Trump, Code, and Why I Need You to Read Those Comments

There are a handful of tweets and memes being passed around right now about how Donald Trump, gleeful fascist and leading GOP presidential candidate, is an internet comments section come to life. They’re missing something important.

There are a handful of analyses of Trump’s polling numbers (most notably one by Nate Silver) being passed around right now, purporting to show that Trump can’t become the GOP candidate, much less our next president. They are also missing something important.

This is not a time for missing things.

Paul Fidalgo has a new post that captures something very important.

Jeb, Cruz, Rubio, they all like to contrast themselves with Trump to show themselves as somehow above his demagoguery. But be it on this issue, or on many, many others such as women’s rights, LGBT rights, and even acceptance of scientific facts of existential importance, when it comes to what they themselves say they believe, they are all Trumps. They just suck at it.

There is another meme floating around. I’ve only seen it once or twice. It shows another GOP candidate (Cruz?) leaning in to whisper in Trump’s ear. “You weren’t supposed to say that out loud.”

Saying these things isn’t the problem. Believing these things is the problem. Being comfortable in those beliefs is the problem. Being willing to act on them is the problem.

Not understanding the scope of the problem is also a problem.

This is one of the reasons I cringe when people are proud they don’t read internet comments. I know, that puts me firmly in the minority among educated online folk. Still, I read the comments. I psych myself up for it. I sample only. I give myself breaks. But I read the comments.

If more educated, savvy people read the comments, maybe I wouldn’t have to explain this right now.

Trump is not a comments section. Trump is one very small sliver of a comments section. He’s the part of a comments section most likely to be moderated, because no, he doesn’t meet broad community standards, but he’s still there, skirting the edges when he’s forced to. He’s easy to spot, easy to mock.

That big, terrifying chunk of the comments section doesn’t look like Trump. In fact, it often rejects the Trump proxies. Those people are “crude” and “not classy”.

But that’s all about the surface. These people don’t oppose Trump. They just don’t want to be put into the same group by other people because Trump  and the people who talk like him are vulgar, and that isn’t how they see themselves.

Most importantly, they agree with Trump.

If you spend much time in comments sections, you’ve watched people desperately flail to say the same things Trump and his outright supporters say without allowing anyone around them to state their position in plain words.

“I’m not X, but….”

“I just think we need to consider the uncomfortable truth that….”

“Look, I hate to be the one to say it, but everybody knows….”

“I’m not saying it’s true, but hypothetically….”

“I’m just playing devil’s advocate here, but….”

“Shouldn’t we be open to free inquiry and debate about all issues?”

For every Trump proxy, there are a half dozen of these, more if there isn’t a robust community continually pouring sunshine on statements like those. Same beliefs. Same positions, or at least the same conviction that something must be done, even if they won’t specify what.

They may not support Trump politically at the moment, but it’s mostly because they really wish he’d act more like a secure rich white man instead of an insecure one. With less buffoonery, a touch more polish, a wee bit more deniability, they’d be there.

That’s what stands between us and a Trump nomination. It isn’t a lot. It’s not nearly enough to be comfortable about.

It’s even less comfort in times of stress. And let’s be very honest here: We live in a time of extreme stress. The economy has been allowed to reach a point where any disruption could mean catastrophe for most of us. We’re having to face how vulnerable our attachment to guns has left us to terrorism even as we’ve allowed ourselves to become a security state. Black Lives Matter is challenging our conceptions of who we are as a country in necessary but disruptive ways. Other social movements are having lesser but similar effects. We haven’t even figured out how to begin to grapple with climate change.

We are a nation in crisis. Crisis can be a catalyst for positive change, and I want desperately to believe it will be now. All too often, however, crises result in people taking comfort in reactionary, scapegoating politics. Always, crises are vulnerable to the influence of current events.

I don’t know what will happen tomorrow or the day after or any day between now and the next big political event. I do know that some of those events will make some people reach out for anyone claiming to be strong, claiming to protect them, no matter how absurd those promises, no matter how big the buffoon behind them. I don’t know how many people that is. I don’t know whether it could be enough to turn us into one of those nations history warns us about. I know it could be. I know those people are out there.

The problem is not just Trump and the people willing to support him now. They are a problem. They are not the problem. They only look like the problem if you stand up high instead of digging down into who we are and who we’re willing to be given the right cover or the wrong impetus.

We need to dig. We need to look. And we need to figure out what we’re going to do about the entire problem, not just the little bit that makes it above the fold.

