Terrible people

Hey, I don’t want to get too out of line or anything here, but doesn’t it seem like maybe today’s conservative movement has become dominated by terrible people?

I mean, on the same day that my friend publishes an article about her assault by a bunch of Trump followers in Seattle —

A Republican candidate for office assaults a reporter for asking him about “Trumpcare” —

And right wingers of all kinds announce their sympathy with the terrorists who bombed a Manchester concert by Ariana Grande —


I mean, I know it’s maybe a little politically incorrect to suggest that this is a partisan problem. Just read Rosie’s story and note how eager our local media outlets were to bring things back to their “both sides” comfort zone, turn the narrative from “Trump followers gang up to assault woman who disagrees with them” to “Trump fans clash with opponents.”

Or Gianforte — the candidate who body-slammed the reporter for asking a question he didn’t like — not only did he immediately have supporters making excuses along the lines of “body-slamming people who get on your nerves is just what a REAL MAN does,” but he actually, you know, won. And we knew he would. Because Trump won, even after everybody heard him giggling as he confessed to being an unrepentant serial abuser of women. Gianforte seemed like more of the same — part of a trend, not an outlier.

Assault, insults, and aggression of all kinds seem to be somehow “okay” for modern conservatives to engage in. Conservatives, and only conservatives. People on the left still get arrested for that sort of thing, even if they didn’t really do it.

I don’t know how we got here.

No, that’s wrong, I know exactly how we got here. Drift and feedback loops and Fox News and talk radio, all playing out over the last thirty-odd years. Reagan ushered in a new political era, and Trump is the sad, nasty, deplorable end of that era.

In 1981 Lee Atwater gave an infamous interview about the “southern strategy” Nixon used and Reagan perfected, from which this quote is often pulled:

You start out in 1954 by saying, “N*, n*, n*.” By 1968 you can’t say “n*”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N*, n*.”

And then, by 2016, with Trump, you could say it again.

That’s how we got here. What I don’t know is how everybody seems to just be going along with it, including people who really ought to know better. Evangelical Republicans, who used to wave the flag of “family values,” but voted something like 81 percent for Trump. “Liberal” news sources that try to tell us the real problem is our “liberal bubble” and we just don’t understand  Trumpsters and maybe we need to be more sympathetic and that’ll bring them around.

Hands up if anybody ever told you that about the kids who bullied you in school.

I suspect news outlets take that “both sides” bully-enabling tone for the same reasons your school or teachers did. Sometimes it’s pure laziness — it’s work to determine who was really at fault and punish appropriately, so if you see a scuffle, it’s just easier to assume “both sides” and put everybody in a time out. Sometimes it’s a desire for “peace” — meaning lack of conflict — over justice. And, worst of all, many institutions have an authoritarian streak that puts them at least covertly on the side of the bully.

Even now, with everything that’s happened, mainstream news outlets seem hell-bent on establishing an “oh, it’s not that bad” narrative. Those violence-prone Trump followers aren’t really a fascist mob of brownshirts just waiting for the signal from Dear Leader to start busting heads. They’re just — you know — they were provoked.

Provoked by a woman, who existed, in public, as a liberal, who disagreed with them. Gianforte was provoked by a reporter, asking a politician an important question in the public interest pertaining directly to the job he was campaigning for. The Manchester terrorist was provoked by the people of Manchester, many of them young women, who dared to go out for an evening to try to enjoy themselves.

These are the “sins” of liberals in Trumpland today: existing. Trying to live our lives.

I mean, I don’t want to sound alarmist or anything, but you know — they kinda — act like they want to eliminate us.

Now, the right has talked like that for years, with people like Coulter and Limbaugh and Hannity engaging in demonization of liberals as monsters who basically shouldn’t be allowed to exist in this country. But, even though this relentlessly poisonous rhetoric influenced opinions and voting patterns among conservatives, there was little indication that anybody was out there physically trying to eliminate liberals. So it was easy for everyone, left and right, to dismiss it as overheated rhetoric.

What changed?

I don’t know that anything changed, really. I think it just kept on and eventually we got here. When you tolerate extremist, hate-filled rhetoric under the cover of “just joking” or “just hyperbole,” it tends to get more extreme over time. When you apply a double standard where liberals are expected to tiptoe around the delicate feelings of Republicans at all times, while the Fox News/talk radio right gets a free pass to demonize liberals as crazy godless America-haters, that affects not only how the right sees us, but how we see ourselves.

Things drifted. Cycles got reinforced.

The patriarchal evangelical “family values” crowd, unchecked, eventually spawned the patriarchal “men’s rights” crowd, with mysoginist pastor Mark Driscoll as an important transitional figure. The “men’s rights,” “alt right,” and “gamergate” crowd all eventually merged together into a ghastly toxic waste dump of white supremacy and misogyny.

And then they got Trump, their perfect champion.

No. That’s not quite it. What they did is, they made Trump. Trump is an empty man without true convictions, but he knows how to play an audience. His slogans — things like “build the wall” and “lock her up” — were based on him reflecting back to his followers the things that got them cheering the loudest. And, for the most part, the things that got them cheering the loudest were the worst, most hate-filled, most violent, most authoritarian.

