Home National Politics Trump Voters, and the Enlightened Self-Interest of Being Our Brothers’ Keepers

Trump Voters, and the Enlightened Self-Interest of Being Our Brothers’ Keepers


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 ourselvesand 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.



  • The problem, IMHO, is there is literally ZERO chance that Trump voters will listen to anyone they see as a “liberal.” Nil.

    • Andy Schmookler

      What you say may be true, Lowell. You have certainly been completely consistent in expressing that belief each time I have proposed that it is essential that we find ways of engaging with, and moving, the people who make up the Republican base.

      But when the stakes are as high as they clearly are — the battle for the soul of the nation — is it wise to proceed as if what MIGHT be true, or even if PROBABLY true, is CERTAINLY true. “IMHO” stands for “in my humble opinion,” and I hope your use of that phrase indicates that you would agree that beliefs on such matters should be held with some humility– meaning a recognition that one could be wrong.

      For me, the notion that there are POSSIBILiITIES for useful communication directed at Trump voters is bolstered by another reality: when it comes to communications, there is a virtually infinite range of possible forms it might take. How one might approach them is limited only by our creativity, and if that creativity can be aided by some kind of insight, who knows what kind if impetus might be imparted into that right-wing “untracked nut.”

      But in any event, when it is ESSENTIAL that something be accomplished, is it not obligatory that the effort to accomplish it be undertaken– just in case one’s sense of its impossibility (“nil”) has failed to take into account what the combination of creativity and insight could achieve?

      • I’d focus my energies on: a) getting out Democratic and anti-Trump voters; b) Virginia/local efforts. I wouldn’t waste my time on VERY-low-bang-for-the-buck stuff like trying to persuade a bunch of Fox “News” addicts.

  • frankoanderson

    Andy, I appreciate what you are doing but it’s been proven in multiple surveys and analyses that support for Trump is not dependent on the truth or on whether or not he accomplishes anything (MAGA be damned). It’s now all about getting back at perceived enemies (liberals, minorities, Hillary, RINOs, “globalists,” “deep state,” environmentalists, etc) . As long as Trump keeps hitting the right people, his supporters will remain firmly behind him. They have explicitly said so.

    It’s also not guaranteed that the Mueller investigation will turn out the way we hope. Yes, let’s do everything we can to undermine Trump and his enablers, because they are hurting the country by eroding our institutions. I don’t think this means changing the minds of Trump supporters but rather getting our own opposing message out there for folks who are not paying enough attention.

    Does that mean we will remain hopelessly divided? Not necessarily. My sense is that electorally, while we don’t need to ignore the Trump voters, we shouldn’t pander to them or compromise on our values either. We should instead push forward and campaign on the issues that the vast majority of Americans support, because we support policies that help all regular Americans.

    • Bingo, what Frank said — agree 100%.

  • Mike Judge

    If Trump voters see the other side as hopelessly partisan instead of peddling the truth, why should they listen to liberals. They are too busy watching their retirement accounts soar with the stock market.

    • Of course they won’t listen to liberals. We have been demonized by their echo chamber as “libtards,” commies, etc. Basically, they will take the 180-degree opposite of anything we say, even if it’s 100% factually verifiable, etc.

  • Andy Schmookler

    The record of my eliciting effectively zero interest among liberals — in the task of moving the people on the right from the crazy and America-damaging place they are in — remains intact.

    The record of Liberal America leaving these people to the lying right-wing propagandists over the past quarter century likewise remains intact.

    That has worked so well in the past, what reason would anyone find to change from such a policy of neglect now?

    • Again, why would you think that liberals could POSSIBLY move people on the right from the crazy, dark and dangerous mental space they inhabit? How would that work exactly? You don’t actually think right wingers give a rat’s hindquarters what liberals think, correct?

      • Andy Schmookler

        “You don’t actually think right wingers give a rat’s hindquarters what liberals think, correct?”

        Human realities are not so cut and dried as “don’t give a rat’s hindquarters” versus do care. If you’ve watched closely (as I have) how the right-wingers got to be the way they are now — as opposed to how they were when, say, Bush I assumed the presidency — you know that a big part of how the likes of Limbaugh roped them into the right-wing bubble was to play on their sense of being disrespected by educated liberal coastal types.

        Limbaugh et al. distorted the picture, but there was some basis for the feeling of some of those who have been led off into the crazy that they were sneered at by some people more sophisticated and better educated than themselves.

        So yes, they did care, and at some level doubtless still do. That was why Hillary’s statement about “deplorables” was a gaffe: even if what the Rs did with it ignored what she tried inartfully to say, it fit readily into the well-fanned resentments concerning what they believe liberals think of them.

        What I do with my weekly op/eds could, in part, also feed that sense of being disrespected, because I go after what I believe are some false propositions the people they’ve mistakenly trusted have sold them. But I also truly care about those people, and I also have years of familiarity with their values, and I try to utilize those two elements in composing messages to them that might have some impact. I also try to present myself as the person that I am, which might make it harder for them to apply to me their stereotype of the liberal whom they simply dismiss as the enemy.

        As I’ve said many times, I do not claim that I’ve solved the problem of how to get through to them. Maybe I have, maybe I haven’t: even if I had, no one in that subculture would acknowledge it publicly.

        But my approach is just one of a wide spectrum of approaches that might be taken– it’s a function of my particular mixture of strengths and weaknesses. The number of other possible approaches, as I’ve said, is virtually limitless.

