In her 2016 presidential campaign, Hillary Clinton remarked that “half” of Trump’s supporters constituted a “basket of deplorables.” She was pilloried for this remark. Yet Trump was even more cutting: In his quest to become White House Occupant 45, he boasted that his supporters were so depraved, he could murder someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose a “single vote.”
Actually, Trump understated his supporters’ sordidness. Now regarded with apparent indifference are the thousands dead from COVID as a likely consequence — in no small measure — of his public representations about the course of this disease and his preposterous recommended precautions (or lack thereof) that the public should take, his arrangement for lynching the man they voted to be vice president, the attempted dismantlement of our democracy, and the mishandling of confidential national security materials in this nuclear age.
We remember, too, this is a man who euphemistically admitted to thoughts of dating his own daughter and confessed to sexually assaulting women; who, as Cadet Bone Spurs, dismissed John McCain’s Vietnam service and bragged during a Howard Stern radio interview that “avoiding STDs,” as a “brave soldier,” was his “personal Vietnam”; and is quoted in Atlantic magazine as describing our veterans buried in France (at Aisne-Marne and Belleau Woods) as “suckers” and “losers.” And finally (although the list is inexhaustible), publicly inviting Russian interference in the 2016 election; celebrating, the day after, the firing of James Comey with Russian diplomats present in the Oval Office; and attempting to disgrace this country’s intelligence services in remarks in Helsinki, standing before the press, leashed to a smirking Putin.
Concisely put, Trump — possessed of not a single virtue, dispossessed of no vice — is the craven choice of a political party that blames poverty on imagined character defects of the poor. Yet, nearly unfathomably, Trump’s support in the GOP, over rival candidates, reportedly is increasing with each civil and criminal indictment.
What gives? To this casual observer even the Trump critics have it wrong: In their efforts to condemn Trump they end up, however unintentionally, excusing and thereby sanitizing his supporters, diluting responsibility. For example, Gene Lyons, in a Sun-Times column (June 17) — preposterously positing MAGA open-mindlessness — implored the “pro-Trump insurrectionists” to “read the damn indictment” before “locking and loading.” (Gee wiz, Stuart Rhodes, of Oath Keepers, are you sorry now?)
Rejected here are explanations that the Trump supporters have been “conned” or are “cult victims,” are “fearful,” “don’t get it,” are “cultural conservatives” or “Christian nationalists,” “economically aggrieved,” “don’t understand how our democracy works,” or even “idiots.”
No, these labels are not descriptive. The behavioral causality is more sinister and runs in the opposite direction than commonly asserted. The support for Trump is too intense (even fanatical and homicidal), overlooking and discarding too much, to be accounted for in this manner. What undergirds his persistent support requires a powerful emotion (and willfulness).
Only raw bigotry would seem animating enough to fuel the furious (AR-15 seasoned) support for Trump: the same seething hatred, in all of its varieties, plaguing this country since its inception. Unprovoked hate, constituting the rejection of the central ethos at our founding, penned by slaveholder Thomas Jefferson, that we are all equal. “Men” he wrote … yes, but not “white, straight, Christian males.” As in “all of us.”
The hate is so intense that in 1957, for example, President Eisenhower deemed it necessary to send 1,000 troops from the storied 101st Airborne Division to enforce the integration of nine Black students into Central High School in Little Rock (a combat unit that had participated in the bloody Normandy and Market Garden operations against the Nazis in 1944).
That hate hasn’t dissipated. The Ron DeSantis “anti-woke” agenda, akin to Holocaust denialism, is how bigots presently express their support for history’s darkest chapters: an attempt to render us civically comatose by suppressing history so it can more easily be repeated. (Caution: the MAGA crowd —“fake news” parrots, not patriots, deliberating following serial fabricators — are not to be taken at their word for what they claim to believe.)
MAGA = Make America Great Again = the headline of the Fall 2016 issue of the KKK’s publication “The Crusader.” The KKK dates from 1865. The opportunistically transactional Trump is a creation of that perverse sensibility, not vice versa.
The equality of all is America’s foundational creed from which arises our insistence on democracy, the opening “We the People” in our Constitution, the proposition that “no man is above the law,” the Bill of Rights, Lincoln’s 1862 Emancipation Proclamation and 1863 Gettysburg Address, the Reconstruction Amendments (13-15) and the 19th Amendment.
As operationally American as bigotry has been and continues to be — in the ugly tradition set at times by the Supreme Court and the likes of John C. Calhoun, Jefferson Davis, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Charles Coughlin, and Jesse Helms — yet the hatred is full-bore anti-American as to our truest nature.
Gregg Mumm is an Oak Park resident.