Actions that a short time ago would have been viewed as completely unacceptable of an American President of any party are now completely shrugged off by supporters of Donald Trump.
There is a trend of statements and actions pushing our “Overton window” of acceptable discourse into dangerous territory if we care about survival of a well-functioning government of, for, and by the people.
Wannabe emperors don’t care about separation of powers or rule of law. Since those and other things being undermined are a big part of what has historically made America great, this collective “so what” is potentially a big problem. And the shrugs are actually getting MORE common, not less.
So WHY THE SHRUG? C’mon, man, why just a complete “whatever” from Trump supporters about the un-American and undemocratic tactics of their beloved leader?
I assert there IS a rational explanation of why things have gone the way they have, like water flowing down a hill.
At some point during the Presidency of Barack Obama, we might say that “liberals” and “progressives” could claim significant victory in the “culture war” we’ve been fighting since the 1980’s. The election of Obama himself, the making of sexist and racist comments uncool, that homosexuality and gay marriage are fairly openly accepted, the fifty-something genders available to choose from on Facebook, the reality that if a conservative were to openly critique any of the above liberal moral strictures, it is not unlikely the conservative might be called a racist, or sexist, or some other term denoting serious moral depravity… each of these is a progressive “victory”. And to no small degree, much of the media, many employers, and other institutions have bought into this new world order. A significant majority of media outlets consistently give moral high ground to the liberal positions and ways of thinking. There is a list of words and phrases we cannot say, and of ideas we are not supposed to think. The last three developments “solidify” the progressive victories, right?
From an objective standpoint we can say this series of progressive-friendly developments is just what happened. From the progressive standpoint, we can say it is for the better, correct?
It’s not all completely set in concrete YET, and conservatives are resisting. But if you’re a liberal, you may think that above-mentioned progress is an unqualified good. And now you need to completely smash ALL the troglodytes, demean and depose them from all positions of power and influence, then your job of transforming America to the “right” way of thinking will be complete, and that will be the end of it. And the progress you’ve made so far proves progress is possible, and you envision you can finish the job.
Let’s assume for the sake of this argument that conservatism has a long and storied tradition best exemplified by Edmund Burke’s philosophy, George H.W. Bush’s fiscal moves which made a balanced budget under Bill Clinton possible, the elements of what historians ironically call “classic liberalism”, and a general tendency to trust tradition, caution, avoid of overreach, staid culture, and preference of slow evolution and handling things within organic elements of culture over big programs and utopian ideas about how government can be leveraged to solve every problem.
Let’s also assume for the sake of argument that before 2008, and after 2040, it was and will be widely agreed by astute political analysts that there is value for society, and the people in it, of conservative philosophy and ideas (in some situations more than others, and often in balance with progressive ideas). And also that there’s agreement that a country must have some healthy expression of conservative ideas, and a reasonable amount of healthy traditions and respect for tradition, in order for that country and society to be healthy and prosperous and free. So let’s call the phrase and idea “we must have a healthy conservatism” “the truth”.
And let’s also say that it is healthy and necessary for conservatives to have a solid foundation of constructive conservative values, and for them to be able to engage constructively at the intersection of current events, their values, where liberals want to go, and what “the people” think… and, for ALL that to work, conservatives need to actually care about their conservative values, and to stick to their values and defend their values, just to make the world go ’round, in the balance of things. Bottom line, solid values and priorities make any system workable, and useable by real people in real life. And right or wrong, people’s values and beliefs are important to them. To conservatives. To liberals. Bottom line, most people cling tight to their core values, even under pressure, and even when those values aren’t cool. They find friends of like mind, where they find agreement with their views.
Flash back to the Obama Administration:
Liberals have won the culture war.
Many people consider conservative ideas to be morally wrong, and conservative people to be “bad people”. And there are news articles, t.v. shows, movie plots, conversations on a street corner between strangers, or in a living room between friends, college professor lectures, and conversations with your manager at work that often suppress these bad, morally wrong conservative ideas and values.
Progress, many people call it. Wow, we thought it would never happen. Getting there!
Conservatives… not only must you accept Facebook has fifty-something options for gender, but if YOUR son tells you HIS gender is something not even on that list, his feelings are absolutely true and correct, and no matter how he wants to express his gender, including insisting that gender does not exist, or cutting off parts of his body and enhancing others, and taking hormones… for you to question any of that in any way is morally wrong. If you think he hasn’t fully thought it through, you can’t say that either. His body, his choice.
Let’s say you don’t like that abortion happens as much as it does, and to you that is a moral issue on at least some level, but in the past you’ve ignored it because it wasn’t in your face – and then you hear Lena Dunham say she WISHES she had an abortion so she could relate to women who have, and you hear this discussed as a wise and brave position for her to take – or your friend was harassed at work when she said she didn’t think abortion in the third trimester should be done – or maybe you thought Hillary Clinton’s position on abortion of “Safe, Legal, and Rare” was sensible, then you saw her, ostensibly a liberal, taken to task by progressives as having an unacceptable stance, and you ask yourself “just what the heck do they want, just abortions, abortions, abortions, abortions everywhere?”
Let’s say you’re hitting scan on your car radio in some places in the United States where more than half the radio stations are in Spanish. The next day you comment to a co-worker how English is becoming the minority language on the radio in your town, and you are called a racist and a bigot by a table of people in the break room.
And there are even more arenas of discussion than those above in which liberals have to some degree “won” some measure of control over what can be said and what can’t be said in public.
For conservatives who take their values seriously… or lean that way… imagine the pent-up anger from needing to repress yourself and your ideas in that many situations.
If you’re a conservative, as you’re feeling the impact of this new world order taking shape, do you give up your conservative values, and convert to card-carrying liberalism? Progressive, even? Maybe you lay low, go into hiding?
