The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Have Trump voters come down with a serious case of Snowflake Syndrome?

Former president Donald Trump at a rally in Florida. (Jason Behnken/AP)

To hear some pundits and Republicans tell it, millions of people across the country who voted for Donald Trump are suffering from an affliction that you might call “Snowflake Syndrome.”

On numerous fronts in our politics — from voting rights to covid-19 to the legacy of Jan. 6 — we’re being told these voters are afflicted with a deeply fragile belief system that must be carefully ministered to and humored to an extraordinary degree.

We must pass voting restrictions everywhere to assuage these voters’ “belief” that the 2020 election was highly dubious or fraudulent. We must not argue too aggressively for coronavirus vaccines, lest they feel shamed and retreat into their anti-vax epistemological shells.

And we must allow Republicans to appoint some of the most deranged promoters of the stolen election myth to a committee examining the insurrection so they’ll feel like its findings are credible.

To be clear, showing empathy with voters on the other side is of course something we should generally strive for. And there are surely ways to appeal to voters with doubts about 2020 or vaccines that are more constructive than others.

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But in many ways, this story line is deeply insulting to those voters themselves and is being abused for all manner of bad-faith purposes. Several new developments underscore this perfectly.

Trickery in Texas

In Texas, Republican state legislators are pushing a new bill to require an audit of the 2020 results, one conducted by a third party appointed by top Republicans.

But tellingly, as The Post reports, the audit would be required only for the largest counties — virtually all of which backed President Biden.

This is being justified by the notion that Republican voters no longer “believe in their election system,” as its chief sponsor, Republican state Rep. Steve Toth, put it.

But why audit just in larger counties? Behold this remarkable answer:

While Toth said he would support a statewide effort, he also argued the undertaking would be too expensive and time-consuming. Asked if he would consider including some smaller counties, Toth replied, “What’s the point? I mean, all the small counties are red.”

Republican voters don’t lack confidence in the system in counties they won; they lack it only in counties populated by a lot of Democratic voters. So let’s focus on auditing those!

This represents a particularly egregious abuse of the “GOP voters lack confidence” malarkey, but it’s everywhere. It’s used to justify sham audits in Arizona and in Georgia, and voter suppression in many other states.

To be sure, one can envision worthwhile compromises that combine expanded voting protections with a form of national voter ID. And it’s plausible the latter could inspire some confidence among Republican voters not wholly captive to Trump’s lies about 2020.

But broadly speaking, this “confidence” story line is bad-faith nonsense: It’s being widely abused to keep alive the myth of the stolen election and to justify an unprecedented wave of efforts to disenfranchise the opposition’s voters. It is not designed to build confidence in our elections, but to further undermine it, for illicit purposes.

Vaccine hesitancy

Meanwhile, as tens of millions of Americans remain unvaccinated and covid-19 surges in unvaccinated regions, some GOP lawmakers are getting a bit more vocal in urging vaccinations.

But many are also floating a destructive Snowflake Syndrome story line as well: the notion that vaccine hesitancy in red states is a reaction to how Democrats are talking about vaccines, a claim freighted with all manner of ridiculous hyperbole.

To wit: Some Republicans insist Trump voters will not shed vaccine hesitancy until Democrats give Trump more credit for originally launching the vaccine program.

Others posit, as one GOP senator did, that every time Anthony S. Fauci, the government’s top epidemiologist, urges vaccinations, “10,000 more people say I’m never going to take the vaccine.” Still others insist the hesitant are alienated by President Biden’s “language” about taking vaccines “door to door.”

But even if true, this would be due largely to Republican and right-wing absurdities — the ridiculous, over-the-top attacks on Fauci, and the lying about administration “Needle Nazis” and vaccines being a slippery slope to Bible confiscation.

The point, however, is that all this messaging risks being counterproductive. Whether by accident or design, it continues to communicate that the hesitant cannot trust the federal government on vaccines.

It is surely true, as some argue, that the hesitant have complicated motives beyond thraldom to QAnon-grade conspiracy theories and Fox News-inspired Fauci derangement. Perhaps cautious rhetorical and communications strategies can more effectively reach them.

But it’s also true that bad-faith actors are abusing these story lines for nefarious purposes. And as Aaron Sibarium suggests, it would do the hesitant a favor to candidly tell them calls for vaccination are not a threat to freedom in any way. You don’t often hear Republicans saying this, however.

Enough with Snowflake Syndrome already

It’s fine and good to insist on and search for ways to be empathetic and more communicative with the other side. But we need a limiting principle here. This requires forthrightly grappling with the true motives of these bad actors, and with the constraints on how far good-faith persuasion can get in a right-wing information environment that they are polluting daily.

Many Republicans are airing concerns about “voter confidence” to justify further efforts to suppress votes and undermine that confidence. Many demanding understanding of vaccine hesitancy are working to inculcate further vaccine distrust.

And those calling for Trump-sympathetic GOP lawmakers on the Jan. 6 committee hope to corrupt the investigation with bad-faith lies, not to ensure that Trump voters have faith in its findings.

So enough with the bogus Snowflake Syndrome narratives already. It’s a tired act — not to mention a transparently disingenuous and even dangerous one.