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Trump, Code, and Why I Need You to Read Those Comments
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11 thoughts on “Trump, Code, and Why I Need You to Read Those Comments

  1. 1

    Excellent points.
    An awful lot of people certainly do seem to share Trump’s views, just not his style, and angry they can’t say the same things in a more reasonable-sounding tone and be treated as serious and reasonable.

  2. 2

    I don’t see anything that will stop Trump from getting the nomination at this point. While it’s true that other outsiders like Gingrich were ahead at this point in the nomination in previous elections, that was mostly when people weren’t paying much attention. Trump has made sure that he’s gotten plenty of attention — it’s not as if anything new will come to light about him at this point that will change peoples’ minds.

    If he does get nominated, that could make this the most important election in our lifetime. I’m not positive that he’ll end up as a fascist — his relationship with the truth is so sketchy that I doubt he’d feel bound by any of his campaign promises if elected — but I can’t be sure he won’t, either.

    I do know a handful of Republicans who aren’t driven by the hate and fear he’s selling, though. My greatest hope is that they’ll bolt and form a third party, not able to vote for either Clinton or Trump. Maybe Jim Webb could try to rebuild the center in American Politics. I doubt they’d win, but they might destroy the Republican Party as it currently exists, and that would obviously be a great boon for the country.

  3. 4

    I see Trump’s popularity as something external to him — he’s riding an upswelling of fascist racism not of his own doing. There’s a political will toward fascism right now. He’s the only candidate willing to give it full-throated support. Everyone else knows there’s a line they can’t cross, though, no matter how identical they are to him in policy, so they can’t directly benefit the way he has.

  4. 5

    Maybe Jim Webb could try to rebuild the center in American Politics. – [email protected]

    So, you’re hoping Webb will form a breakaway to the left from the Democratic Party? That’s the only way I can make sense of your comment, since the USA currently has a party of the right – fully committed to the oligarchy, and to the maintenance of global hegemony – and a party of the far, proto-fascist right (and the “proto” is hardly needed any more). But a real centrist, like Bernie Sanders, would probably be a better bet.

  5. 6

    We live in a time of extreme stress. The economy has been allowed to reach a point where any disruption could mean catastrophe for most of us. We’re having to face how vulnerable our attachment to guns has left us to terrorism even as we’ve allowed ourselves to become a security state. Black Lives Matter is challenging our conceptions of who we are as a country in necessary but disruptive ways.

    I’m not American, or living in the USA, but I find the rise of the far right there puzzling. In the 1930s, fascism (in Europe, South America, and as far as it became a factor there, in the USA) arose as a response to stress that was far more extreme: the economic crises of the immediate post-WWI years, then on a larger scale after the Wall Street crash; and the apparent threat to the ruling class from Communism. While climate change is a truly terrible danger, it is not an immediate one for the USA; and while the economy is certainly unstable, because nothing has been done to remove the causes of the financial crash of 2007-8, the Obama years have seen a sustained fall in unemployment, a sustained rise in share values (hence in pension accounts), and the introduction of Obamacare, reducing although far from eliminating household economic vulnerability to sickness. Europe is at present much more troubled economically, considerably more threatened by Islamist terrorism, and the destination of far more Muslim* refugees and migrants – simply because it is closer to the places they are trying to leave: so the rise of far-right parties there is more readily understandable. Moreover, Muslim communities in the USA are far better integrated than those in Europe. There is very little in the way of political threats to the dominant oligarchy in the USA – yet it is members of that oligarchy who have created the Frankensteinian monster that now makes full-on American fascism – “wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross” (h/t Sinclair Lewis) – a real possibility. Why?

    *Or of course, people “who look as if they could conceivably be Muslim” (h/t Sam Harris). Of course many “Hispanic” people want to come to the USA from Latin America – but that is nothing new; and since there is a real terrorist threat from Islamist jihadis, the hostility to Muslims as a whole is explicable, even though unjustified and repugnant.

  6. 7

    There is another meme floating around. I’ve only seen it once or twice. It shows another GOP candidate (Cruz?) leaning in to whisper in Trump’s ear. “You weren’t supposed to say that out loud.”

    Saying these things isn’t the problem. Believing these things is the problem. Being comfortable in those beliefs is the problem. Being willing to act on them is the problem.

