Part 2—Our tribe doesn't seem to have many: Candidate Trump engaged in some appalling behavior last night. We'll discuss that behavior in this afternoon's post.
It's hard for us to avoid the thought that Trump has been displaying some of the less attractive forms of what we call mental illness. In reports which appear this morning, the Washington Post and Politico are struggling with the appropriate way to report last night's behavior.
Again and again, Trump behaves in ways which strike us as "disturbed." But this morning, we aren't attempting to evaluate Candidate Trump himself. We'll try to evaluate the way our tribe tends to characterize his many supporters.
We tend to use our favorite words when we describe Trump voters. But uh-oh! When it comes to using our words, our tribe doesn't seem to have many.
For us, this shortage came into stark relief in the days which followed the proposal, semi-proposal or pseudo-proposal in which Trump said he was "calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on."
By the second day, Trump had rolled his proposal back, saying his proposed ban might last as little as a few weeks. As usual, though, Trump's murky proposal created a storm of reaction—a storm of reaction which included many sweeping statements about Trump's many supporters.
In the Washington Post, Gene Robinson engaged in a type of conduct we were warned against when we were 13 years old. In this passage, Robinson was describing the audience at a Trump rally, a rally he'd watched on TV:
ROBINSON (12/11/15): Trump's audience in Mount Pleasant appeared to be overwhelmingly white. If it mirrored his support base in the polls, it was also older and less educated than the Republican electorate as a whole. A vastly wealthy tycoon who was born with a silver spoon in his mouth and lives in a Manhattan penthouse has somehow become the unlikely spokesman for a segment of voters who feel most threatened by what the nation has become."For Trump's supporters, it is hard to imagine a more perfect target for fear and loathing" than the nation's black president? We aren't sure who was doing the imagining here, but it seems to be columnist Robinson.
Demographic change means that whites will no longer be the majority by the middle of the century. When you call the electric company to pay a bill, you're asked to push as a button "para continuar en espanol." Incomes are stagnant except for those at the very top; manufacturing jobs are gone; and if you don't have a college degree, you're trapped on the wrong side of the wall between middle-class comfort and lower-class misery.
To add insult to injury, serving his second term as president is a black man who was educated at Ivy League schools and whose father was a Muslim. For Trump's supporters, it is hard to imagine a more perfect target for fear and loathing.
Robinson typed his sweeping generalization from the heights of Olympus. His sweeping generalization was also a sweeping denunciation:
Trump's supporters are driven by fear and loathing based on the fact that Obama is black and his father was a Muslim. Or so Robinson said, watching at home on TV.
When we were freshmen in high school, we were explicitly taught not to do this sort of thing. More specifically, we were warned against the use of "glittering generalizations."
In those days, we were largely being admonished against making sweeping (negative) generalizations concerning the members of minority groups. On this particular day, Robinson seemed to feel little compunction concerning such sweeping descriptions of Trump voters.
Later in his column, Robinson littered the countryside with our tribe's favorite bombs—with a few of our favorite things:
ROBINSON: Trump gives unfiltered voice to the anger and frustration some Americans feel. When he says he refuses to be "politically correct," what he means is that he rejects the traditional constraints of public discourse. He doesn't chastise his supporters for racism, nativism or religious bigotry; instead, he validates such views, bringing them out of the closet where they had been hiding.Racists, nativists, religious bigots! Within our tribe, these are a few of the words we now seem to adore. We love to offer these sweeping denunciations of millions of Others. But then, this is how life forms like us have behaved since we crawled out of the swamp.
Do you have to be a racist, a nativist or a bigot to be a Trump supporter? Increasingly, we the liberals can't seem to discuss or describe the world without employing these words. "Use your words," we constantly tell the little children. Increasingly, when we the liberals use our words, we seem to have few words but these.
Robinson wasn't the only tribal leader dropping these bombs last week. On that same day, Paul Krugman denounced the "ugliness" of Trump's many voters.
We thought we saw a pile of ugliness emerging from Krugman himself—from a man who refuses to tell you the truth about his colleague and his corporate employer. Headline included:
KRUGMAN (12/11/15): Empowering the UglinessEven after all these years, Krugman refuses to tell the truth about his colleagues and his employer. He simply refuses to do so. What he will do is drop his X- and R-bombs on the world in a form of carpet bombing.
We live in an era of political news that is, all too often, shocking but not surprising. The rise of Donald Trump definitely falls into that category. And so does the electoral earthquake that struck France in Sunday’s regional elections, with the right-wing National Front winning more votes than either of the major mainstream parties.
What do these events have in common? Both involved political figures tapping into the resentments of a bloc of xenophobic and/or racist voters who have been there all along. The good news is that such voters are a minority; the bad news is that it’s a pretty big minority, on both sides of the Atlantic...
But why are these voters making themselves heard so loudly now? Have they become much more numerous? Maybe, but it’s not clear.
Amazingly, Krugman can't imagine why Trump voters might be "making themselves heard so loudly now." Unable to imagine any other motive for their electoral choices, he reaches into his bag of words and rains a few ugly words down.
This god who refuses to tell you the truth gives you the dope about millions of voters. They're xenophobic and/or racist. They have been all along!
Our gods were taking turns last week trying to top one another. Within a few days, another columnist in the Times found an uglier word:
EGAN (12/12/15): Goose-Steppers in the G.O.P.Trump's voters are goose-steppers, our own creepy goose-stepper said. "The lunatic fringe is huge," Timothy Egan went on to say. We were being told to be afraid, to be very afraid—the very thing we say we hate when it's done by the tribals on Fox.
