I’ve noted that, when I’ve made my recurrent suggestion that we on the liberal side need to find effective ways to reach out to the Trump voters, I haven’t gotten much support on liberal forums like this.
But just look at where we are now with the Trump investigation, and ask: what would it take for this crisis concerning Trump and the investigation into his possible crimes work out well for America?
The ongoing (disgraceful, dishonest) attack on the investigation, waged by Trump and his allies, has been widely interpreted as an attempt to set the stage for the firing of Special Prosecutor Mueller and/or the shutting down of the whole investigation.
And so it might be.
But there’s another possible interpretation: Trump — who has been leading the way on the smear campaign against Mueller and the FBI (“in tatters”) — may be doing what we’ve seen him doing all along: pursuing a strategy that’s focused entirely on maintaining the support of his base.
That has been Trump’s M.O. from the outset.
Trump appears to be equally gratified to be Devil to his foes, so long as he succeeds in being God to his supporters. As many observers noted with surprise: uniquely among American Presidents, Trump has shown no interest at all — from Day One — in expanding his support beyond those who voted for him.
Instead of seeking to be “president of all the people,” Trump continuously and deliberately chooses to throw red meat to the “Fifth Avenue” crowd (“I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue”), and to do so in ways that antagonize everyone else.
Being a Divider is Trump’s nature. He prefers conflict, so long as he can come out on top. He seems to enjoy equally getting adulation from his faction, and simultaneously giving the finger to the rest of the world.
In that context, consider the Mueller investigation. It seems pretty clear from all that is now publicly known — from what has been disclosed from the Mueller investigation, as well as what has been uncovered by the excellent journalists digging into the many-dimensional picture of possible/likely/certain scandals and crimes of the Trump team — that the picture that Mueller’s investigation will ultimately present will be an extraordinarily ugly picture .
(I would bet heavily that the ugliness of that picture will surpass — likely far surpass — anything ever seen before involving the American presidency.)
What happens then?
Here’s where Trump’s base-focused strategy comes in. Because, as I will try to show, with every scenario, Trump could and would constitute a significant threat to the well-being of the nation so long as he can maintain his present fervent base support.
Trump’s campaign to smear the investigation (“witch hunt”) and those conducting it (“tatters,” “conflict of interest,” “deep state” etc.) is preparing the way for his supporters to dismiss whatever is presented as merely a case of their enemies out to get their hero.
Scenario 1: So imagine that this ugly picture gets presented by Mueller before the 2018 elections– scandalous, criminal, perhaps even treasonous. And imagine that the Trump base, dismissing it all as lies being told by their hero’s enemies, do not waver in their support of Trump.
Trump would survive for the same reason as he survives now: the Republicans control Congress, and they recognize that they cannot survive politically if they cross that substantial portion of Republican voters who support Trump.
(And the Republican participation in the smear campaign against the upright Mueller suggests there is no limit to their political opportunism.)
Thus, in that scenario, if the minority of citizens who support Trump do not change their views, Trump — even as a proven criminal — would get to stay on top and give the world the finger.
Scenario 2: If that were to transpire, one result would be for the Democratic wave in the 2018 elections to crest even higher: upon beholding that ugly picture, the 2/3 of Americans who are not supportive of Trump would recoil still more vigorously from Trump. Which would mean that — beginning in 2019 — at least the House would likely be under Democratic control.
With Democrats in control of the House, Mueller’s findings would most likely lead to a vote to impeach Trump.
But no matter how high the 2018 Democratic wave, even if the Democrats managed to become the majority party in the Senate, the Republicans would still constitute considerably more than the 1/3 of that body required to prevent conviction. And, if Trump still holds the loyalty of his base, the same factors that make the Republicans protect Trump now would presumably continue to protect him.
So, once again, the protection of America from this Trump presidency would depend on whether the proportion of the Republican base that would rally behind Trump has been sufficiently reduced. if a big enough portion of the Republican base continues to rally behind Trump, a Republican refusal to cross that base would enable Trump to survive.
No matter how ugly the picture Mueller presents the nation, if the Trump base disbelieves that picture, Trump would remain the world’s most powerful man. If he was all the more disgraced in the world’s eyes, his continuing in power would be just another way that Trump — celebrating the impunity that has characterized much of his life — could flip off the world.
Scenario 3: But what about a more optimistic scenario in which Trump is not only impeached but also convicted? Or alternatively, (as Scenario 3b) one in which Mueller –foreseeing that the Republicans would fail the nation if the matter were to be left to Congress — actually indicts the President and Trump is successfully dealt with in the courts.
Even then, even with Trump finally held accountable by justice, America would remain endangered so long as there remains a large base of Trump voters convinced that Trump is the innocent victim of a conspiracy to rob them of their hero.
If Trump’s current smart campaign succeeds in persuading enough Americans to believe the lies he is selling them (about the Mueller investigation), Trump — even removed from office– would remain a threat to the nation.
For Trump — the man who, in 2016, prepared his supporters to believe that it would take a “rigged” election to defeat him — almost surely would weaponize his base.
Trump is not only a habitual Divider, he is also a vindictive Destroyer. His insistence on winning, no matter the means or the cost to others, combined with his need for vengeance against anyone who attacks him, strongly suggest that — if defeated by Mueller and the reassertion of the law and justice — Trump would do everything in his power to strike back.
He’d strike at least despite wounding the nation, but quite possibly because the wound would gratify Trump’s evidently powerful vindictive impulses.
Once again, how large a portion of the American citizenry would believe that Trump has been wronged would substantially determine how much damage a defeated Trump could inflict on the nation.
Trump would do what he could to inflame the sense of grievance in those who still supported him. His fanning their fury could incite some of them to violence or, short of that, it could destabilize American democracy in other ways.
If, on the other hand, only few Americans were buying the lies that Trump (and Fox News, and some Republicans) are telling them now, this sad Trump episode of American history could end with a whimper rather than a bang, or some festering wound in the body politic.
For all these scenarios, the task is to lay a foundation Now. Now — as Trump and the right-wing propaganda machine is selling its false picture — is when the ability of the Mueller investigation to bring a degree of peace and decency and civility to America is being determined.
Now is the time to lay as strong a foundation as possible for a national consensus that the Mueller investigation is a necessary means to preserve the integrity of the constitutional system of the United States.
And the time to work for this is now (if not sooner), before the lies have taken root in the hearts and minds of the Trump supporters.
What is the alternative? To forfeit the battle for those hearts and minds? Not if we want to minimize the damage to America resulting from the rise of Donald Trump to the presidency.
The reason that we are in this whole predicament is that over the past quarter century, most of these people were gradually separated from reality and placed into the false political world created for them by the right-wing propagandists.
While that was happening, Liberal America concerned itself little with that ongoing process of the degradation of the consciousness of conservatives. We abandoned them to their exploiters.
And now we are ALL paying the price.
Not only do we owe it to them not to abandon them now to the current spew of propaganda from Trump and Co., we owe it also to ourselves, and to the nation we all care about.
That reaching them effectively will be exceedingly difficult but — with the stakes as high as they are — it’s also irrelevant.