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Standing by Their Man (even when he's wrrr....)

I’ve been asked to analyze and explain the Trump phenomenon. (Full disclosure—the request came from my mother.) Basically, the question is this: How can so many people continue to stand by this man?

In my posts, I have tried to minimize writing about this president, hoping to focus more on the issues than on his character. But the point here is not to explain Trump, but why “members of the administration, members of Congress, Fox News, the Republican National Committee, and Trump’s die-hard base . . . are all engaged in an exercise to defend, excuse, protect and absolve” him (quoting Charles Blow in his New York Times column).

Here are some theories:

A. "We’re all wrong, and they’re right." In other words, as convinced as I and everyone around me are that Trump is unqualified and a danger to us all, those who support him are just as clear about the correctness of their position. I put this out there to be open to all possibilities, but I can quickly discount it. Historians and journalists overwhelmingly question the ethics and capacity of the president. Moreover, a number of conservative commentators and politicians (including Ross Douthat, David Brooks, William Kristol, Charles Sykes, Peter Wehner, Mitt Rommey, and Richard Painter) have questioned Trump’s qualifications and ethics. There is enough evidence, therefore, from all sides of the political spectrum that allows me to strike down the “we’re wrong, they’re right” argument.

B. “Gotta support the team”. I hate the Yankees. Every day during the baseball season, I check two scores—first my Mets and then the Yankees. Absurdly, I get similar pleasure when the Yankees lose as when the Mets win. (Sorry, Yankee fans, but I’m sure there’s a team out there that you irrationally hate) I think many, perhaps most, people now approach politics the same way—as a zero-sum game with a rooting interest. So if you’re on the Republican side, you support your team, right or wrong, rationally or irrationally, and that includes Donald Trump. (This is a danger that to which we on the left are likely to succumb as well, and is something we should guard against—better to focus on policy and principle, not individuals.)

C. “Forget all that stuff I said about him; we’re getting tax cuts and deregulation!” Look at the picture above. See the happy Republican men (oh, and one woman). Remember how so many of them found Trump to be a danger, an embarrassment, unqualified for the presidency (Lindsay Graham must be hiding behind the curtains)? Somebody got a nice gift of tax cuts for the holidays—oops, I mean, Christmas. They wish he didn’t tweet so much and that he knew how to read, but together, they’ve made their donor class very happy, and they must be confident that they can ride out the midterm election on the strength of gerrymandering and voter suppression.

In his most recent New York Times column, David Brooks argues that there are two White Houses: the “berserk” one and the one “that is briskly pursuing its goals: the shift in our Pakistan policy, the shift in our offshore drilling policy, the fruition of our ISIS policy, the nomination for judgeships and the formation of policies on infrastructure, DACA, North Korea and trade”? While Brooks seems to be saying that there is a solid policy apparatus in motion, I take issue with this point. The White House foreign policy is hardly designed based on an intelligible strategy, and the hollowed-out diplomatic corps barely has the ability to buttress any coherent move the administration might make. Meanwhile, the domestic agenda, from a president and a party that earned less than 50% the popular vote in 2016, comes from the extreme right wing, thus alienating a large number of us on the other side. Moreover, the party’s judicial and executive appointments include a number of people with limited qualifications and poor understanding of the roles they stand to fill. Overall, the administration has shown an inclination to divide Americans and a lack of respect for the institutions and system that have served America well over the last seven or eight decades. So I don’t think Brooks is right, but whatever policies are being made seem to be keeping most Republicans content.

D. "I was wrrrr…. "There was once an episode of “Happy Days” in which The Fonz needed to take the blame for something; I forget what it was, but he’d probably given Richie some bad advice. Anyway, everyone told him he had to admit, “I was wrong,” but he just couldn’t do it. He stumbled over the word and couldn’t even get it out of his throat. To all you who have supported and enabled this president (a partial list includes Mike Pence, Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, Lindsay Graham, Orrin Hatch, Chuck Grassley, Marco Rubio, Susan Collins, Kevin McCarthy, Chris Christie, Rudy Giuliani, and 60 million voters), you might be surprised to know that admitting error is easier than you think.

I think it’s important to call out the fact that a significant and influential segment of the Republican party has enabled this president, and that only a trifling number of party members have spoken out against him. Moreover, it needs to be said that those Republicans who continue to empower this president are not only placing party over country (B), transactional goals over principle (C), and pride over morality (D). Given what we know about Trump’s lack of qualification, ability, and character, they are arguably acting disloyally and putting the nation at risk.

The good news is that, in response to Trump and the Republicans, thousands of grass-roots efforts have sprung up to oppose their agenda and fight for greater rights and equality, as well as for science, the environment, and indeed our future. But keep in mind that our fight is not just with one man. As this post points out, there is a whole army of party loyalists still standing by his side. Even if Trump were gone tomorrow, we would still have a formidable battle on our hands.

To answer my original question, I think the response is a combination of B, C, and D. Not so much A. As to whether I’ve made a good case, feel free to ask my mother.

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