Going full Trumpistan by @BloggersRUs

Going full Trumpistan

by Tom Sullivan

Being persecuted "for Jesus" is a way to win brownie points not only with the Big Guy, but with fellow members of your church. Living near Bob Jones University decades ago, one noticed how conservative southern Christians at once both dominated local culture and politics and yet felt beset on all sides by the powers of darkness. Screaming at passersby they were going to hell was a sign of piety. Receiving scorn for behaving like a jerk bestowed bragging rights the way a lefty might recount for years the time at that protest he was shoved by a cop. "HELP! HELP! I'm being repressed!" is core to the brand.

Globalization has reduced the Christian right's political and cultural dominance. That simply makes them feel even more persecuted for their righteousness. So too with conservatism as a broader social movement.

Ryan Cooper writes that besides being an effective distraction from Republicans padding the pockets of the wealthy, going "all-in on culture war, bigotry, enraged nationalism, and bug-eyed conspiracy theories" keeps their base from noticing they have "nothing concrete whatsoever to offer most of their voters." Serving up red meat gets the job done:

Now, this tactic should not be underestimated. For instance, in terms of uniting the Republican base, the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court has proved successful precisely because of his multiple sexual assault allegations and his snarling partisan testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Infuriating liberals by nominating a beer-swilling Republican hack operative and accused sexual predator allows conservatives to experience their very favorite thing: marinating in victimhood.

Nothing unites conservatives better like whipping themselves into a red froth of rage over perceived liberal persecution — and there's no better way to do it than standing proudly behind a genuinely horrible person. "I didn't like Nixon until Watergate," as conservative writer Stan Evans once said. Even Bret Stephens, the New York Times' hand-picked Never Trump conservative, went full MAGA over Kavanaugh.

Faced with a looming blue wave, Republicans led by Donald Trump have created a liberal "mob" as this season's oppressor.

Jonathan Chait believes (as I do) that confronting high-ranking Republicans in restaurants is not effective political action. Nor is spot violence by "a tiny handful of revolutionary cosplayers" among antifa. But the angry mobs of Trump's imagination provide the conservative base a handy persecutor du jour and a motivating distraction from its own darker tendencies:

Susan Glasser, a seasoned and politically centrist reporter, observed six recent Trump rallies. She notes the cult of personality theme at the events, which feature “the kinds of tributes I have heard in places like Uzbekistan, but never before in America.” And while she allows that Trump is hardly new in making hyperbolic charges that his center-left opponents will usher in socialism, the fear of chaos he marshalls behind such warnings is novel: “Where Trump differs starkly is in his insistence — made at an increasingly high pitch as the week went on — that Democrats not only want to legislate their way to socialism but that they are an actual clear and present danger to Americans.”

The method on display is familiar if you study any historical episode of democratic backsliding. One party, either from the far left or the far right, sets out to attack and weaken democratic norms. The small-d democrats resist, trying to maintain democratic norms. But they’re fighting at a disadvantage against a ruthless foe that does not observe their limits, and at least some of the opposition undertakes a more drastic action. Any offense becomes a pretext for the authoritarians, who exaggerate the threat of violence and chaos by their enemies to justify the antidemocratic measures they were planning all along.

The strength of democratic institutions and Trump's ineptness as an autocrat have prevented America from going full Trumpistan. So far.

Glasser writes that ignoring the amped-up victimization Trump is selling misses how dangerous it really is:

It’s the hate, and the sense of actual menace that the President is trying to convey to his supporters. Democrats aren’t just wrong in the manner of traditional partisan differences; they are scary, bad, evil, radical, dangerous. Trump and Trump alone stands between his audiences and disaster.
Our votes stand between democratic republic and Trumpistan.

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