Years before President Donald Trump’s MAGA army barreled through the U.S. Capitol, bashing windows and beating guards and waving a Confederate flag and ultimately ending five lives, much of America, left and right, seemed to agree on one thing: Too many of us had failed to “understand” Trump’s supporters.
We’d been hearing it since Trump’s 2016 election victory, this notion that the “elite” — liberals, Democrats, establishment Republicans, the media — had failed to fathom the hopes and fears of Trump’s 63 million voters. When Trump on Nov. 3 increased that to 74 million voters, it was held up as an amazing accomplishment and further proof that the rest of us just don’t get it.
The fact that an unprecedented 81 million voted for Joe Biden somehow isn’t presented as even more amazing — a double standard that should feel familiar by now. As the Miami Herald’s Leonard Pitts Jr. puts it: “When’s the last time you heard any Trump supporters talking about the need to understand you?”
This Trumpist demand for understanding taps at the grievance that’s always at the heart of populist upheavals. It’s not just that we elites don’t understand them, it’s that we (supposedly) look down on them. A conservative movement that once venerated Goldwater and Reagan now channels Aretha Franklin: All they want is a little respect.
Me, too. I live in a state that generally supports Republican presidential candidates — which means that, because of the Electoral College, my presidential vote effectively goes to the candidate I voted against. A Republican Missouri Legislature refuses to let St. Louis confront the proliferation of gun violence in the city, then uses that violence to cast aspersions on all of us who live here. A U.S. Supreme Court conservative majority anchored by two seats that were outright stolen by a Republican Senate threatens abortion access and other rights that I and a majority of Americans support. One of my U.S. senators and five of my state’s six GOP House members voted to disenfranchise Biden voters across the country in a brazen attempt to overthrow a free and fair election.
And they feel disrespected?
Yes, somewhere in its roots, Trumpism was an expression of the economic and societal insecurity that made many working people feel left behind. Turning to a crooked businessman and the oligarchs of the GOP, of all things, was a strange solution to that angst, but that didn’t make the angst less real.
But how did that morph into slavish dedication to a man who caged children, peddled bigotry and savaged any part of America that didn’t bow to him? How did self-styled patriots line up behind a man whose contempt for the Constitution is so glaring it might as well be affixed in big lighted letters on his hotels?
Trump and his party have essentially been an occupation government: a political minority, forcing its will onto the majority with the help of parliamentary stunts and voter suppression. And that was before he slandered and undermined democracy itself with his Big Lie of nonexistent voter fraud.
With America’s majority finally taking over — perhaps only briefly — Biden should lead an effort to reform the nation’s electoral and governmental systems so they aren’t so easily hijacked by an anti-democracy minority. The Electoral College, the Senate filibuster, the composition of the Supreme Court and more should be on the table.
For those who don’t like it, the response should be short and direct: Biden has decided to govern like a Trump Republican — which is to say, consolidating and entrenching power by any means he can get away with. It may look harsh, but at least he’d be doing it with the mandate of a democratic majority. Trump and his party did it in spite of the majority, working against the interests of most of America.
If I sound like someone who has lost all patience for “understanding” Trumpism, I have. I don’t know, maybe it’s seeing camouflaged troops sleeping in the halls of Congress. Others have had it as well. Even Mitch McConnell, whose GOP Senate majority is among Trump’s casualties. Even the corporate donors who once propped up most Republicans, but now say they won’t support those who sided with Trump and against democracy.
The Trumpists have spent the past four years tearing down our constitutional norms, and the past two months spreading corrosive lies about America’s elections, and one day this month physically assaulting America’s seat of government. All this, and we’re still supposed to be concerned about their hurt feelings when people call them “deplorable”?
Sorry, but anyone who can look around at this point and continue to support this treasonous president is deplorable.
Biden clearly believes he has an obligation to try to bring them into the fold anyway. Which demonstrates how much better he is, as a president and a human being, than his predecessor.
For myself, unburdened by the responsibilities of high office, the matter is much simpler: As the fever in our politics finally breaks, Trumpism doesn’t need to be “understood” any more than white supremacy or Nazism or any other toxic philosophy does. It just needs to be defeated.