Or do you…
They say “he tells it like it is”.
They say “he’s not politically correct”.
They say “he says what needs to be said”.
But I’d bet a chunk of cash the crux is… that Donald Trump wants to know whether the person in front of him is a man or a woman, and he wants the freedom to make assumptions accordingly. Sure, maybe some misogyny in there. On some level, Donald Trump would rather people who spoke Spanish in the USA learned how to speak English instead, and there wouldn’t be many radio stations in Spanish. And Donald Trump fights for his own taxes to be low, and can speak about taxes in ways that resonate with other people who want THEIR taxes to be low. I could list a dozen other angles. And he has convinced people who don’t want saying these things to end their careers or friendships that he will effectively against what is making them uncomfortable. Okay, so he stirs the pot a little, too.
All Donald Trump has to do is just spout off what’s on his mind, and other people who feel repressed about what they say and can’t say will say things like “he tells it like it is”. Before the liberal culture war victories, those views and words weren’t “the way it is”, but they were commonly uttered phrases that had very little negative consequences for the people that said them. And although “retrograde” agreed viewpoints in broad culture are oppressive to some people, they do provide order, and order helps the world go ’round. For society to work well, we need agreement and order. So what’s the best we can do for BOTH order AND allowing people to live and let live?
Donald Trump says what he wants, and is not abiding by restrictions on what it’s appropriate to say in the twenty-first century. And he is at least somewhat moving the needle, and “taking back” “America”, as people who don’t like the way things have gone see it.
Conservative who feel like they’ve been squashed down by the culture war see the chance of being freed from their bondage if Donald Trump is the leader, and if Donald Trump has power. So make him the leader. Give him the power.
And Donald Trump then shows by example that sometimes you have to lie and cheat to make progress in the culture war. You have to hide your intentions, or use code language. Sometimes you have to dissemble and obfuscate. Sometimes you have to sow chaos. And even better when “they” say he has “broken a norm”, then he gets away with it. The norm must not have been important anyway. Trump’s followers see him use these tactics, and they see these tactics work. They see Trump obfuscate about the obfuscation, lie about the lies. And they see that ALSO work to avoid consequences for actions. Oh, and the threat of lawsuits. And whining about being the victim (oh, the irony!). And they see that all as the price of progress, or potential progress for THEIR ability to “live their life”. And they want that progress.
True conservatives have legitimate “buts” to the current state of liberal thinking.
By progressives labeling all conservative values and ideas as morally wrong, and enforcing this everywhere they can, progressives have blocked expressive construction of arguably constructive conservative values, and constructive engagement of conservatives in no insignificant part of the national discussion. To maybe even a thoughtful conservative who understands the quirks and levers of the American system, it feels like the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater.
Conservatives really want somebody that can “break through all the bullshit”, as they see it.
So along came Trump the bulldozer – he did lead the way to swing the entire country in a conservative direction in some ways. He nominated three conservative Supreme Court justices, we might even consider the Stonewalling of Obama’s rightful Supreme Court pick of Merrick Garland giving Trump an “extra” pick as Trumpian. Trump has made loud, proud, and forceful moves away from “open borders”. He lowered taxes, which keeps the Republican political donor class happy. And he made liberals everywhere hopping mad – and if you’re a conservative made mad by liberals and the box they put you in for years before Trump, there’s a decent chance you enjoy the comeuppance. The bottom line is many conservatives have felt “stymied” and “thwarted” during the Obama years, and to them Trump delivers sweet payback. And if ignoring the rules is a big part of that, then so be it. Right?
At this point, as Trump is probably close to leaving, he has solid support from forty-something percent of Americans.
But not enough to win the election or electoral college, and not enough to bulldoze our voting and court systems, although he tried.
Going forward after the 2020 election, he will continue to use his foundation of “not being politically correct” (and lies) as a source of power to mobilize power for himself, and to incite his supporters to unrest, and from there, who knows?
Donald Trump IS a menace to democracy. He IS a narcissist, and that has been a problem to have him as a President, and will continue as a problem, but maybe less so, with him as a future power broker and thought leader.
But at least we can understand why his supporters shrug when he breaks norms. They also want to break many of these “new” social norms that he does, and if he has to break the norms of government to make such a bold statement, so be it. Maybe, and even probably, Donald goes farther than “they” want to go in breaking norms. But he’s going in the right direction, to them. So they’re hitched to his wagon, even if giving Donald Trump everything he wanted could destroy democracy and what has made America great as collateral damage.
In effect, they care about their values more than democracy, even though “conservative values” aren’t quite what they used to be.
But when there are enough people who think like this to win lots of congressional seats, and almost win the Presidency, and when the “driver” is that deep, one Presidential defeat is not a total defeat of Trumpism.
Liberals, you think you’ve won the election, and you’ve defeated Trump, and that you can gain further ground by continuing to make “conservatives” bad people, and wrong.
That would be more of the hair of the dog that bit you.
America will be healthier and happier if conservatives HAVE an effective and open way to express their constructive ideas. PERHAPS some liberals are correct to say on some level America needs a new conservatism.
But if a very significant driver of the current dysfunctional strain of conservatism is the current “political divide”, and it takes two to tango that way, and liberals are on the other side of that divide, perhaps we need a new liberalism, too – one that doesn’t gloat so much, and one that doesn’t shut down free speech.
To make Trump irrelevant, a critical mass of people who currently find outlet for their frustrations in Trump’s shenanigans would need to find outlet and “power” in some other more constructive channel. But for that to happen, a critical mass of DIFFERENT people have to stop shutting down all conservative thought and outlet.
Comments by Derek Ottman