In the New York Times’ quest to get to the bottom of what makes every last Trump supporter in America tick, we have been treated to endless interviews, loving tributes to downtrodden towns in which nary a non-white person is ever seen, and one particular day when the op-ed pages were turned over to Trump supporters to argue for Trump’s genius directly. But this is still not enough, and so Sunday’s paper included a zoological analysis from a journalist who grew up among them.
It is meant to be flattering, or at least neutral, but the short version is that the people who have been bleating about “family values” for the last half-century do not actually give a flying damn about family values and never did. It was all garbage from the get-go. While people from “college” or “in New York” or “religiously conservative” or “liberal” or take-your pick all had harsh words for the crooked, lying, adulterous, misogynist trash-heap of a human being, the salt-of-the-earth Trump supporters back in Nebraska could not possibly care less about the bullshit-laden values attributed to them in fawning tributes to the heartland’s common clay.
To hell with it all: Go team adulter-crook!
In contrast, almost all of the people I know in my hometown in Nebraska proudly supported him. They glossed over his infidelities and stressed that he seemed to be a good father. They were impressed by his “respectful” sons and admired the success of his daughters.
“Glossed over” is a fine phrase. “Good father” is quite the phrase itself. And this new notion of “respectful,” which apparently consists of “glossing over” his sons’ histories of charity fraud, public attacks on black politicians, and that whole ‘met Russian agents in Trump Tower’ thing, is doing quite the heavy lift.
Reading between the lines, what we have here is a group of people who practice what is known in the rest of the world as aggressive ignorance. You can’t say that Trump’s behavior bothers you if you drive wooden stakes into both ears and swear you didn’t hear about any of it.
The author goes through some trouble and many paragraphs to explain this phenomenon of Trump support despite Trump’s grotesque family-values-averse behaviors via a mix of sociology and class, because we are not allowed to point out that these people are simply dishonest bullshitters. When you grow up in Nebraska, you are apparently expected to bleat about family values and the corruption of the elites, to be sure—but, socioeconomically speaking, it is apparently all a ruse meant for the children and whatever gullible reporters wander through town. In reality, when it comes to the churches and the voting booths, you can be as adulterous as you want, cheat your neighbor eagerly and gleefully, lie to everyone about everything and—if you are in the right tribe, and only if you are in the right tribe—it is expected.
We’re not supposed to say it, but that is what the sociological modal boils down to. I think all of us have ample experience with these sorts of human beings, and it is not necessarily political. I believe I have pointed out multiple times that in my own experiences, for example, if any business owner mentions Jesus within the first 10 minutes of meeting you you can be absolutely, 100 percent assured they are out to scam you, good and hard, which is an interesting metric of what so-called Christianity has been reduced to in many subsets of the American psyche. But in general, journalists and other neutral observers are not supposed to notice that wide swaths of society are, in fact, Not Good People. Even if there are entire churches or towns filled with them.
And so we instead get it explained to us in very neutral, analytical terms. Can’t very well take to the pages of the New York Times to explain that Trump voters are wife-beating fascists who admire Trump’s ability to build a golden tower for himself by cheating other people out of their money, but even in its most anodyne formulation the message is clear: Trump’s version of “family values” plays well to people who themselves have none.
Baffling as it may be to elites, Mr. Trump embodies a real if imperfect model of family values. People familiar with the purple family model tend to view his alienation from his children’s mother as normal and his closeness to his children as exceptional and admirable. I saw this among my acquaintances in Nebraska. Even those from red families were more likely than my acquaintances in New York to know someone who has had a child out of wedlock or is subject to a restraining order.
See there? By God, being a do-nothing father with no apparent love for his kids is the downright admirable way to raise a family. And who, among Trump’s base, has not had a restraining order slapped on them at some point in their lives? Oopsies have been made.
The only way Trump could connect with these fine upstanding voters any deeper than he has, I tell you, is to start a meth lab in his basement.