Trump’s message, capping off three decades of a drift toward extremism on the right, was that he was the super-dominant strongman who would finally, at last, after fifty years of liberals running wild, put everybody back in their proper place. White and nominally Christian men first, of course. They would be given the chance to strut about as kings of the world, literally beating their chests with triumph. And everyone else, from nasty women to bad hombres, would be rendered mute, powerless, humbled, shamed, submissive.

The norms of basic human decency seem to be eroding even as we watch. Just a couple of years ago, the bigoted right was still trying to pretend they wanted to pass anti-transgender bathroom bills in order to “protect women.” But now the only point seems to be punishing transgender people for daring to exist.

Back in Reagan’s day, Republicans sold themselves as the “tough guys” who would stand up to save us from the Soviet Union. But thirty years of putting party over country have rendered them as the “tough guys” would would surrender to Russia in a heartbeat just to keep Democrats out of office. And their voters — those same voters who would call me a “commie” for supporting a robust safety net — seem just fine with that. Completely unconcerned. Chanting “Russia is our friend” while they wave torches in the air at a white supremacist rally.

In Reagan’s day Republicans at least pretended that they thought, in a general way, that people should be fed, housed and healthy. They merely disagreed with Democrats about the best way to engineer that — “safety net” or “free market” strategies. As recently as the campaign, Trump was still promising that he would replace “Obamacare” with something that would provide better, cheaper coverage for more people. But by the time the house actually passed “Trumpcare,” the bill just straight-up takes health coverage away from millions of people, effectively slaughtering thousands, and the Republican take seems to be — “eh, health care is a luxury good anyway, what we really need is that tax cut.”


I mean, sometimes it seems like the death and destruction and misery isn’t just a side effect with them, it’s actually the point.

And it gets worse: while I was working on this, two men in Portland were murdered for intervening to stop a man from a racist attack.

From body-slamming and chest-pounding to murder — it’s not as long of a path as we like to think.

You can see how it works, the drift, the feedback loop, in this article about a Republican congressman from Kentucky. There’s a moment, when he’s at a more hostile town hall, confronted by people who aren’t pleased with Trump and the Republicans, and he meets a man who requires very expensive medical treatment to live, who will probably die if Trumpcare is implemented. The congressman seems to have a moment of genuine conscience, genuine self-doubt. But then he goes on to another town hall where everybody’s all “yay, Trump!” and somebody gives him a pie, and the moment fades into the background, quickly forgotten.

That’s how a person who isn’t, deep in his heart, a terrible person, nevertheless ends up going along with atrocities.

And that’s also why I’m not interested in enabling, flattering, coddling, and otherwise acting sympathetic toward the poor, poor Trump voter. I certainly don’t want to hear about how they had to vote for Trump because they were just so darn provoked. You know, by liberals existing and having opinions & stuff.

The Kentucky congressman — who is, I’m sure, a Good American — was caused to doubt his course by argument. By conflict. By people challenging him, not by people giving him pie and patting him on the head and telling him he’s doing a great job.

That’s actually how it usually works.

Anybody who tells you that the secret to winning over Trump voters (as if that’s even the goal) is to shut up about how terrible their choice for president was and how horrible some of them are behaving, and just be super-extra nice to them and eventually they’ll come around — “shut up” is really the only meaningful part of that. They want you to shut up, everything else is rhetorical cover.

And it’s obvious that’s a huge part of what his most fervent supporters saw in Trump — the super-dominant alpha chimp bully who would finally make all those uppity liberals shut up. And I think that’s why so many of them seem so angry even in victory, because it didn’t work. We got louder. They won, sure, but they didn’t get what they really wanted.

Good. Keep it up.

One thing I haven’t seen much discussed in the coverage of Gianforte’s assault, is that by attacking someone for asking a question — about whether he supported Trumpcare, which he absolutely should have been prepared to answer — actually signals profound fragility. It means you not only can’t answer the question, but you literally cannot handle any pressure at all to answer it. It signals a supreme lack of fitness for the job which he has now been sent to Washington to do. He can’t stand behind his own views and he can’t hold up under pressure.

Just like Trump. Just like Trump supporters. Their show of “strength” through terribleness is actually a confession of weakness.

My friend who was assaulted by the Trumpists is a petite middle-aged woman who was shoved around by an entire crowd of men, all bigger and for the most part younger than she is. They picked on somebody physically smaller than they were, and still had to gang up in order to do it.

Could anything be weaker, or more cowardly?

The image in the header is made of screen captures from the video she took, which is unavailable in its original form, and has been repurposed into a low-resolution crow of triumph for their side. They’re proud of it. They’re pleased with themselves. “Libtard SJW goes batshit crazy when Trump supporters surround her.” They’re not even trying to deny that “surround her” is what they did. They think it speaks well of them.

This is the secret of fascists: deep down, as individuals, they’re weak and scared. That’s why they’re drawn to authoritarianism and the promise that an all-controlling, all-consuming state will protect them. They make a show of bellowing, strutting machismo the same way they make a show of piety and patriotism: to cover up the lack of those qualities in truth.

They’re weak. Keep pushing.