One thing I think is true: nobody spends money on putting a message out into the world unless there is an audience to hear it. (Except for poetry writers, and even we want someone to read our words.)
So Trump’s convention is not spitting into the wind. It has purpose. And its purpose is connected to an intended audience.
Another thing I think is true: People with nothing to lose are the most dangerous people in the room (or in a nation). People who have nothing can’t have anything taken away from them. You can’t hold anything over their heads — which might feel like freedom, but it produces something else: anarchy.
This is where my thoughts converge.
Trump knows his audience. It is a clan that has nothing to lose, nothing to hold up as their own, so they don’t mind napalming civilization. Many Americans not in Trump’s camp don’t want anarchy because we’ve worked hard to make something of ourselves and don’t want that blown up. We have houses and bank accounts and loved ones we care about. It’s why I can support Black Lives Matter and hate looting. I have something to lose, something I don’t want to see destroyed.
Not Trump’s militia — and he knows this. Trumpers don’t care if the nation catches fire because they don’t have anything that can burn. Nothing important to them. They want the fire. It’s Holy Fire anyway, right? God coming to strip away…everything they don’t have.
What I think what we’re seeing in the Republican National Convention (for those watching, that is) is the activation of people who have nothing to lose. I think the Republican party has found a way to speak to failed, small men and women in a way that makes their failure and their smallness the fault of others, and then encourages them to actively hate anyone who might challenge that perspective. Or say, “Hey man, it’s not the democrat’s fault. It’s yours.”
If I didn’t care about the effects of Trump’s rhetoric, I’d say his course of action is brilliant. I’d say he’s filled a void in the lives of people defined by emptiness. It’s stupid to think the RNC’s message isn’t effective; it’s being heard by a very important audience, loud and clear — those who want to think they have honor even as they blame everyone for their lives. It’s saying out loud what they’ve longed to hear.
I think it will work. The problem, of course, will be that once those who have nothing to lose have been activated (Trump’s audience), it will be impossible to govern them (napalm is hard to direct). They will, eventually, go after their makers; it’s in their nature. It’s why dogs that kill have to be put down — once they’ve tasted blood, and all that. The only question to me is how much will have to be destroyed before they turn on themselves.
(Originally published in The Washington Post)
A list — see if it makes sense:
- 2000 — a muzzled Clinton/Ralph Nader
- 2008 — Obama
- 2012 — Obama
- 2016 — Sanders
- 2020 — Sanders
Two observations, and a prediction:
- a Democratic presidential candidate cannot — and rightfully cannot — win a general election without the support of African Americans;
- millennial Sanders supporters, having constructed purity politics/cancel culture, will invalidate the African American vote by declaring the election rigged;
- Trump will win re-election.
Do those pushing Sanders realize that the reason Trump won is because the Democratic vote was essentially split between realists and purists? Just as it was for George Bush Sr. in 1992 (Ross Perot)? As it was for Al Gore (Ralph Nader taking more than enough votes from Gore in Florida to make a recount necessary)? As it was in 2016, when Sanders’ supporters ignored his feeble attempt at pacification and “decided not to participate”?
My answer? Sadly, no. They’ll just keep yelling “Establishment!” because they think it means something more than the MY WAY! purity temper-tantrum it is. They have seen the light — and if they can’t have their light, it’s game over. Who cares if African American voters — the single-most important voting demographic in American politics — are lining up behind Biden. “Establishment!” Who cares if Biden is drawing support from troops-on-the-ground in battleground states. “It’s rigged!”
Bern-ers — Sanders’ most Trump-like supporters — are attracted to him because he resembles them in a very important way: he will not compromise. He’s pure. The RealDeal. He sees, the world be damned. It doesn’t matter that “Medicare for All” is DOA for Senior Citizens who will (rightfully) see in the expansion of benefits a danger to their own. It doesn’t matter that Fidel Castro quarantined HIV/AIDS patients or created conditions so dire that Cubans would rather take their chances on the open ocean than remain in Cuba. Center-left Democrats and Republicans who see in Biden someone they could vote for, someone of measured authority? So what. Sanders and his supporters see the world the way they see the world, and nothing — no argument, no Florida Democrat upheaval, no appeal to the raised voices of Others — can change that perspective.
This sort of ideological purity is usually seen in parents looking at their newborn, cooing that their offspring is the pinnacle of human potential. Their myopia is understandable, and easily forgiven. Nobody expects a parent (at least in the first two years) to admit their child is, say, ugly. Or not-quite-the-brightest. It’s probably why we’ve survived as a species, this sort of blind adoration. Sadly, however, some (many?) millennials believed their parents — and only their parents — and continue to see themselves as flawless arbiters of the good and the right. Their purity, their blessedness, has deep roots in those planned communities of which they are a part, in social and educational arrogance; having little experience with being wrong, Bern-ers — here, mainly white millennials — cannot admit opposing thought because, first, few have had to actually encounter a world beyond their control (play-dates, anyone?), and second, why should they? They are, after all, paragons of virtue and intelligence, far above those low-lifes who would “compromise” their principles for electoral victory.
The consequence of such intellectual elitism/real-world ignorance is, of course, a massive blind spot: a sort of infantile fascism, founded (just like in history) on the twin pillars of innocence and arrogance, that can’t recognize itself as fascism because, well, “we’re for universal health care”…as they declare “the process” political and cancel American democracy-in-action — or anything else they don’t agree with.
Get ready for Four More Years. One way or another, Bern-ers will cancel the African American vote — which, again, is essential to a Democratic win — regardless of what happens in the primaries. The predicted landscape: another conservative Supreme Court Justice; the ending of the ACA (just watch — this is the reason the deficit is being fueled: soon, a call for “fiscal responsibility” will overtake the call for affordable care); and the further erosion of the important line between church and state. Oh, and reproductive choice? Are you kidding?
Not quite the kind of Bern I’d like.
(A caveat: we could always hope for a recession. Then Democrats could run Jill Stein — another Green Party purists — and win.)
Some interesting reading: