deeply entrenched in the soul than an indifference to important values being trampled.
However, the not-knowing can also sometimes be the fruit of a deeper problem.
Take for example the poll data showing that most Republicans believe Donald Trump more than Robert Mueller. What leads those people to give greater credence to Trump, whose record of speaking falsely is unprecedented (and has been counted as roughly five false statements per day since his presidency began), than to Robert Mueller, who has been given major law-enforcement roles by American presidents of both parties because of his unblemished record of unwavering integrity?
Some interpreters speak of a “cult of personality” to explain this credulity (as well as the “I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose any voters” unwavering loyalty). In other words, some of the not-knowing the truth might be understood not so much as a matter of ignorance as of a willingness to follow another human being no matter where he leads.
The historical record of such “cults of personality” is a very dark one. The people who get this kind of credence and devotion – one thinks of Mao in China, Stalin in the Soviet Union, and Hitler in Germany as the most prominent examples from the last century – tend not to be exemplars of human virtue, but rather embodiments of the more monstrous forms that egotistical human beings in positions of power can take.
So a distinction should be made, it seems, between the kind of not-knowing that is the result of having been fed false information, and the kind of not-knowing that is the result of surrendering an important part of oneself to another — not necessarily admirable — person.
The first does not much touch the soul. The second has more troubling implications.
Andy Schmookler — the Democratic nominee for Congress in Virginia’s 6th District in 2012 — is the author of a series titled “A Better Human Story.”