I’ve been traveling all week, catching news on the fly, but the best piece I’ve read was written by Ron Reagan. The late president’s second son nails an incontrovertible truth about our current political sinkhole, and I highly recommend it. Here’s a key passage:
“Virulent as he may be, Donald J. Trump is a symptom not the disease. Without us, he would amount to nothing more than what he had always been before the bizarro presidential election of 2016: a foppish narcissist desperate for any measure of affirmation; a joke; a nothing. He did not create his voters. They have been there all along, seething with sometimes justifiable anger and suffering their various insecurities. They created and enabled Trump. And make no mistake, in all their vulnerable humanity, they are us: Gullible, compliant, distracted … At root, we the people are the problem.”
As Reagan acknowledges, it’s difficult to talk about the mind-numbing ignorance of many fellow Americans, because whoever raises the issue is immediately tagged as “condescending” and “elitist.” And Reagan himself is automatically discounted in certain right-wing circles; his older half-brother, Michael, says that Ron is an “embarrassment” to their late dad. Whatever. So I give Ron credit for saying what needs to be said:
“Trump did not invent Fake News. The Big Lie has been the stock in trade of con men and tyrants since time immemorial. But he understands its value. ‘Alternative facts’ as his lickspittle factotum, Kellyanne Conway infamously put it, has long been his metier. He’s a bullshitter, a phony, and now he’s our president. This shouldn’t have happened. But we let it happen.”
We let it happen, because 62 million people saddled us with Putin’s weak stooge. Ron and I would both acknowledge that not all those voters were “stupid”; many were desperate for an anti-establishment candidate, and Trump seemed like a risk worth taking. But his pool of uninformed voters was sizable (we’ve long known this), and Ron intuits why millions were particularly vulnerable to Trump’s con:
“Surveys conducted every two years by the National Science Foundation consistently demonstrate that slightly more than half of Americans reject the settled science concerning human evolution. They are not unaware that virtually all credible scientists accept the overwhelming evidence that we evolved from earlier species. They simply choose not to accept that consensus because it doesn’t comport with their deeply held beliefs. Many also embrace the absurd notion that the earth is only 6,000 years old. Astonishingly, in the early 21st century, around a quarter of our citizenry seems unaware that said earth revolves around the sun …
“While misapprehensions about basic astronomy, earth science, and biology may have little impact on these folk’s daily lives, does anyone actually believe that similarly uninformed views aren’t likely to affect their grasp of policies regarding, say, climate change? Income inequality? Gun violence? Immigration? Profound knowledge gaps like the aforementioned reveal an inability to think critically and leave a person vulnerable to all manner of chicanery.”
Trump has been brilliant at exploiting ignorance — riding high in the ’16 primaries with his lie that Obama wasn’t American; boasting that he loves “the poorly educated” — and he was aided and abetted by Russian bots and other social-media liars who pumped swill about Hillary into the heads of the credulous. Ron Reagan doesn’t mention those factors, but he rightly cites Fox News’ key role in keeping millions of voters deaf and dumb to reality. That’s one big reason why Trump has been able to keep his 35 percent support. (Ron wrote his piece before the Stormy Daniels story reignited, and it’s predictably noteworthy, during the past 24 hours, that the Fox talking heads have barely mentioned the porn star’s lawsuit against a president whose lawyer paid her to shut up.)
But believe it or not, there’s a potential upside to our down cycle. Trump’s strongest loyalists have been people with only high school educations, but recent polls say his support among those white women is softening. And as Ron Reagan points out, there’s now considerable pushback — even in conservative circles — against the forces of Trump-led ignorance:
“A once compliant media has begun to take the gloves off. Genuine conservatives, outraged that their movement has been hijacked by philistines, are sounding the alarm. People are rising up and calling BS. For every Sean Hannity there is a Rachel Maddow, Jake Tapper or even Shepard Smith (at Fox News, no less!). For every Paul Ryan, there is a David Frum or Max Boot. Frothing crowds at CPAC are countered by the #MeToo movement and impressively eloquent teenagers fed up with politicians of any stripe who cower before the gun industry. On a good day, a John McCain or Jeff Flake will stand up to the cringing accommodationists in their own party. And, of course, Donald Trump himself, along with his corrupt lackeys, face a formidable foe in the person of Robert Mueller …
“What’s clear is that we need to use all non-violent resources at our disposal to rid ourselves and our country of the dangerous infection spreading from the White House into our body politic. These are not normal times and our usual reflexes will no longer suffice.
“Trump is a problem of our own creation. We must become the solution.”
And it all starts with the ’18 congressional midterms, potentially next Tuesday in southwest Pennsylvania’s Trump country. It’s now or never.