    I always thought that the “quiet parts loud” quip (dating back to The Simpsons, I think?) was a less vulgar reworking of Atwater’s explanation for how race-baiting had to become coded. I don’t know that anyone’s arguing that it’s the other way around, that if we stop using or accepting pejoratives, the racism from which those pejoratives emanate will take care of itself. You can’t starve racism of oxygen like you would a fire; it’s there to be said and heard whether the coding is in use and racists learn to self-edit or whether (cf Romney’s “blah” people) somebody stumbles and accidentally says the explicit thing that, for the sake of plausible deniability and in a political climate (although, not lately) where such things are campaign-killers, they were trying very carefully to strongly imply.

    The joke acknowledges that “fiscal” conservatives, xenophobes, and the self-styled moral majority know exactly what they’re doing when they put a folksy, populist spin on bigotry, or when they handwave away as coincidence the obvious implications of voter ID laws, for example. I don’t even think we have to decide whether Cruz, Trump, Rubio, or Carson believe the craven shit they’re spewing, because the belief is irrelevant and their sincerity in doubt. They’re capitalizing on hatred because they think it’ll get them votes (from people they probably look down upon as backwards yokels, not caring a fig that it’s rhetoric like theirs that is indoctrinating people in the first place and emboldening fringe Tea Partiers in the House to oust leaders who won’t defund the government or hold the country hostage until their demands are meant).

  7. 8

    Nick, crises that are at least in part identity crises happen relative to who you think you are and who you think everyone else is, not relative to the grand scheme of history.

  8. 9

    Stephanie [email protected],
    A reasonable point, but identity crises have to come from somewhere! What would you say were the roots of the current American identity crisis, if that’s what it is? The end of the Cold War, which had a simple Good Guys/Bad Guys narrative, with the USA (and its chief executive) starring as “Leader of the Free World”? The decline of the expectation that your children’s lives will be better than yours? The shock of discovering, on 9/11, that the USA is not invulnerable to attack? Demographic change? The internet? From an outsider’s viewpoint, American predominance in political, economic, military, scientific, technological and popular cultural spheres remains an unavoidable fact of life; so does our own long-term decline relative to the USA, for many countries including my own (the UK) – why are our national identity crises not a good deal worse than yours?

  9. 10

    Nick [email protected],

    As an American, I’d tentatively suggest that the end of WW2 left European countries in ruins, with their overseas empires crumbling to pieces. As a result, they’ve had two or three generations to come to terms with a “humbler” role in world affairs.

    By contrast, growing up in the 80s and 90s, I was surrounded by messages that amounted to “American superiority won the Cold War, and we stand alone as the best and brightest nation in the world!’ The name “Osama bin Laden” was mentioned as nothing more than a footnote as I was heading off to college in 1998; cruise missile strikes against terrorist training camps being run by his organization were regarded as attempts to “wag the dog” and distract everyone from Bill Clinton’s ongoing impeachment proceedings. A few years later, during the start of my senior year, 9/11 happened, and it was like the world had ended. The horror of the day aside, the even deeper horror was that we could be attacked in such a way at all.

    We’ve gone from being superman to feeling like we’re the biggest target. We’re still, very unevenly, adjusting to that fact.

  10. 11

    @9 and @10

    Here’s how I look at it

    The US has always lived inside it’s own bubble or at least it’s done its damndest to. Every country has some isolationist tendency but in the US it defined political attitudes for over a century and to this day is broadly appealing regardless of what side of the isle you sit on. That goes hand in hand with how we portray and relate history. The only thinkers worth looking at are American thinkers and it’s more important, in many districts, to know more about local state history than global politics. So for all intents and purposes the World is the US to most Americans.

    Europe has never been able to do that for long. Europe’s most ancient cultures, that it constantly tried to call back to throughout the Romanesque period and Renaissance, were Mediterranean cultures with closer ties to Africa and Asia than anything in Northern Europe. Any given century the languages of the aristocracy or nobility would shift as other nations grew in prestige. Bishops kept looking over their shoulder to see what great monuments other bishops were erecting. Pilgrammage routes had the pious travelling throughout neighboring lands to visit the remains of saints. And the Crusades had knights meeting, dealing with, and learning from the Muslim empires that didn’t leave Europe’s doorstep until the last hundred years.

    Americans vacation to other parts of America. Americans resent learning new languages in high school and forget them once they get their C-. Americans don’t think it’s possible to learn from other cultures, the American way of doing things is the best.

    Europeans have always had to contend with the fact they aren’t alone so shocks are never world ending. Civilization will endure with or without each individual country. The US has been so insulated it can’t picture a world without itself. So every blow is felt a hundred times harder than it should be.

    Basically Stephanie Zvan said in comment 7.

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