Alan Zendell, December 30, 2020
Assuming that you pay any attention to him, these days, do you still shake your head struggling to understand why Donald Trump behaves the way he does? After a year-and-a-half of the most bitter, hate-filled presidential campaign in our lifetimes, after four years of an administration in which incompetence vied with greed and indifference to the problems Americans live and die with, are you still bemused by this hateful caricature of a man? In the midst of doing everything he can to sabotage both the Biden administration and his own Republican Party, did he surprise you when he turned his Twitter wrath on his lapdog Attorney General, Bill Barr, his Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell – all for daring to fall out of lockstep?
More than five years of stress and horror have made us all expert witnesses. Any of us could testify to Trump pandering to people’s worst instincts, to enabling and encouraging racists and hate mongers, to savaging anyone who dares to disagree with him. The families of more than a third of a million dead Americans can testify to his criminal neglect in muzzling his public health professionals and deliberately allowing the pandemic to spread, signing their death warrants. We can all testify to his desperate lust for power and his sociopathic nature that would rather see America destroyed than relinquish it. We know what he does, but do we understand why?
For that matter, how often have you asked why his base is so enamored with him. Given everything we’ve seen, how could more than 74 million Americans have voted to keep him in office for another four years, knowing he will only intensify his efforts to undermine Congress and the rule of law? How does he continue to hold in thrall his Republican caucus of rich, fat cat Senators, many of whom possess egos almost as big as his?
A very smart person offered me a different perspective, yesterday. It didn’t change what I knew, but it helped it all make sense. We tend to think of the cultish portion of Trump’s base as dim-witted drones, lemmings willing to jump off a cliff at his command. Are they so in love with him, so entranced by his animal charisma that they can’t think for themselves? No, it’s not that at all. It’s more like the ancient proverb, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Trump’s base loves him because he hates the people they hate, he hurts the people they wish they could hurt, and he does it shamelessly and with impunity.
The Trump cult despises non-white immigrants so intensely, it cheers when he erects a wall to keep them out. Their hatred is so visceral, they thrill at the sight of refugee families being torn apart, children incarcerated and allowed to sicken and die. They are so bigoted against anyone not like them, that they pump their fists in the air when Trump tells them anyone with a Spanish surname is biased and incompetent. They are so paranoid about Socialism, they rail about every tax dollar spent on social programs and “entitlements.”
Progressives are their sworn enemies, because the constituency they fight for are the very people Trump told them to hate, because they’re all cheats and losers.
They have been so brainwashed by people who confuse freedom with irresponsibility, that they take up arms against their own elected officials. They feel so uplifted when others who have even less than they do are kept down by boots on their necks, they forget everything they were taught about decency. They twist and contort their “Christianity” to support intolerance and deprive people they fear and hate of their rights, even their lives, because their leader winks at them, implying black and brown and yellow lives are less precious than theirs.
Among their peers, anyone who has more things or appears to live better must have cheated or stolen from them, because Trump tells them so. Despite their own urgent needs, they hate the idea of all those others receiving stimulus checks at their expense, yet they fail to notice when Trump and his people enrich themselves and con them out of hundreds of millions of dollars.
We don’t yet know whether President Elect Joe Biden will be able to heal our national soul. We don’t know if his message of unity and caring for each other, of putting the lives and welfare of Americans ahead of everything else can repair the divisions Trump exposed and exacerbated. They only thing know for sure is that we’re better off with a president who encourages Americans to love each other, than one who reinforces petty hatreds.