The lack of self-awareness among Donald Trump’s Red Hats is staggering. The other night, Trump held another one of his codependent cocaine rants in West Virginia during which the president scolded the “Democrat Party” (there’s no such party) for being “angry and mean and nasty and untruthful.” He went on to add, “They’re willing to overthrow every standard of decency, justice, fairness and due process to get their way.”
If you feel like you just swallowed all the crazy pills, you’re not alone.
The irony shouldn’t have to be explained. Angry, mean, nasty, untruthful, indecent, unjust, and unfair perfectly define Trump and his “fuck your feelings” loyalists. It’s Trump who’s actively decimating the higher standards the founders established for the presidency -- standards that previous chief executives of both parties have upheld.
Indeed, seconds before he co-opted the Normals’ criticisms of his character and leadership, projecting the criticisms back at his critics (“I know you are but what am I?” comes to mind), Trump once again mocked the notion of being presidential. He followed that by mocking one of the senior-most U.S. senators, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., to the reinforcing boos and jeers of his googly-eyed cult followers. But it’s the Dems, not the Trumpers, who are mean and angry and nasty, right? It can’t be that it’s the president setting the tone then whining (“So unfair!”) whenever we respond accordingly. Have the Red Hats ever actually watched a rally on television? Do they know?
Amid the screaming and general mob mentality of the arena crowd, Trump unironically ranted about the anger and other alleged trespasses of the other side. He even used the aforementioned pejorative “Democrat Party” slang in lieu of “Democratic Party,” the latter being the correct moniker. Imagine if Barack Obama referred to the Republicans as the “Rethuglicans” -- a childish move no Democratic leader has ever used.
Like it or not, we’re in the post-contradiction, post-hypocrisy age of Trumpism when both prior and future remarks are irrelevant in the face of the eternal now. Here, Trump can blurt whatever the hell he wants and his supporters don’t care whether he contradicts himself. It’s not unlike a few weeks ago when Trump and Donald Junior mocked Obama for the “57 states” thing, circa a decade ago, even though Trump routinely needs multiple tries to correctly spell words. Many words. He also has trouble with water, such as when he announced water is wet. Besides, Obama was referring to territories as well as states, which also hold presidential primaries. But none of that matters -- the Red Hats don’t care if Trump commits a dozen ridiculous gaffes before most of us roll out of bed every day.
It’s this stony, blind fealty to Trump that continues to yank the president out of scandal-after-scandal which he himself accidentally manufactures as a consequence of his lack of mental fitness for the office.
In Bob Woodward’s breathtaking new book, Fear: Trump In The White House, Steve Bannon is quoted as referring to Trump’s rally Red Hats as “the hammerheads.” While devouring just the first few Woodward chapters, it becomes abundantly clear how the easily-led ferocity of Trump’s hammerheaded base is what carried the president’s 2016 campaign through a dismal August, 2016, in which the bad news for Trump was relentless.
Trump’s loyal fanboys also carried a candidate who was flailing in the polls, providing him with the energy to power through the Access Hollywood sexual assault crisis during which everyone from the RNC to Chris Christie, and possibly even Mike Pence, were preparing for Trump to drop out. (We were so tantalizingly close to all of this ending before it really started.) Instead, the norm-defying candidate survived the news cycle and, despite the horrendousness of the charges, went on to miraculously win the election with the help of his Red Hats, many of whom were brainwashed by a daily infusion of Fox News and Russian propaganda.
Of course, just about the entire message from Trump and his co-conspirators was nonsense, force-fed like hatchling birds into the gullets of the hammerheads. If it wasn’t for Trump’s populism, his political aspirations would’ve crashed-and-burned three years ago.
Trump’s career is marked by a lengthy series of timely bailouts for the routinely flummoxed New York City billionaire (allegedly), allowing him to wiggle out of tight spots. His family wealth, a few bankruptcy scams and, yeah, Russian oligarchs have bailed out his finances. NBC bailed out his tabloid popularity with “The Apprentice.” Today, executive powers are shielding him from full accountability for his numerous crimes. And his toxic relationship with both the press and the Red Hats helped him overcome numerous campaign/presidential scandals that would’ve doomed anyone else at his level.
Angry populism, the brand of politics being exploited by Trump, is the easiest and most expedient approach to building a following. Appealing to the lizard brains of cynical voters doesn’t require much by way of knowledge, thoughtfulness or nuance. Details are irrelevant when you’re telling the mob exactly what they want to hear.
The great irony of Trump’s Red Hats is this: their leader is actively deceiving them, exploiting their diseducation, naivete and anger using a brand of carny showmanship the likes of which millions of Manhattanites have witnessed up close for the last 30-plus years. By the way, it’s not as if Trump descended the escalator at Trump Tower after materializing from another universe. He has a history. The Red Hats only need to chat for a few minutes with any random New Yorker about Trump’s past to know he’s a professional con-man. Either they don’t know or they don’t care. Each option, ignorance or cynicism, is just as awful as the other.
Woodward’s book describes Trump’s followers as a movement. If so, it’s a movement based on recklessness, deception, and grievances -- human traits that even the best outlay of the facts can’t contravene. It’s kept Trump’s approval poll numbers hovering in the 40s, even while stories from inside the White House describe him as incompetent, dangerous, and dumber than rocks.
As we look ahead to next month’s midterms, we’d do well to never underestimate the ferocity of Trump’s supporters. Even though polls continue to forecast good news for Democrats and, with them, a democracy-resuscitating check on Trump’s increasingly extraconstitutional abuse of power, I’m not entirely comfortable predicting a blue wave… yet. The polls and the general atmosphere on the ground are still too close for comfort given Trump’s legal and political peril, and especially the unwavering loyalty of his disciples despite it all. We’ve been here before. Don’t get happy.