Reason eludes Trump’s base

If I’m not mistaken, I have put my disdain for Donald Trump in words only a couple of times since the 2016 election. The last time I attacked the POTUS was in June.

I admit I have made a few disparaging comments about his style of governing and perhaps even his hair from time to time, but I have tried to take the advice of those who disagree with my opinions of the man and leave him alone for a year and watch him make America great again.

Just give him a chance, those who disagree with me said, and I would understand. Heck, one reader took the time to handwrite a letter to me—though, of course, the author didn’t have the courage to sign his or her name, so I couldn’t even engage him or her in polite discourse. The note informed me that even some of my own family members don’t agree with my opinions. I still exchanged Christmas gifts with them.

The list of Trump moves I have opposed is so lengthy I would need a series of columns just to catalog it. But, one thing I have learned in the first 12 months of his reign is that there is no point attempting to reason with his diehard base.

In their opinions, all negative news is fake news. Even when his Tweets show he is clearly unstable, they claim he is just being Trump, just doing what the people elected him to do.

I have sought to understand them, especially those who proclaim to be Chris­tians. So far, I have seen nothing that resembles the basic tenets of Christianity in the motives or actions of our nation’s leader. In fact, I suggest they are quite the opposite. I have remained puzzled by his appeal.

Then, a few weeks ago, I came across an editorial piece by Neal Gabler, an award-winning author, on the website of esteemed journalist Bill Moyers. Gabler was finally able to articulate for me the rise of such an improbable and, as he points out, dangerous world leader.

“Trump isn’t just a politician with whom one may disagree,” Gabler writes. “Indeed, Trump really has very little interest in politics, none in policy, and no respect whatsoever for the political process, which he ridicules at every turn as ‘rigged.’

“Instead, Trump, like other creators of a cult of personality, is a self-proclaimed savior, who promises his supporters redemption. In a certain sense, he is right. Trump’s is a cosmology of an Amer­ica—a world, gone wrong—an America decayed by changing values purveyed by nonwhites, non-Christians and nonmales. He tells his supporters he will make it right. They believe him. And they will not be dissuaded. In Trump they trust.”

The key word in this statement is “cosmology,” defined as “study of the universe.” And, the universe inhabited by Trump and his followers is a dangerous one indeed. Gable equates the election to a second civil war.

“By that perspective, just as the first Civil War was the last gasp of slavery, this second is very likely the last gasp of aging white Ameri­cans—their full-throated death rattle against an America that they detest for having changed so dramatically the traditions and power structures by which those whites had lived,” Gable explains. “Trump voiced them and validated them, making racism, nativism and sexism acceptable. It will be his primary legacy.

“One of the most important shifts in our culture has been the transformation of politics into a kind of civic religion. True religion, I believe, begins in doubt and continues in spiritual exploration. Debased religion begins in fear and terminates in certainty. Modern conservatism, like debased religion, has an explanation for everything, and there is nothing mysterious or spiritual about it.

“Trump understood the desire for some all-encompassing answer, as demagogues always do. Demagogues assume the proportions of religious leaders, but without the moral instruction. Through a process of simplification, they purport to tell their followers what happened and who is responsible. In short, they provide cosmology, not for the purpose of enlightenment, but for the opposite—benightedness.”

There is much more to Gable’s column, numerous points to clarify his position, but I am sure they would likely fall on the deaf ears of those who still believe Trump cares about commoners. My take from Gable’s writing is that we live in an era when politics is becoming a religion, and that explains a lot.

Gable writes that Trump’s staunchest supporters should not be ignored, however.

“Quite the opposite,” he says. “It is an imperative that they be heard and understood. They are not all racists, nativists, sexists, homophobes and Islamophobes, but a healthy percentage are, and I think it’s probably a fool’s mission to attempt to change their minds. They are not going to convert.”

Though Gable has a decidedly dark view of the near future in America, he does offer a kind of hope.

“We talk a lot about grass-roots politics,” he writes. “We need to talk as well about grass-roots morality. Put simply: If you want to defeat Trump where it really counts, live ethically. The rest will follow. As Martin Luther King memorably said, paraphrasing Theodore Parker, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’

“Here is hope. Even if 40 percent of Americans have gone to the dark side, there are still so many people who are good and decent and self-sacrificing and who will continue to fight for a just society. I think we must keep the faith…as fellow human beings searching for our best selves.”


Bob Woelk teaches English and journalism at Hillsboro High School.