When filling in for Joe Pags on his eponymous nationally-syndicated radio show on Monday, I thought my analysis of the president’s comments two days earlier following the Charlottesville riots and the death of Heather Heyer was “fair and balanced”: The president didn’t say anything factually wrong but his not specifically calling out Nazis and the KKK represented the biggest political miscalculation of his presidency.
Mr. Trump’s political opponents claim that he is a racist, or at least that he has too much sympathy for racism. I do not believe those claims to be true. Even though Trump was correct that there is hatred and violence and bigotry “on many sides,” even though Antifa is ironically and comprehensively fascist, and even recognizing the double-standard of this president’s treatment by the media compared to the prior president’s (Obama behaved as far more of a racist than Trump has) you simply don’t get a pass in the United States for not condemning the malignancy of StormFront and the KKK at the earliest opportunity. Mr. Trump could have said Saturday what he ended up saying Monday and avoided almost all of the unnecessary controversy.
The reaction by some of Joe’s listeners — and some of mine earlier in the day — were tweets like these:
Of course, my statement wasn’t that the president was factually wrong. It was that he made a political mistake.
I engaged each of these people in an online conversation, in part because I was struck by what an effort they were making to avoid hearing the point I was actually making and instead react in an almost Pavlovian way to the sorts of arguments that they, and the president, face every day.
Something occurred to me through these conversations:
There are various ways of dissecting the population known as “Trump voters” such as by positions on a range of issues or on a matrix of social versus economic conservatism. But as I interacted with people during the uproar over President Trump’s reaction to the events in Charlottesville, I’ve found another Trump-supporter taxonomy, two basic categories of Trump’s strongest backers: Those who like this president and those who utterly detest his opponents.
I stipulate that the plural of “anecdote” is not “data” but among these radio listeners, the most aggressive supporters of President Trump over the course of this last chaotic week fell far more into the latter category than the former — people who care less about trade or immigration policy or about the president’s temperament than they truly loathe Trump’s opponents: Democrats, the “establishment,” “globalists,” “RINOs,” “Swamp creatures,” and especially the media. And extra-especially CNN.
Examples of this mindset came through clearly:
What fascinated me about these conversations was the intensity of a particular mindset: I will support Trump no matter what he does because I abhor his opponents so much.
In normal circumstances, I might assume that those who support a politician out of antagonism to his opponents would offer weaker support than those who back him due to being true believers in the man and his policies.
When it comes to Donald Trump, I think the opposite is true: Most supporters of our current president who will walk through a wall of fire for him do it not because they love the way he governs but because they are beyond furious with the lies, malfeasance, and incompetence of the “other side” writ large (which, as I noted above, includes some members of the president’s own party) and a belief deep in their bones that politicians of both parties have sold us down the river, for their own benefits, for decades. As far as that belief goes, you’d have to be a Swamp creature yourself to believe it’s wrong.
They love Donald Trump for his refusing to give an inch to CNN or “Cryin’” Chuck Schumer or even to Congressional Republican leadership. They love that he’s “fighting for us”; the specifics of what he’s fighting about are irrelevant.
As the “mainstream media” shamelessly operates as a propaganda arm of the Democratic Party with nary a pretense of objective journalism, as reporters and Democratic politicians and public figures call for the president to be assassinated, suggest that the entire White House is staffed with “white supremacists” and, if that’s not enough, argue that anyone who voted for Donald Trump is a racist, the slanderous hyperbole of the left is pushing many who were neutral toward Donald Trump to support him, and pushing those who already supported him toward an aggressive, instinctive and unwavering defense of the man.
The now-unchained Steve Bannon made an interesting comment in his blustery conversation with the left-leaning American Prospect: “The Democrats, the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”
He has a point. Not just on economic nationalism (which I think Bannon overestimates as a winning political issue) but more broadly that the incessant slander by the left and their media toadies against broad swaths of the American population is already backfiring.
Each time Nancy Pelosi says that every Trump voter is a racist — by which she intends to drive a wedge between the president and his supporters, especially younger and urban supporters — she achieves the opposite of her goal.
One does not need to love, or even to like, Donald Trump to be nudged toward his defense when Democrats and CNN reporters think that the way to hurt him is to insult tens of millions of Americans whose greatest sin is to buy into the hope, whatever it may mean to any given individual, that we should endeavor to “make America great again.”
As one person put it on Twitter when I wondered aloud whether the reaction to Charlottesville would hurt President Trump, “Really? If you listened hard amid the press screaming, you could hear Trump getting re-elected.” (I replied that I think it’s only a 50/50 proposition that he’ll stand for re-election, but that’s a subject for another day.)
While I suspect that Donald Trump’s reaction to Charlottesville may yet end up being something which hurts him politically, it’s not nearly as obvious a conclusion as Nancy Pelosi and Jim Acosta hope it is.