Donald Trump unmasked: Culture-war nihilism is his last line of defense
Pushing back against mask-wearing is nonsensical — but Trumpian politics have never been driven by logic
Heather Digby Parton | Salon
I don’t think there’s ever been a U.S. president with more influence with his political base that Donald Trump. All presidents are defended by those who support them, of course. Even the most unpopular failures have diehard fans who stick with them to the bitter end.
But Trump is unusual in that he has only ever attempted to govern on behalf of the people who support him and has no feeling of responsibility toward any other citizens. He has taken the already polarized Republican Party and turned it into a cult of personality. His influence over the 40 to 45% of the population who seem to idolize him is immense.
Perhaps it’s because Trump was a celebrity with a TV show long before he entered politics that makes his fans love him so unconditionally. Whatever it is, Trump and his supporters have an unusually personal and almost intimate bond. It’s clear after three and a half tumultuous years that they will follow his lead no matter what.
The political implications of this are profound. This weird relationship between president and base now completely dominates the Republican Party, apparently making it impossible for any prominent national figure in the party to allow even the smallest daylight between himself or herself and Trump. (Frankly, very few even seem to be trying.)
The red MAGA hat serves as an official symbol of Trump loyalty, and there is a certain part of his following that uses it as a tool of intimidation. Even more disturbing, there has been a spate of mass shootings and other acts of violence by people who have named Trump or his ideas as motivation.
In order to maintain his supporters’ devotion, Trump has stoked the culture wars at every turn, ruthlessly dividing the country in order to keep his fans engaged. They receive such hypocritical gestures of solidarity as his newfound “pro-life” zealotry with enthusiastic gratitude — but what they really love are his brutal assaults on those they consider their political and cultural enemies. In that, Trump and his base are one.
So it should come as no surprise that when Trump faced the first crisis of his presidency that was not of his own making — and failed to meet the challenge — he would reflexively fall back on culture-war tactics to reinforce his base. His response to the COVID-19 pandemic has been abysmal, with the death toll now over 100,000 and the economy in dire straits. After bungling the response so badly that it will be studied by historians for centuries as an example of poor leadership, Trump is returning to his original instinct, which was simply to deny that the whole thing mattered, or was even happening.
His supporters have eagerly followed his lead, defying public health guidelines and demanding that their governors “reopen” immediately (or in Trump’s own words of incitement, that they “liberate” their states.) Trump clearly believes that he can wish away the virus — or at least people’s concern about the virus — by pretending that the crisis is over and that we can go back to normal.
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