This piece will be appearing in newspapers in my conservative congressional district (VA-06).
Liberals are debating how to understand the millions of Americans who voted for Trump. Since many of us see Trump – putting aside the usual liberal/conservative issues – as having demonstrated clearly that he is a dangerously defective person, it seems important to understand what his supporters did or didn’t see about him, or did or didn’t care about.
So while one concern is whether a Trump presidency will be as disastrous for America as we fear, the other big worry concerns the millions of our fellow citizens who supported Trump. What do their votes tell us about them?
One question centers on bigotry. Clearly, Trump expressed bigotry in a way we haven’t heard at center stage of American politics in more than half a century.
People are debating: for how many was Trump’s expression of bigotry part of his appeal? And how many supported him in spite of the bigotry?
My biggest concern lies elsewhere. I’m wondering: Is truthfulness something Trump voters care about?
A propos of which, let me ask you: Was the election rigged against Trump? On those many occasions that Mr. Trump made that accusation, did you believe him? Did it concern you that Trump never adduced a bit of evidence to substantiate that accusation?
It’s no wonder he didn’t, because there was no evidence. (It was evidence, by contrast, that experts thought looked troubling, that prompted the current recount.)
The fact is, the whole specter of a “rigged” system was something Trump just made up. At the time, with it looking like Trump would lose, it served his purpose to delegitimize the coming election.
Did you know he was just making it up?
I would hate to think you knew but just didn’t care. Lying about the election being rigged, and laying a foundation for delegitimizing the results, as Trump did, is an attack on the American political system.
Now that he’s been elected, we hear no more from him about the system being rigged. But he’s still making things up.
As anti-Trump rallies sprang up around the country in the aftermath of the election, Trump tweeted out that the protesters had been hired by the media. Again, he offered no evidence because there was none. It just served his purpose to discredit the protesters (while smearing the media at the same time.) More recently, Trump has declared he lost the popular vote because “millions voted illegally,” a statement the press has called “baseless.”
In fact, we’ve all seen him make things up right and left. The fact-checkers found that 61% of his statements were completely false—the biggest liar among all the candidates. (The rate for Hillary was 14%.) Historians have said he’s the most shameless liar ever to run for president.
Did he fool you? Or did you recognize his consistent lying, but not think it matters much whether we Americans can believe what our president tells us?
It would be a stunning illustration of the decline of American political standards if the American people don’t care whether or not their president lies to them.
I remember when Dwight Eisenhower, near the end of his presidency, told a single lie to the American people. The Soviet Union had shot down an American spy plane, and Eisenhower at first denied the U.S. was conducting any such spying operations. But the Soviets captured both the plane and the American pilot, and Eisenhower’s lie was soon exposed.
Here’s the thing. The American people were quite upset to discover that their president had lied to them. Even though this was the kind of lie that might well be justified as serving the national security interests of the United States, the people found it unthinkable that an American president – even an essentially honest man like Eisenhower — would lie to the nation.
From Eisenhower telling that one lie after eight years in the White House, to electing a man to the presidency who continually makes stuff up, America has tracked quite a course.
The American democracy can only work if the citizens are told the truth on which to base their judgments.
Two fears arise:
First, that the man you helped make president will make a wreck of things – not because he’s “conservative,” but because of his character. And second, that you’ll never hold him accountable for any of it, because you’ll buy the lies he tells blaming this group or that for his failures.
I hope Trump proves me wrong on the first point. But if he doesn’t, I hope you’ll prove me wrong on the second.
Andy Schmookler — who was the Democratic nominee for Congress in Virginia’s 6th District in 2012 — is the author most recently of WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST: The Destructive Force at Work in Our World– and How We Can Defeat It.