We fully recognize the need to restore civil, respectful debate in the United States. Assaulting truth and bullying those with whom you disagree (especially those who defect from your tribe/party on grounds of principle) are ways of undermining democratic discourse. However, one does require two sides who are interested in civil, rational debate. Increasingly, we see evidence of a segment that is not only irrational, but proudly so.
CNN’s “New Day” captured the essence of this phenomenon in a focus group, the video of which has gone viral. A Trump voter panelist says: “If Jesus Christ gets down off the cross and told me Trump is with Russia, I would tell him, ‘Hold on a second. I need to check with the President if it’s true.’ ” One could point out that faith in a Great Leader is antithetical to democracy. One could point out that sacrificing one’s own judgment makes one a pawn, a stooge who enables erosion of our constitutional system. But all of that — by definition — would be lost on people who place Trump over their messiah. Try having a conversation about any policy topic — Russia, climate change, trade, immigration — and you’ll soon realize it’s futile.
Likewise, when aides, activists and staffers openly declare that a partisan vote is more important than a victim (or in the case of Roy Moore, lots of alleged victims), what’s the point of listening to them or giving them a platform? They’ve told you that truth, decency, facts and everything else take second place to the preservation of the cult/party/president. That’s Kellyanne Conway’s modus operandi now. She had this exchange on “Fox & Friends” (!) of all places:
After Conway spoke at length about the need to elect officials that are [copacetic] with a pro-growth, pro-tax-cut Republican agenda, co-host Brian Kilmeade asked: “So, vote for Roy Moore?”
Conway deflected by calling Doug Jones “an indoctrinate liberal,” leading Kilmeade to repeat his question.
“I’m telling you that we want the votes in the Senate to get this tax bill through,” Conway replied, before bringing up Sen. Al Franken’s allegations of sexual misconduct.
(Reminder: Conway said just last week, with regards to the Moore allegations, “that there is no Senate seat worth more than a child.”)
At some point, some segment of Trump’s voters became so intellectually or morally corrupt as to become cultist. Hillary Clinton called them “deplorables” — and then took a beating for casting millions of Americans as racist. It’s time, I would suggest, to accept an unpleasant reality — there are some Americans who are not operating in good faith and are unreachable by logic or appeals to decency. How many of President Trump’s supporters fall into that category? We don’t know. But one comes to the conclusion that a good deal of the jaw-dropping spin that comes from Trump, his press secretary, his aides and the Fox News sycophants is designed to give this group of cultists something — anything to say — when confronted with reality. It need not be true, rational, decent or consistent. It’s filler for them to use, akin to putting their fingers in their ears and humming, when confronted by reality-based Americans or real news. We shouldn’t be surprised that Trump’s base has not abandoned him; people who look to him rather than their religious messiah are not going to change their minds based on real-world events.
What do we do about such folk? Well, first we shouldn’t assume that all Trump supporters are beyond reason. Continuing to make factual, honest arguments may over time wean some voters (who have not already abandoned Trump) off their Trump addiction. However, it’s also time to remember that democracy requires in most cases a majority, not unanimity. It behooves the rest of the electorate to continue to discuss and debate rationally and civilly and to turn out in sufficient numbers as to dwarf the cultist vote.
Awareness of the irrational part of the electorate does not diminish the value of democracy; it rather requires that people of good will who retain rationality become that much more active in the democratic process. Sometimes you just have to win the vote and then the argument.