by Bob Cesca
I suppose it was only a matter of time before my daily observations of Donald Trump's incoherent wrongness forced me to question the very nature of what it means to be an American. Following his latest rallygasm in Phoenix and the soul-crushing reality that a solid majority of Republicans were totally cool with Trump's response to the Nazi terrorists and unsullied white supremacists in Charlottesville, I'm beginning to wonder whether we've all misread the prevailing attitudes of millions of our fellow citizens.
According to the new PPP poll, 22 percent of Trump supporters agree that there are "very fine people" among the ranks of the aforementioned hate groups. 13 percent of Trump supporters wish the South has won the Civil War. Hell, while we're here, it's worth mentioning that 18 percent of Trump voters have a favorable view of Vladimir Putin, while a plurality of Jill Stein supporters, a full 44 percent, have a favorable view of the Russia president. And 40 percent of voters overall have a favorable view of Trump, despite his racist sympathies and failing presidency.
During his Phoenix rally, Trump warned his shrieking hoards, “They are trying to take away our history and our heritage.” He's talking about white people here: Confederate history, secessionist heritage. In response, the crowd went absolutely bananas -- dog-whistle delivered and received loud and clear. Sure, Trump's rally crowds might not be indicative of the broader population of voting-age adults. But what if they actually are? What if Trump's style and attitude is much more closely reflective of Americanism than we're willing to accept?
Set aside the walls of your personal social media bubble (I have one, too) and take a look around with your eyes wide open. Scrolling through my Twitter feed, it seems like Trump is one "believe me!" away from being tossed into federal prison after being the the first president to be driven from office before the end of his first full year. We see the photos of counter-protesters lining up to scold Trump; we see serious news reporters and historians excoriating Trump for his monstrous and undignified behavior; we read about a White House in turmoil, with west wing staffers leaking like paper condoms. Everything seems to appear deliciously chaotic and gratefully temporary.
And yet there are those rally crowds, cheering for lies and utter gibberish, doled out by a president who's obviously exploiting naive and poorly educated hoopleheads and their suitcase of grievances. Trump is like McDonald's for politics. It's junk food. It's a cheap reality show, with the main attraction being the asshole villain of the show -- which isn't a bad thing, necessarily, because as you've probably witnessed over the years, the reality show villains are always the most popular characters. We love to hate the bad guys. While we don't approve of their personal decisions all the time, we certainly can't wait to see what they'll do next. Do the list: Simon Cowell, Evel Dick from Big Brother, Gordon Ramsay, Puck -- original reality show villain, and so on. Beyond reality TV, the last 15 years have seen the rise of the anti-hero: Tony Soprano, Walter White, Saul Goodman, Dexter Morgan, Dr. Greg House and Cersei Lannister to name just a few (the list is much longer).
Trump himself reignited his career by becoming a reality show asshole whose catchphrase no one wants to hear in real life: "You're fired!" It's the ultimate dick move to fire someone and no one actually enjoys firing people -- no one revels in the misery and stress of it all, apart from sociopaths and Trump. (I used to run a modest animation studio, and it's likely that I bankrupted myself partly because I hated firing good people.) Trump's supporters and, perhaps, non-voting observers support Trump because they can live vicariously through his dickishness to elites, be they journalists, liberals or even some Republicans.
He provides Americans with a way to be nasty and annoying to our neighbors and social media friends without having to be nasty and annoying ourselves. Trump, in his totally fucked up way, empowers his people with bad behavior and zero accountability. Rally-goers can safely cheer for white supremacy because they don't believe they're responsible for the message, perhaps rationalizing it like so: they're Trump's words, and, after all, he's the president -- it's patriotic to support the president, right? At the same time, they're wallowing in the consequence-free trolling and obnoxiousness because they can go home after the rally, kiss their children goodnight then wake up the next day for work without any comeuppance for the fact that, the night before, they cheered for not-so-subtle racism while being sufficiently injected with their fix of payback against perceived enemies who will never know their name.
Trump's voters don't care about policy or issues beyond Trump's greatest-hits applause lines. This presidency, for them, is all about getting that fix -- exorcising all of their aggression, grievances and ignorance among other superfans who are just like they are.
If I were to summarize Trump's political strategy (if one exists) it'd be this: No one went broke underestimating the stupidity of the American public. Without question, Trump understands this cynical ditty more than just about anyone else in politics short of Putin himself. Trump is all about the "bread and circuses" and his people are devouring it.
So, what about the broader American public? There's a very real possibility that Trump's support is more robust than meets the eye. What if poll respondents are lying to pollsters because they're embarrassed to be directly linked with Trump by name and phone number, yet they're totally on board with Trump's acidity and recklessness? It's happened before in politics. If you're unfamiliar with the Bradley effect, take a few second to look it up. Briefly put: sometimes people lie to pollsters.
In my darkest moments, I see Trump as a metaphor for American greed, superficiality and selfishness. Between his obesity, his combover, his poorly-informed ideas, his crassness, his vulgar excesses, his distrust of outsiders, his self-tanning vanity, and even his love of fast food, Trump looks like a shopping mall in a badly tailored suit. He looks like any number of populist eccentrics who've stepped up to the national spotlight, offering salvation but only delivering instability. Maybe Trump is the perfect speed for Americans who've given up expecting kindness and decency from our national icons and, instead, crave someone who will pander to our darkest instincts -- to our inner scumbags.
Does Trump's white-trashiness reflect all Americans? Of course not. But I'd wager that most Americans are more like Trump than, say, you and me. Most Americans aren't paying monthly to read thousand-word political think-pieces on the political internet. I'm afraid that too many Americans can't spell "heal" correctly on the first or third try. I'm afraid that too many Americans don't grasp the nuance of international nuclear diplomacy. I'm afraid that too many Americans think it's okay to sexually assault their peers. I'm afraid that too many Americans prefer bombastic kneejerking over substance and thoughtfulness. I'm afraid that too many Americans are okay with a president who "talks like they do." I'm hoping beyond hope, these people will be proven wrong about Trump, as well as their own twisted impulses, before it's too late.
Many of us have given up trying to relate to Trump voters. They've forfeiting the luxury of our time and effort as long as they're in this for the thrill of the trollery. Consequently, I've long since walked away from trying to coax them back to sanity. They're lost. Upwards of 40 percent of us have gone bye-bye. They're morally and politically irredeemable. They've lost their right to be taken seriously, especially now that they're championing a Nazi sympathizer while applauding white power tropes from the president. The question now is whether they're the exception or the rule when it comes to Americans in general. As always, I hope I'm wrong about all of this, but I don't think I am.