There’s an undignified, unbecoming glee to the way the mainstream media has been covering the, what… “allegations”?—is that what we’re supposed to call them?—that Trump called those who serve in the military “losers” and “suckers.” I mean, of course he did. The Atlantic’s story about his casual disgust for wounded veterans and the very concept of national service wasn’t a scoop, it’s barely even news. Trump’s apparent slander of American men and women in uniform, once it had been uncermoniously shoved into the meat grinder of the political news cycle, became yet another hamberder of outrage for anodyne cable news anchors to munch over. Blandly offering their smug hosannas to The Troops, they chittered with undisguised pleasure over whether this would prove, at last, the moment Trump Went Too Far.
To assume that the typical Trump supporter really even gives a fuck about what Trump did or didn’t say about fallen soldiers or military service is to mistake the reason so many right-wing racists play-act at patriotism to begin with. They support only their version of “American ideals,” and think that their version should, yes, be defended with as much violence and power as necessary. Just ask Kyle Rittenhouse.
But Trump doesn’t have a Too Far, and the journalists hoping to discover the point at which his base will “abandon” him have themselves become a worn-out punchline. You might think of Charlie Brown and the football, but there’s no Lucy and no football. Trump isn’t offering an opportunity to take him down and then yanking it away—our Charlie Brown media is just haplessly wandering around an empty field, kicking at the air, falling on its ass, and then getting up and doing the same thing again, and again, and again.
They’re suffering from a collective delusion that Trump can be “taken down,” as if what his supporters are attracted to were a character trait, or a policy—one of those discrete attributes that a politician, in the Before Times, could be held accountable for. Perhaps a quality or position supported by evidence or proved false by evidence or maybe just drawn into question.
What Trump’s supporters love about him isn’t a thing about him at all, it’s merely the thing he gives them permission to do: the racism. When I think about how much time white people wasted in the past five years arguing about whether “Trump supporters are racist,” now that he’s openly promoting vigilantism against Black Lives Matter protesters, well, maybe we can add it to the reparations tab.
You know what might cause Trump supporters to rethink their allegiance to him? If Trump stepped to the podium in the briefing tomorrow and announced he would be supporting reparations!—if he said he’d decided that abolishing the police was a good idea, and that we should have open borders and universal basic income. Trump could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose a single vote, but if he said the police should stop shooting black people, he’d lose everything.
And then some loathsome new avatar for white supremacy would slither forth. If we were lucky, it’d be someone even more grotesque and conventionally uncouth: An audibly farting, lobster-hued, thick-fingered nincompoop with an even longer tie, even more absurd hair, even less capable of constructing a sentence that gets from here to there, free of garbled words and obvious fantasies. Journalists would titter in the customary way at his faux pas, and sometimes press at his empty arguments and authoritarian postures.
If we were to be less fortunate, it’d be Tom Cotton, or Charlie Kirk, or even Nikki Haley — or some other fake intellectual with conventional credentials and a normal affect but a blind lust for power where their actual brains and moral compass should be. Those sorts of people have always been just as willing to harness hatred in pursuit of their goals—remember, oh, I don’t know, George W. Bush? Elected on the back of a homophobic troll about the Defense of Marriage Act, responsible for the most extravagantly senseless humanitarian catastrophe of the modern era and… painter of dogs? Dispenser of breath mints? Dick Cheney wears a mask, you say? Welcome to the #resistance! Our standard for decency has come to embrace anyone willing to object to our calamitous glissade into a failed state.
I don’t begrudge the Never Trump converts a chance to redeem themselves; what I’m concerned about is our ability to remember the atrocities that came to us wrapped in language that conformed to “norms.” Not every would-be authoritarian announces their intentions. Not every war criminal displays such audacious disregard for the souls under his command. People talk a lot about the dystopian possibilities of what the Republican Party looks like “after Trump,” but wouldn’t the most terrifying version of that future mean that the GOP looks exactly like it did before?