Home National Politics America Must Address Its Problem with the Trump 37%

America Must Address Its Problem with the Trump 37%

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This piece is running this week in several newspapers in my very red congressional district, VA-06. 

For several years, through my weekly op/eds, I’ve been sending messages with a conservative (Republican, and now Trump-supporting) readership in mind. Challenging these conservatives about their beliefs and attitudes has been a central purpose of these messages.

But with this present one, I begin a new phase of more blunt — more confrontational — challenges.

If enough voices are raised loudly enough, the shell around that right-wing bubble might start to crack.

Think of it as an “intervention.”

It is not OK for them to be where they are, because the entire nation is suffering on account of it. And every day shows more fully what a threat this President — whom they nominated, elected, and continue to support — poses to the nation.

***************************************

 There’s something that really must be said.

Some may find it impolite. Some will surely find it offensive. But it is so obviously true, so important for the future of America, and so neglected in our national discourse, that I see it as my patriotic duty to declare it emphatically:

This virtually undeniable truth is this: the fact that 37% of Americans “approve” of Trump shows that something has gone seriously and dangerously wrong.

Either they do not see what is patently obvious—that Trump is an extremely dangerous person to be entrusted with the power of the Presidency. In which case, there’s something wrong with their perception.

Or they do not evaluate what they see using anything like the most basic, consensual values of our civilization—e.g. the democratic values on which this nation was founded, and the moral values of the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Part of what’s gone wrong with their “seeing,” of course, is the result of the lie-filled right-wing bubble into which they’ve been herded. Many know only the distorted picture presented by Fox News, by Trump himself, and by the majority of the congressional Republicans who will tell them anything to maintain their support.

But that can explain only so much, because it should suffice to see what is right before everyone’s eyes.

It is not even necessary here to delve into matters of “policy.” The basic truth can be seen at the level at which one would have thought that all decent Americans –liberals and conservatives – would agree.

One would be hard pressed to come up with anyone – in politics or out — who openly displays to such an exceptional degree — more clearly than Donald Trump has — so many characteristics so dangerous in a President — such as dishonesty, arrogance, hypocrisy, bullying, viciousness, bellicosity, unfairness, and narcissistic self-concern.

Is it even possible to imagine that any of those great Americans on Mount Rushmore would be anything but appalled by Donald Trump’s conduct as President?

Recently, 170 professional experts in American history were asked to rate the 45 presidents the nation has had. These professionals ranked Trump dead last. Worst ever. (Even those historians who identified themselves as Republicans rate this President among the worst five in American history.)

This is the President – so harshly condemned by those who have dedicated their lives to understanding the story of America – of whom the 37% approve.

Trump has compiled a long list of behaviors and actions never seen before from an American President—and every entry on that list has damaged American political culture and/or its democratic institutions.

But to disapprove of Trump it should suffice – at least for anyone who believes in basic American values — to look at just one part of that list: namely, the set of actions that this President, in order to protect himself, has taken to defeat the law.

Any Americans unaware of all the ways this President has assaulted the rule of law have failed in their responsibilities as citizens. And any Americans who do not recognize how serious a danger this represents do not understand the foundations of our liberties.

The idea that “no one is above the law” – not even the President – is not just some incidental notion. It is essential to America being the land of the free.

The most powerful person in the nation putting himself above the law, and subordinating the law to himself (as in Trump’s repeated demands for “loyalty”), is the essence of despotism.

That’s what a despot is: he answers to no one, and compels all to answer to him. That is precisely what our founders sought to prevent.

Trump’s assault on the Mueller investigation shows not only his despotic tendencies, but something else quite fundamental: Trump is entirely willing to damage America to serve himself.

Anyone who perceives this, but “approves” the President anyway, clearly has an un-American set of values.

It’s true that, historically, there have been other political values (e.g. monarchic, fascistic, communistic). Gangster rulers like Russia’s Putin stand for such values still. But from the perspective of longstanding American values, anyone approving of what Trump is doing to the American system must be judged profoundly wrong.