Yes, yes, this is all very rude—but strip the roundabout talk of religious denominations and average family incomes and the rest of the ancillary smoke tossed into the piece and you are left with the blunt notion that Trump’s supporters absolutely Do Not Care about his adultery, his misogyny, his lies, his crookedness, his racism, or the possibility that he committed treason against his nation in order to sit at the desk he now sits at. That is what they, themselves, will eagerly tell you.
And from a moral point of view, rather than a socioeconomic one, there’s no “but economic status” or “but particular sub-denomination of Jesus” that justifies that.
Plainly put: These are the hallmarks of terrible human beings. People who you would not trust with your children. People you would go out of your way to avoid, if you did care about honesty or family values. These are the people who press their mistresses for abortions but who also are not vexed by abortion-providing doctors being murdered in their Kansas churches; they are confederate flag-wavers in Union states, miffed that new civil rights laws a half century ago slighted their own ne’er-do-well families in some never-quite-describable way; these are people who are so obsessed with the thought that someone better is looking down on them that they are willing to punch whatever kittens need punching in order to prove they’re at least better at kitten-punching than the rest of you. The opioid epidemic is centered in Trump-supporting counties. The demand that brown-looking children be placed in detention camps for fear that a terrified 8-year-old might be a hardened gang leader is a phenomenon of Trump-Supporting counties. The insistence that Treason Might Be Good Now is peddled by Fox News celebrities to die-hard Trump supporters who will repeat and retweet it willing and eagerly; it was Trump supporters, Jesus-punchers every one, who gave Alabama crapsack Roy Moore their votes even after his exposure as a child molester—complete with Bible citations from “conservative” pastors arguing that Roy Moore trolling the malls for a child bride was, in fact, in fine Old Testament tradition.
There is an obsessive need, in our journalistic culture, to explain bad behavior away. Donald Trump is not an amoral cesspool of lies, he is merely engaging in a particular brand of political rhetoric that seeks to persuade via the creative denial of the world everyone else can see with their own two eyes—and it’s not for we keepers of the truth to judge. Donald Trump’s supporters are not themselves dismal human beings who have open contempt for anyone not in their own small tribe, people who are forever obsessed with harming every other tribe in every other way, regardless of how it is done or how many family values rules need to be broken to do it, but are waving their little rebel flags and demanding child internment camps because their economic anxiety has gotten their stomachs all a-knotted of late.
But the acts speak for themselves. Trump’s supporters do not care about his values, his lies, the means by which he achieves his ends, or whether or not he burns the Constitution in a barbecue pit so long as he can make them feel better about their own lot in life. This is not our construction, but their own; you need not look very far in any interview to find it. They are not good people. They are not good Americans, and their so-called morals are reptilian at best. We are allowed to say it.
You want to find good people, look for the people who are just as poor but care for others anyway, or who are under just as much economic stress but do not use it as excuse for cheating and stealing their way through it—or offering up eager praise for those that do. Good people don’t claim to have family values and then discard those values at the drop of a hat when a rich, shouting hatebag they saw on their television set tells them to ignore all that. Good people don’t soak themselves in transparent lies about immigrants or minorities, then declare everyone else to be “elites” arrayed against them in “elite”-minded conspiracy when some newspaper, somewhere, points out that those things were, in fact, cheap and tawdry lies.
The more we hear from Trump defenders, the more transparent it is that they are indeed, well, bad. It’s terribly rude to say, and the press cannot say it, but the rest of us can. If you still support Trump at this late date, you are a terrible human being. You should, in fact, feel bad about yourself.
Yes, the rest of us do indeed look down on these people. Those of us with actual family values do; those of us who care about honesty in government do; those of us who are not furious bulging-eyed racists do; those of us who believe thousands of years of scientific discoveries are worth more than the dribbling pronouncements of a street-corner charlatan do; those of us with actual religious convictions do; those of us who are actual patriots do.
And we’re not sorry. Get your act together, you losers. You voted for a two-bit conman you saw on a television show, and you did it because you either didn’t care, didn’t pay attention, or because you wanted to be conned good and hard. But that was then, this is now, and you are allowed to change your mind and remember all the things you supposedly believed in before this glowing orange lunatic arrived on the scene to Make Sleaze Great Again.
You want to be respected, then do something worthy of respect. It’s as simple as that.