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.