Now a second point must emphatically be made: If Trump is a menace to America – and there’s no point in pretending there’s any room for doubt about that, however many people don’t see it – then it is essential, even urgent, that whatever is wrong with the 37% be addressed. For they are key to his power, and taking that power away is key to the political health of the United States.

Those supporters not only made him the Republican nominee, and then President, but they remain the foundation of his power: it is the continued support from the great majority of the Republican base that has induced the Republicans in Congress to side with Trump rather than the Constitution they took an oath to protect. And even if Trump is held accountable for any crimes he may have committed, it can reasonably be predicted that he would weaponized those supporters to avenge himself on the American system.

Therefore, as Trump’s power as President is a threat to the nation, and as the support of the 37% is essential to Trump’s power, getting that 37% to withdraw their support must be a major goal in the ongoing struggle to protect America.

But Liberal America has shown almost no interest in this necessary task.  For a quarter century, for the most part, liberals have continually failed to address their countrymen on the other side. Which leads to the question: what’s wrong with Liberal America that accounts for this failure.

[Postscript for this audience: Lest I be misunderstood, I do not propose this as taking precedence over taking power away from the Trump Party in the upcoming 2018 elections. That is the most urgent priority.]

**********************

Andy Schmookler was the 2012 Democratic candidate for Congress in VA-06, and is the author of the website “A Better Human Story” at http://abetterhumanstory.org/

  • RobertColgan

    But…………..but, Andy —– Brawndo’s got electrolytes.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Vw2CrY9Igs

  • Jim B

    Hard to believe that a Clinton presidency would have been as bad as Tump’s, yet many liberals must not have thought so when they failed to support Clinton in the election.

  • James McCarthy

    From my perspective, the fact that 37% of our fellow citizens support the President is a healthy sign of democracy in a population of 325 million. To conclude that something has gone seriously “wrong” translates into a moral conclusion about the political beliefs of a population subset. Getting that 37% to “withdraw” its support is clearly not similar to herding sheep. There are two cogent and effective factors to improve the political character of our citizenry: persuasion and electoral success. That, in fact, is our duty as equal members of the same society as the 37%, They are not enemies – although among them are some horrible individuals and leaders – but potential allies.

    • Andy Schmookler

      You make two comments here, James McCarthy, that I want to respond to. With one of them, I am happy to agree. The other I regard as representative of something that I spoke about during the 1990s, that I thought had gone seriously amiss in the worldview of many liberals.

      The one I agree with is your statement that our fellow citizens among the 37% “are not enemies – although among them are some horrible individuals and leaders – but potential allies.” It remains to be seen how many of them might escape the grip of the destructive political force that has led them to where they are enough to become our allies. But that is a goal that is worth working toward, and nothing would do my heart so much good as to see some significant movement in that direction sometime when I’m still around.

      The other statement, which to my eye has embedded in it some unfortunate habits of the mind: “To conclude that something has gone seriously ‘wrong’ translates into a moral conclusion about the political beliefs of a population subset.”

      During the 1990s, I did a lot of talk radio– mostly with the conservative audience here in the Shenandoah Valley but also with liberal audiences around the nation. I recall doing a show on Wisconsin Public Radio on the subject of “Judgment.” So many of the good liberals that called in to that show seemed to think that it was wrong to pass moral judgment– except to condemn “judgmentalism.”

      You, too, seem to be assuming that there is something amiss with my taking a position that equates to my drawing “a moral conclusion about the political beliefs of a population subset.” You are right that I am truly drawing a moral conclusion about their beliefs which allow their approval of this President. And I think that this conclusion is an important one, and pretty easy to establish.

      I have written about students of mine who would not judge the Nazis’ conduct at “Auschwitz.” I’ve used as the representative quotation of that point of view this statement: “What the Nazis did at Auschwitz isn’t something I would have done, but it fit with their own beliefs and values, AND SO IT WAS RIGHT FOR THEM.”

