Andrés Miguel Rondón is a Venezuelan economist trying to warn America about how not to deal with a populist dictator like Donald Trump:
If you’re among the majority of Americans who oppose Trump, you can’t understand why. And it’s making you furious. I saw the same thing happen in my native Venezuela with the late Hugo Chávez, who ruled as precisely the sort of faux-populist strongman that Trump now loves to praise. Chávez’s political career (which only ended with his untimely death) seemed not only immune to scandal, but indeed to profit directly from it. Why? Because scandal is no threat to populism. Scandal sustains populism.
I would quibble with that a bit; scandal sustains right wing populism. In America, at least. There is literally no chance that Bernie Sanders would be allowed to get away with a fraction of the corruption that Trump has. Elizabeth Warren is very much a populist and a minor nonscandal about her Native American heritage nearly cost her an election. Al Franken had to resign over pinching women on the rear while Roy Moore would have been a senator despite being a child molester. Clearly, there's a double standard for scandal in this country.
But Rondón has a point that Trump seems to be untouchable by scandals that would wipe out even a Republican of lesser stature. His reasoning as to why is spot on:
Normal politicians collapse in the face of scandal because the scandals show them dozing on the job or falling back on their promises. To get elected, they offer a bargain: “Vote for me: I will make you richer/fight for your rights/assure your progress.” Scandals reveal they can’t do that, and thus, they tumble. However, like all populists, Trump offers a much different deal — “Vote for me: I will destroy your enemies. They are the reason you are not rich/have less rights/America is not great anymore.” Scandal is the populist’s natural element for the same reason that demolishing buildings makes more noise than constructing them. His supporters didn’t vote for silence. They voted for a bang.
In other words, Trump's voters want liberal tears and as long as Trump delivers, they will never abandon him. They know that Trump is a traitor beholden to Russia and they don't care. They know that he is massively corrupt and looting the country and they don't care. They know he's destroying the fabric of our democracy and they don't care. He's hurting all the right people and he's telling his supporters that he's doing it in their name.
And that's all they care about.
This is what Rondón fails to grasp when he offers his solution to Trumpism:
...before you try to persuade them that they are being racist, or worse, ignorant by believing in Trump, you should ask yourself: Will this help convince them that I am not their enemy? Because what can really win them over is not to prove that you are right. It is to show them you care. Only then will they believe what you say.
Again, I believe it should rest on understanding and emphasizing with the grievances that brought Trump to power (wage stagnation, cultural isolation, a depleted countryside, the opioid crisis). Trump’s solutions may be imaginary, but the problems are very real indeed. Populism is and has always been the daughter of political despair. Showing concern is the only way to break the rhetorical polarization.
This is the soundly debunked "economic anxiety" argument put into other words. I understand why an economist would tend to see the world in those terms but Bernie Sanders gave much more convincing economic arguments than Trump yet failed to attract the neo-Nazi and KKK vote for some reason. Pundits like Chris Cillizza still haven't quite figured it out...
I don't mean to sound flippant but it's important that we stop pretending that Trump's supporters are not motivated purely by the kind of deep racial hatred we thought was confined to the lunatic fringe of the right:
Trump’s dominance among whites across class lines is of a piece with his larger dominance across nearly every white demographic. Trump won white women (+9) and white men (+31). He won white people with college degrees (+3) and white people without them (+37). He won whites ages 18–29 (+4), 30–44 (+17), 45–64 (+28), and 65 and older (+19). Trump won whites in midwestern Illinois (+11), whites in mid-Atlantic New Jersey (+12), and whites in the Sun Belt’s New Mexico (+5). In no state that Edison polled did Trump’s white support dip below 40 percent.
White people do not have a patent on "economic anxiety" so let's dispense with the myth that is why they voted for Trump while black and Latino voters overwhelmingly shunned him. On the other hand, white people do have a monopoly on white supremacy and the bullshit claim of "persecution" that come with the waning of said supremacy. A black man was elected president and white people lost their minds. Suddenly, they were no longer the undisputed masters of America and they could not accept that reality.
And then along came Trump.
After years of being told they couldn't openly act on their hatred of brown skin without consequence, Trump told them that if they made him president, they would be free to be as racist as they wanted; that this was their America and if they wanted to abuse brown people, they could under his protection. They leapt at the chance and economics didn't have a thing to do with it. White people needed to make the rest of the country pay for daring to challenge their dominance and if burning the country to the ground was the price of that revenge, so be it.
This is why a year into the most corrupt and incompetent presidency in American history, a majority of Republican voters still worship Trump. They don't care that Republicans just made themselves and their donors rich at their expense or that they're going to cut their Medicare and Social Security. They don't care that Trump is trying to start a nuclear war with North Korea or maybe a new conventional war in the Middle East. They don't care that the GOP is slashing corporate and banking regulations so fast, we're almost guaranteed a new financial crisis within 5 years.
None of that matters because Trump is screaming at black football players, terrorizing the Latino community, banning Muslims, and telling the police to go ahead and brutalize people with brown skin.
Rondón is wrong because he believes we don't understand how Trump supporters think. The problem is that we do and we understand there is nothing, nothing, we can say that can bring them back from the vortex of hate and rage they've disappeared into. If the presence of actual Nazis in their midst is not enough to repulse them, they are lost.
Instead of trying to think like them, we've come to accept that, yes, they really do see us an their enemy and that means they, in turn, are ours. Our job is not to reach out to them. Our job is to convince the rest of the country of the reality before us: Republican voters are no longer fellow Americans dedicated to a better future for all our children. They're a death cult dedicated to destroying everything because if they can't have it all, then no one gets anything but a smoking ruin. They've embraced Nazis, child molesters, treason, and that's just for starters. It won't be long before they champion political assassination and terrorism when they lose at the ballot box. If you think that's over the top hyperbole, two years ago you would have said the same thing about the President of the United States giving a sloppy wet kiss to Nazis.
I can't speak to the forces behind Venezuela's problems that Rondón clearly understands but they are not the same forces animating the mindless rage and hate of the America right wing. The only real solution left to us is to strip them of all of their stolen authority, relentlessly hound them from the public square, and never let them near the levers of power again. Anything less is national suicide.
There are 314 days left to the 2018 elections.
- This article kills fascists
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