        I come from a family of teachers in my parents’ generation, and of clinical psychologists in the next two generations. Reaching people, changing people, healing people– not easy, not entirely predictable, not automatic. But experience shows that artful, creative communication based on genuine insight CAN SOMETIMES HAVE A SIGNIFICANT IMPACT.

        Anyone who ASSUMES there can be no approach — or no mixture of approaches from one community of belief to engage another community of belief — that can do any good is likely looking at things in a simplistic way, not imagining the full range of how things can unfold in the human system.

        One more point that’s relevant here, and that like the general issue harkens back to previous exchanges we’ve had on this very score: it has been asserted previously that these people are simply bad/evil people, because their support of Trump is thought to be sufficient proof of that. But once again, human things are not so cut and dried.

        Those who know Trump voters through the ugly stuff we see of them in the political realm will understandably take an extremely negative, and two-dimensional view of them.

        But those who have lived among them, had a rich set of experiences with them across a variety of domains, will see their toxicity and craziness in the political realm as but one facet in a more complex human reality. They are connected with evil in that realm, but they also manifest goodness in other realms.

        Once we recognizes that there is some wholeness in them that can be made into a resource from which to repair the brokenness that has been cultivated in them by the force that has taken over the Republican Party, then one can recognize also the potential for finding ways to enlist that wholeness to overcome their allegiance to the force of brokenness.

        And since that force of brokenness relies on their support for its power, and as that power is being used in these times to dismantle what’s best about America, the effort must at least be made to do whatever good can be done.

        • There’s a huge difference between a) someone with a sincere desire to explore, change, grow, etc. working with a psychotherapist; and b) someone embedded in a right-wing echo chamber who sees an occasional op-ed or whatever by a liberal and has been fully conditioned to view all liberals as the enemy, “libtards, etc. I believe very much that “a” can work. I believe very much that “b” has almost no chance of working, in fact is more likely to backfire/make things worse.

  • James McCarthy

    Frank’s on the money, Andy. All that is required of our side is to maintain empathy for the radical right and continue to attempt to persuade them. It may be sad and true that some folks simply see the world from the wide end of the telescope. While we can remain cognizant of the Mueller investigation, there is vital work to be undertaken for the 2018 elections.

    We need also to be mindful of the damage done by the Trump gang from weakening the credibility of institutions, to the insane activity at the EPA, and so on. Take some heart in the dissolution of the Voter Integrity [lol] Commission as it signals a deep crack in the political paradigm of the right.

    By focusing on our agenda, we are engaging in a process of moving our fellow citizens on the right to appreciate a more perfect union and promote the general welfare. I agree that it sometimes feels like we are not progressing, but I think we are.

    • Andy Schmookler

      ” All that is required of our side is to maintain empathy for the radical right and continue to attempt to persuade them.”

      The idea that we should “continue to attempt to persuade them” implies that such an attempt has been ongoing.

      I’m glad for your supporting the notion that such an attempt is required of us. But my impression that, up to the present, there has been very little such effort.

      All I’m asking is for such an effort to be added to the other elements of the liberal political strategy (like winning elections and driving this morally corrupt Republican Party out of power).

  • Andy Schmookler

    An observation that seems worth making:

    While there’s scant support expressed here for the idea that we should do anything to rescue the people in the Republican base from their present dark and crazy place….

    No one has called into question the main proposition that this essay asserted. Namely, that so long as Trump holds onto his present base (maybe 1/3 of the electorate), there is NO SCENARIO for dealing with this Trump scenario that is likely to protect the nation.

    Nor does anyone among the commenters here propose some alternative strategy for getting around the threat to the nation that an intact Trump bases poses to America.

    • “some alternative strategy for getting around the threat to the nation that an intact Trump bases poses to America.”

      Win elections at the local, state and federal levels, up and down the ballot — defeat Republicans everywhere.

      • Andy Schmookler

        Yes, that’s really necessary. But it does not address the problem I present in Scenario 3.

        A large component of the population consumed by a sense of grievance that is founded on falsehoods is a cancer on the body politic.

        Consider the Civil War, which the Union won on the battlefield. But despite that victory, look at how the poison remaining in the South — the noble Lost Cause, the denial of what it was really about, the festering hatred about The War of Northern Aggression– which continues to corrode American politics even a century and a half later.

        Driving the GOP out of power is essential. But as long as Trump is alive, he will weaponize whatever support he has, and the more he can retain, the more he will poison the nation.

  • moiraeve1

    We have to attack the gerrymandering issue as well. We can elect Democrats on a month of Mondays and still not get the results we want with the outrageous gerrymandered district maps we currently have.

  • RobertColgan

    If you are walking and you encounter a group of very obstinate angry-looking people who are blocking the sidewalk, you don’t try to talk them into moving so you can pass through……..their obstinacy blocks them from understanding.
    Their anger holds them to their unyielding position.

    You walk around them. And if you’re smart you avoid eye contact.
    Their brainwashed cognition isn’t the type that lends itself to reasoned argument.

    Once safely around them, don’t look back either. Anything construed as taunting only fuels their vengefulness. These, the bulk of them, are not rational human beings.

    Eventually they will be assimilated once — if– their enragement is no longer nurtured.
    A kinder gentler society wouldn’t tolerate the hatefulness spewed by the Limbaughs, Hannity’s, Savages, etc—–there just wouldn’t be a psychic place where the hate could anchor. Unfortunately, at present ours has far too many such psychic places for anyone’s safety.