      This way of thinking, I believe, is one important factor in having made Liberal America blind to what was rising on the right over the past quarter century, and weak in responding to it. If you do not believe in the importance and validity of making such moral judgments, then you will not recognize the dark and destructive spirit that can show up in the human world and break apart so much that is of value.

      And so, as Limbaugh and Gingrich and Fox News and Karl Rove and all the others leading up to Trump showed an increasingly ugly and menacing face to the nation, and as these leaders of the right led tens of millions of our countrymen into a space where, by 2016, they could look at a monster of a man like Donald Trump and think that he was a good person to entrust with the presidency– while all that was going on, too many liberals thought it would be wrong to draw any “moral conclusions” about a force that reasonably could be called “evil,” and about the state of thought and feeling of our fellow citizens who were misled into giving that force their support.

      And so, sleeping through the rise of a moral crisis in America to which only the crisis over slavery might be compared, Liberal America enabled the darkness to gain in power, and do such damage to the nation that it is questionable whether a generation will be enough time to repair it.

      • James McCarthy

        Andy, you are certainly entitled to your personal conclusions based upon your experience and observations. As a budding John Bircher in my youth, I am crystal clear about the social and political dangers posed by the radical right. My point about moralizing political debate or dialogue is merely to caution in its use as a proselytizing method.

        It is IMHO our moral imperative and civic duty to work toward a productive dialogue with the 37%. It’s hard work as one former President noted. Each of us engages in small and larger ways to accomplish this and one dynamic is the type of exchange we are having. It may be a fact that liberals slept at the wheel while the right flourished but not because of a failure or unwillingness to draw conclusions moral or otherwise. Moral conclusions may contribute to motivation and recognition of a need to act, but, in my mind, such are mostly self gratifying and ineffective in political dynamics.

        Liberal America did not sleep through the moral horror of slavery, it participated along with most others by enjoying the economic benefits of the practice. It took time and debate to shed light on the moral deficiency of slavery and the necessity to eliminate it. That may be in parallel the arc faced now with the radical right. The palimpsest of slavery and Jim Crow continue to infect our society so speculation on the length of time necessary to diminish the negative virus of the radical right is unknown. We just keep at it.

        • Andy Schmookler

          I agree with you about Liberal America not sleeping through the moral horror of slavery. That was a very different time, in terms of the cultural relationship with morality. The moral relativism that has crept into Western civilization — through logical positivism, scientism, and other currents — had not become associated with the liberalism of pre-Civil War America.

          UNCLE TOM’S CABIN was a moral statement in the form of a novel, and it kindled a moral flame that transformed sentiment on the anti-slavery part of America. Liberalism was very concerned about where the grapes of wrath were stored.

          I have been looking through some of the fine liberal voices that have arisen in the era of Trump, wondering if any of them have it in them to be the Lincoln for this time.

          Regarding contemporary liberalism and the efficacy or lack of it of speaking in moral terms to the 37%– I do not claim to know. Some say that nothing will work. That could be. I speak as I feel called to speak, and my message for some years now has been various forms of “It’s not OK.” I do what is in me to do, and that’s what is summoned forth– and I can only hope it has some beneficial impact.

          One last point, James. You write: “It may be a fact that liberals slept at the wheel while the right flourished but not because of a failure or unwillingness to draw conclusions moral or otherwise.”

          Having certain knowledge in such matters is, of course, not possible. But I do want to say that my asserting that connection — the connection you deny in that sentence — is not done casually. I’ve been watching this stuff closely since 1992, and this connection has sure seemed to me to emerge clearly as one important element in the whole complex picture of the conduct of American Liberalism over that whole period.

          • James McCarthy

            Andy, I did not intimate that you should not speak or not speak your mind and conclusions. My reservation extended to the moral content of the speech. I do not think such to be effective with the radical right having been in their tent. Ideology yields not to reason nor moral precepts. I believe individuals in the radical right may yield when they realize they have no choice. As long as they can hold onto the 1st and 2nd amendments, they will and close their minds to rationality.

