Neither Literally Nor Seriously

Normal people get Trump. Washington still doesn't.

The Editorial Board has wondered aloud if the president really is a moron. In fairness, though, Donald Trump knows his audience well. They are he, and he is they.

Some call it a cult, but you don’t have to call it that to understand it. Think of those who enjoy Fox News or Rush Limbaugh. They tend to be white men over 65, retired with little to do. They don’t volunteer. They don’t read for pleasure. They don’t look after grandchildren. (Women do that, obviously.) They don’t seek new horizons.

They have life all figured out.

There is no argument they can’t win, because there is no argument they can lose. Yes, that’s a tautology, but these men live tautological lives. Everything begins and ends with their brittle beliefs. Complexity and paradox are reduced to simplicities they can fathom. Facts reinforce conclusions they already believe. Disagreements can’t be tolerated, because they upend hoary lies. If you disagree, you pay a price. So you don’t.

That the president behaves similarly is shocking to Washington. But to normal people, with a dad, uncle or father-in-law who is just like that, Trump is anything but. He’s exhausting in his familiarity. He’s too painfully boring to pay attention to. To normal people who avoid subjects upsetting to Dad or Uncle Elmer or Grandpa Floyd, Trump isn’t shocking. What’s shocking is Washington hasn’t quite figured him out.

Trump quoted Rush Limbaugh Sunday, setting off a firestorm of reaction. “These guys, the investigators, ought to be in jail. What they have done, working with the Obama intelligence agencies, is simply unprecedented. This is one of the greatest political hoaxes ever perpetrated on the people of this country, and Mueller is a cover-up.”

This is fascism writ large, the commentariat averred.

Yes, it is. And you know what else is true? Lots of Americans are fascists. That the fascist impulse is disturbing to elite Washington says more about elite Washington, however, than it does about the American electorate. What it says is that elite Washington actually believed the nonsense that is “movement conservatism.”

Now that Trump has declared a national emergency in the absence of an actual national emergency, some pundits are calling on “limited government conservatives” to stand up for the rule of law and the US Constitution. Good luck with that.

“Limited government” didn’t matter when Mitch McConnell, Lindsey Graham, and Ted Cruz railed against Barack Obama’s “presidential overreach.” It’s not going to matter now. If it did, all three would oppose Trump’s overreach. They don’t.

I think normal people have always understood to some degree, if only subliminally, that something about “movement conservatism” was never quite what it appeared to be. Normal people have a “conservative” dad, uncle or father-in-law who is free to say privately what elected “conservatives” avoid saying publicly.

Sure, Uncle Elmer says he favors legal immigration, entitlement reform and family values. But you also know Ol’ Elmer can’t stomach the idea of his money going to “the blacks” or the Mexicans, and let’s not even mention “the gays.” Outlaw them. Jail them. Get rid of them. Normal people know this. Fascism is is not shocking.

Normal people know there’s no use in pointing out hypocrisy, because moral relativism is endemic to this hermetically sealed worldview. The Democrats are hypocrites! They complain about Trump when Obama was the most lawless president ever! Well, no. Obama wasn’t the most lawless president ever. That’s what Republicans accused him of being. And, anyway, the Democrats never called themselves “constitutional conservatives.” Republicans did, but again, what’s the use?

“I don’t care. I believe Putin.” That’s what Trump allegedly said after intelligence officials tried explaining to him that North Korean missiles really could reach the continental US. On the one hand, some are surprised that the president would distrust people dedicating their lives to protecting America. On the other hand, some are shocked by his refusal to defer to the authority of evidence and reason. Don’t be.

I agree that it’s important to point out how dangerous it is for the president to call for his enemies to be imprisoned. This is scary stuff. But I think it’s also important, maybe equally important, to point out that a majority of Americans have stopped paying attention to virtually anything Donald Trump says. They know what he is.

John Stoehr


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John Stoehr
Editor & Publisher
The Editorial Board