Nazis—I hate these guys. Oh, but they’re a tiny minority of pink-faced malcontents living in basements with the windows taped up. Everybody hates them. Add to that supporters of the Ku Klux Klan, who’ve thrown in with Trump as well. David Duke, a former grand wizard of the Klan, liked everything he heard from Trump this week, embracing him for standing up for white nationalism.
And sure, all the little Hitlers probably don’t amount to a hill of beans. But what about the 35 percent of Republican voters, in the New York Times/CBS News poll, who say they’re all in with the man sieg heiled by aspiring brownshirts and men in white sheets?
It’s a very ugly political moment, but there it is...
By last weekend, our tribal leaders were spotting a racist, bigot, nativist or goose-stepper under every bed. In a column in the Washington Post, Harvard's Alexandra Petri was using her own favorite word:
PETRI (12/12/15): I used to think that Donald Trump was trying to take us back only 150 years, to the days of the Know-Nothing party, a famously xenophobic group that insisted on the election of native-born Protestants to all offices, inveighed against "papism" and generally panicked at the thought of immigrants.Trump's voters are xenophobic! Just in case you missed her point, Petri used her favorite word in paragraphs 1, 3 and 4.
But the Know-Nothings wanted only to delay the period of naturalization of the immigrants whose religion filled them with dread and terror. They did not seek to ban their coming. Trump wants to bar Muslims from immigrating altogether. Actually. He said so in a statement.
When a party called the Know-Nothings that Abraham Lincoln made fun of before the Civil War was less xenophobic than you are on Dec. 7, 2015, something is wrong.
I miss those good old days when, if you wanted to say something horribly xenophobic or Islamophobic or otherwise phobic, you had to use a dog whistle.
As she continued, Petri offered a ludicrous, airbrushed account of our American history. But she also dropped an R-bomb and an I-bomb into her portrait of Trump's many voters, while assuring us that the premise of his proposed temporary ban on visas was "hateful, wrong and flawed in every way."
Hateful? Wrong? Deeply flawed? We thought we saw the same characteristics in the silly, overwrought work of our hapless Harvard child.
(Petri told us that Candidate Trump has been "using words that present no difficulty to midlevel readers." "Look who's talking," our analysts quickly said.)
Increasingly, our tribal leaders seem to use very few words. They can't imagine why a person would support Candidate Trump unless that person was bigoted, racist, xenophobic, nativist and/or a hateful goose-stepper.
We can imagine many reasons why people might turn toward Trump; we'll discuss them in our Christmas Eve prince-of-peace post. Our view? When people can only imagine vile motives for the conduct of The Others, this tends to say more about the observer than about the observed.
As the nation splits into tribes, our own tribe's fervor grows. By yesterday, it had gotten so bad that Greg Sargent even presented this nonsense on line at the Washington Post:
SARGENT (12/21/15): Everyone agrees that Trump is engaged in full-blown demagoguery and bigotry against Muslims and immigrants. But are GOP voters responding because Trump is speaking to their economic insecurities and fears of terrorism with a proportional emotional bluntness and urgency that GOP leaders have failed to muster? Or are they responding to Trump precisely because of the bigotry and xenophobia at the core of his message?...In our view, Sargent's reasoning was a bit hard to follow, but look where it began! "Everyone agrees that Trump is engaged in full-blown bigotry?" Obviously, that statement isn't even dimly accurate. Millions of people don't agree that Trump is doing that.
Millions of people don't agree with Sargent's basic statement. But when a tribal panic spreads, The Others cease to exist in the minds of the most overwrought tribal players.
The Others are reduced to non-persons; we can only imagine the vilest motives for their hateful behavior and choices. Our human minds have worked this way since we crawled out of the mud.
In our view, Candidate Trump seems disturbed; he seems more so all the time. But that's the way he seems to us. We can imagine how other people might still view him differently.
Our tribal gods can't imagine such things. Increasingly, they rely on a tiny handful of words to describe what is occurring.
Columnist Krugman is one of those gods. Consider an irony here:
Krugman has been quoted in several places saying that he didn't understand until 1999 that there was a fundamental difference in truthfulness between the Democratic and Republican parties. Here's the way Benjamin Wallace-Wells told the story in New York magazine:
WALLACE-WELLS (4/24/11): Krugman is gleeful about being right, joyous in the revelation of his correctness, and many of his most visible early fights were with free-trade skeptics on the left. Of Robert Reich, for instance, Krugman wrote: “talented writer, too bad he never gets anything right.” He was a liberal and a Democrat, but even in 1999, when he was hired by Howell Raines to write his Times column, “I still saw equivalent craziness on both sides.”How clueless did Krugman have to be to reach that point in his life without seeing things more clearly? He had to be fairly clueless! But that was OK, because that was him! Today, Krugman can't imagine a reason why other people might not see the world exactly as he does.
This evenhandedness began to disappear almost immediately. Four months after his first column, Krugman began studying the economic proposals of the Bush campaign and found, somewhat to his astonishment, that they were deeply disingenuous. “That was a radicalizing experience. Not just that the presidential candidate of one of America’s major political parties could say something that was demonstrably false, but that nobody was willing to say so,” Krugman says. “That was pretty awesome.”
Gods have always reasoned that way. Often, they end up resembling haters.
They end up using their handful of words, raining their bombs on the ground.
Tomorrow: Our tribe's other favorite—the D-word
Thursday: Trump voters speak