            I also think and believe that liberals in fact slept while Rome burned but that was not causative of the radical right renaissance. Slavery and the emergence of the radical right are qualitatively and quantitatively different and distinct though we may experience and observe liberals sleeping during both. With passionate voices like yours, I do not think liberals will get much sleep. But we also need to keep them from being bored by tribal language and chants by the usual suspects. A raison d’etre for BlueVirginia.

        • old_redneck

          I attempted a quiet, reasonable conversation with a Trumpster at a local Legion Hall.

          About 10 minutes into the conversation, he reached into his jacket pocket, pulled out a mini-Glock, pointed it at me and told me “All you liberal motherfuckers should be shot and maybe I’ll start with you.”

          I thanked him for his opinion and left.

          You were saying?

  • Sadly, it’s even more than 37% — according to 538.com, it’s been hovering around 40% for a couple months now…

    • dave schutz

      Mark Penn clearly thinks the Clintons can never do anything for him again, and that he needs to sell a lot of copies of his new book. So he got himself interviewed by the Daily Mail and their header said:
      “Mark Penn served as a pollster for Bill Clinton in the 1990s and chief strategist for Hillary’s 2008 presidential campaign
      He claims that the former First Couple have ‘at least a one-way open marriage’
      He even references Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright’s characters on the hit political drama House of Cards, where the first couple ‘have numerous partners
      Penn opens up about the Clintons in his upcoming book, Microtrends Squared: The New Small Forces Driving Today’s Big Disruptions
      He also criticized Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, saying ‘elite’ and ‘highly educated’ voters often asked him why Hillary Clinton was so unlikable
      Penn says two-thirds of Americans hate her and two-thirds hate Donald Trump
      And he pours cold water on claims Russia hacked the election through Facebook which Hillary has listed as one of the reasons she lost
      Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-5532631/Clintons-one-way-open-marriage-pollster-says.html#ixzz5AfPqh3Ji
      Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook”
      So my big suggestion for Dems going forward, is don’t nominate someone disliked by two thirds of the voters.

  • Andy Schmookler

    Some thoughts about that 37%, or 40%, or whatever that figure is that’s ranged between 32% and 43% over recent months.

    If I didn’t live among Trump supporters, my impression of Trump supporters would be pretty unitary as the ones I’d have contact with would be those right-wing trolls that are out there in the arena spewing their insults and contempt and hatred and willingness to discourse in bad faith so long as they can bother their enemies.

    I’ve been dealing with those trolls since 2004, and I have really no thought of their moving in any good direction.

    But I do live among Trump people, and my impression is that they are coming from a different place from the trolls. For them, it’s mostly about conforming with their community.

    To continue the connection touched upon in my exchange with James McCarthy regarding the previous historical crisis involving slavery: the right-wing trolls are the kind of people who were glad for a chance to do a lynching, and the others in those community might well share some of the racism, might be afraid to speak up against a lynching (it is not a community that tolerates well outspoken dissent), but are not comfortable with the ugliness and cruelty.

    At least so is my image of what goes on.

    I believe that a substantial part of the 37% is less militant about their pro-Trump position than some here might believe. I would not expect them to go public with their displeasure with the orthodoxy of their community, but in the privacy of their thoughts some movement may be possible. And in the privacy of the voting booth — or in staying home and not voting — that displeasure might get expressed in ways that help turn the dark tide back.

  • Andy Schmookler

    An exchange from where this piece appears on Daily Kos.

    A commenter writes:

    “So what do you suggest? Talking to these idiots is like talking to a brick wall! I suggest we outvote them and then wait for them to die out. I have not seen any way to get through to these idiots and I am not going to waste my time trying to do so.”

