The Danger More Dire Than Trump

When I wrote my last piece about Trump a year ago (Flailing In the Thrall of An Incoherent Haze),  I vowed to myself that it would be just that—my last piece about Trump. I have kept, and I intend to continue to keep, that vow, not because he’s no longer a menace, but because the threat he poses, the damage he’s doing, the ghastliness he embodies, are so ever-present—so damned obvious—that to continue to write about him would seem as constructive as writing about the wetness of water.

Steadily, though, over the course of the past year—as one after another of Trump’s outrageous assaults on American institutions, values, norms, and laws have served to threaten (if they’ve not already fractured) the foundation of our republic—I’ve been drawn to the conclusion that a different actor in this drama is playing an even more pernicious role.

That actor, albeit a collective one, is us. We, the People, are the danger more dire than Trump.

Granted, the majority of us who voted in the last presidential election voted for someone else. And an overwhelming majority of us—sixty percent, if most of the polling is accurate—has consistently and continuously disapproved of Trump as president, and for good, patriotic, unassailably American reasons: his coddling of white supremacists, his affinity for dictators, his insulting of foreign allies, his attacks on the judiciary, his contempt for the rule of law, his encouragement of police brutality, his lambasting of our intelligence services, his disdain for the First Amendment, his abuse of women, and on and on, all layered on top of his obvious cooperation with foreign agents and adversaries, his obvious obstruction of justice, his obvious use of his position for personal financial gain, his obvious personality disorders, and his blatant, incessant, pathological middle finger to truth.

Still, notwithstanding all of this, roughly forty percent of Americans—a minority of us, yes, but a minority large enough to make a difference in fractious elections—steadfastly maintain support for such a president. How can this be? Who are the forty percent that support a politician whose thoughts, words, and actions are so flagrantly antithetical to basic American values? Or, more particularly—since that forty percent is still forty percent of us—shouldn’t the question more accurately be pared down simply to: Who are we?

To be sure, some within that forty percent are racists, nativists, sexists, neo-fascists, or some other breed of angry, hateful malcontent. Such has always been a feature of the sordid underbelly to our body politic, and likely always will be—anyone tethered to reality and possessed of a basic understanding of American history knows this to be sad but true.  But do such people actually comprise the full forty percent of Americans who support this president? Or, stated another way, do all of Trump’s supporters belong to some stream of hate-mongering?

I’m guessing probably not, because notwithstanding the many eras in which bigotry and prejudice infected vast strata of American society, the arc of our national social dynamic has, for the past half-a-century, turned slowly but somewhat consistently toward tolerance and inclusion.  And if I’m right—if I’m right that not all of the forty percent are bigots and haters—well, therein lies the more pernicious danger. Because while Trump’s appeal to the racists, nativists, and other haters is both understandable and irresistible—he speaks for them, he identifies with them, he is one of them—the haters alone (again, if I’m right about the numbers) are not plentiful enough to sustain our country’s current flirtation with Trump’s brutish tenure.

But if not all of Trump’s supporters are bigots, then the tacit acceptance of his malevolence and malignant narcissism by the less hatefully inclined portion of the forty percent (whatever the alternate and various rationales might be for their support) suggests that among those other Trump supporters there exists a startlingly dangerous level of ignorance about, if not downright indifference to, the ideals and values that Trump is daily assaulting, ideals and values that have propelled our free society progressively forward for more than two centuries (such as encouraging First Amendment rights, acknowledging the importance of immigrants within the fabric of our American quilt, adhering to the notion that no man or woman should be above the law, respecting the value in diversity, admonishing the evils of discrimination and inequity, holding sacrosanct the concepts of truth and justice). And if this doesn’t change—if we cannot, with respect to those of us within this segment of the forty percent, figure out a way to reverse the ignorance, stem the indifference, and restore not merely an awareness of, but an appreciation for, the ideals, values, duties, and privileges inherent in basic American civics—then we, all of us, collectively, as a society, risk succumbing even more deeply, perhaps irreversibly, to the hateful, destructive, anti-Constitutional whims of our deeply disturbed president.

I vowed to myself a year ago not to write any more about Trump, and I maintain that I’ve kept that vow. While I concede that he serves as the backdrop for this piece—a vivid and looming backdrop, to be sure—the principal theme of this post is us. Our Constitution begins with the word, “We.” It codifies our primacy in the creation and governing of this idealistic republic, and it requires, by implication if not explicitly, that we, the people, protect that republic.  Whether we, the people of today’s America, can coalesce enough (and in enough time) to ensure the legitimate, unfettered continuation of our freedom-loving constitutional republic is a matter of existential significance.

That such is even in question is prompted by the destructiveness of Trump. That we don’t yet know the answer speaks to the danger currently posed by us.

~~Kenn Shapiro

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