    To which I replied:

    “Good question— and I will address it in a future piece. The quick version is: the task is not for each of us individuals to talk to our Trumpite neighbors, but rather a) to press our leaders to address them collectively, and b) to address them collectively through other collective means (like what’s happening in the streets of Washington today about the gun issue).

    “Given the nature of the right-wing bubble, best not to do retail. Wholesale will be less traumatic both for the confronters and the confronted. And probably more effective, as it will enable the confronted to absorb the impact privately, thus potentially less defensively.”

    • dave schutz

      Andy, I am pretty clear that I reject your approach. I think you have fallen into the tribalist trap which created the opportunity for Trump in the first place. If you’re willing, take a look at https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/opinion-patterson-trump-tribalism_us_5ab40bcde4b008c9e5f56904 this eloquent discussion of the divisions we have, and how exacerbating them has put him into the White House.

      • Andy Schmookler

        I would be interested, Dave, in knowing what you mean by my “approach.” Do you mean being concerned to address the 37% in ANY way, or do you mean the particular way that I am addressing them?

        Your comment about exacerbating the divisions suggests that it is the manner in which I’m addressing them that you are rejecting. In which case, I would like to ask you what approach you recommend.

        As for my approach, two things I want to say:

        First, what I advocate is NOT that everyone who gets on board with the large-scale effort I am proposing do it the way I’m doing it. I don’t think that there is any one way that would be optimal for all to take. Rather, I believe that what would be best is a whole diversity of approaches– ideally in proper proportion, and in appropriate coordination, but since that won’t be achievable, I’d recommend that people just put their shoulders to that wheel in whatever manner seems right to them.

        Second, I believe that it is an error to imagine that Liberal America has exacerbated the divisions in America by virtue of confronting the other side with their defects too aggressively. In fact, having followed all this rather closely, I believe the very opposite has been true for most of the past quarter century: i.e., that the liberals have not returned fire, while the people on the right — worked up into a state of political war by the likes of Limbaugh, Gingrich, Rove etc. — have treated liberals like the scum of the earth, more worthy to be treated as enemies than as fellow citizens with whom they might work to move the nation forward.

        It is the liberal forfeiture of battles that really needed to be fought — the failure to denounce what should be denounced — which has enabled the right to develop into this toxic mess that is full of that “tribalistic” passion for battle. (BTW, I think using the word “tribal” to describe this does an injustice to tribes.)

        Liberalism really needs to stop ENABLING ITS ABUSERS. And I think at last that is starting to happen, but I still see considerable residues on the liberal side of the holding back from confrontation.

        I will be writing something about the liberal enabling of the rise of this darkness on the right, by forfeiting one battle after another. Watch this space.

        • dave schutz

          Thanks for this. “I believe that it is an error to imagine that Liberal America has exacerbated the divisions in America by virtue of confronting the other side with their defects too aggressively. ” I’m not with you on this.
          We have had our macaca moments! As has the right, George Allen was the original macackist, and there was George HW Bush’s incredulity about supermarket scanners, Mitt Romney’s 47 per cent…
          I think most people are not paying very much attention to politics most of the time. You clearly are, I live in Arlington where politics oozes from the telephone poles, but I believe that most voters, and even more than the voters the large mass of people who rarely stir themselves to vote. don’t pay very much attention to politics most of the time and tend to vote, when they do, based mostly on a general sense of who is ‘on their side’.
          A few really technicolor events break through: I would have expected that Trump’s flagrant disregard of politeness and process would have hurt him far more than it seems to have. On the left, the disdain shown for non-prog voters by many of our politicos – Obama’s ‘bitter clingers’, Clinton’s ‘deplorables’, the utter inability of most on the left to understand the distress many voters feel about abortion on demand, Pelosi’s characterization of the tax cut results increasing take home pay as ‘crumbs’, the slowness with which the Dems came to understand the extent of harm from oxycontin in non-elite districts – these things have taken away from the perception which most voters used to have that the Dems are for the little guy.

    • “to press our leaders to address them collectively”

      The problem is that your “Trumpite neighbors” automatically reject anything they hear from leaders with a “D” after their names, while any “leaders” with an “R” after their names a) aren’t real leaders and b) won’t tell your “Trumpite neighbors” anything worthwhile. The answer: anyone opposed to Trump’s insanity, authoritarianism, corruption, sadism, militarism, bigotry, etc, etc. needs to vote, vote, and vote some more, until we change this country for the better.

      • Andy Schmookler

        You are almost entirely right, Lowell, in what you say about the automatic rejection of anything they hear from someone with a “D” after their names. As well I should know, having run against Goodlatte out here for Congress in 2012, and having supported by wife (April Moore’s) run against Mark Obenshain for the Virginia Senate seat in the 26th District in 2015.

        And I surely agree with you that we need to work to make sure that the bigots and authoritarians etc. are on the losing side of as many elections as we can.

        But while I agree with the PROBLEM you identify, and agree on the importance of the SOLUTION you propose, I continue to believe that solution to be only a partial one: i.e., to have more than one third of the American people in such a space that they can “approve” of the presidency that’s been on display these past 14 months is truly incompatible with a healthy future for America. There are just too many disasters that can grow out of that– the election of Donald Trump being the current obvious (and possibly catastrophic) one.

        Which brings us back to the PROBLEM. Yes, at present this group has a virtually impermeable bubble of bad information and worse impulses. But as I say, I don’t think that our side has really made a concerted, large-scale attack on that “Uncracked Nut” (as I called it in a piece here on BV back in 2013, in the wake of my congressional run).

        If something really NEEDS to be accomplished, then every effort should be made to accomplish it. And if the efforts to this date have been only partial and small-scale (e.g. the small effort by yours truly here in the 6th district six years ago), while nothing like a “movement” has been attempted to focus energy and attention on THE PROBLEM OF TRUMP’S 37%, then I think wisdom and prudence require that all possible be done to accomplish the necessary.

        • We’ve had this discussion many times, but IMHO, the last thing liberals should be doing is spending their limited time and energy on dealing with “the problem of Trump’s 37%.” Even if we did, we’d be miserable failures at that, because we are literally the last people Trump’s 37% will listen to (in fact, our efforts vis-a-vis the Trumpsters could easily backfire, for a negative “ROI”). Instead, we need to focus ALL our energy on getting the other 63% (or 60% or whatever) out to vote this November, in November 2019 here in Virginia, in November 2020 nationally, etc, etc.

          • Andy Schmookler

            Yes, we’ve had this discussion, and we return to the same point: I agree with everything you say we need to do, and you disagree with the one thing I think should be added to the list of things that need doing.

            My agreement with you was articulated in advance by my Postscript, above: “Lest I be misunderstood, I do not propose this as taking precedence over taking power away from the Trump Party in the upcoming 2018 elections. That is the most urgent priority.”

  • Andy Schmookler

    BTW, I think I should add to all the rest that’s been said: what has happened to this 37% (or to that proportion of the 37% who were reasonably sane and constructive — or whose parents were reasonably sane and constructive — a generation ago) took the deceivers and manipulators a long time to accomplish. I do not expect that their movement from their current condition to their becoming sane and constructive is going to happen overnight. What took a generation to corrupt might well take a generation to make more whole.

  • Greg B.

    The more name calling back and forth, the less chance of reconciliation! The more each side tries to marginalize the other, the larger the division. Hopefully, someday a Leader can rise to power that can transform America without dividing it into segments.

    PS- each side can call each other names until the cows come home and it won’t change their mind. It will only solidify their position at opposite ends of the spectrum so the cable news shows can have something to speak of.

    • Actually, such a leader DID arise; his name was Barack Obama, and he reached out over and over and over again to Republicans, only to be subjected to vicious demonization, racism, vitriol, etc.

    • dave schutz

      I think Senator McCaskill would agree with you!
      https://twitter.com/KasieDC/status/978054284024664065