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Washington Monthly | It’s 2019. Time to Stop Making Excuses for Trump Supporters.

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Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

Ever since Trump won his surprise electoral college victory in November 2016, everyone from pundits to political scientists to average decent Americans have tried to figure out what went wrong and what to do about it. The big newspapers wrote an endless series of ethnographic portraits of Trump supporters in small town diners in an effort to help their readers understand, but came off instead as tonedeaf. Academics delved deep into the post-election data making analyses that tried to sound definitive, but often rested on sketchy correlations and questionable assumptions. And, of course, opinion writers and strategists like yours truly made unprovable assertions based on their best reasoned arguments, but ultimately mostly preached to their respective choirs.

It all came down to the right proportion of bigotry versus economic anxiety. When Hillary Clinton made her famous “basket of deplorables” speech, it is often forgotten that she was actually making the economic anxiety argument: she said that half of Trump’s supporters were bigots in a basket of deplorables, but that the other half “feel that the government has let them down…desperate for change…Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well.” Pundits on the progressive and economic populist left have, ironically enough, long agreed with Clinton about this, arguing that while many or most Trump supporters were inarguably motivated by bigotry, a large chunk were simply voting for a disrupter to take on a system that had failed them–and, since they weren’t directly threatened themselves by racist policies, figured there was no potential downside to them. In other words, that some electorally significant portion of Trump supporters weren’t voting out of active cruelty, but passive indifference to cruelty in the name of a thumbing their nose at the system.

But at a certain point none of that matters anymore. 2016 is over and done with. Whatever Trump may have represented to a variety of different voters in 2016, and whatever their motivations for casting their ballot for him may have been, the person and president that Trump actually is could not be clearer now.  The man is an empathy-free racist with multiple personality disorders who has been credibly accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women. He openly obstructed justice into a foreign government tampering in the election on his behalf.  No matter how you felt about Hillary Clinton, or whether you cast a protest vote as a joke or in defiance of a system that seemed deaf to you, or how you felt about the state of the country back in 2016 and its relative imbalances of power, none of that matters now.

It’s 2019, and the stakes could not be more clear. On the one hand, there is an openly bigoted, would-be totalitarian president who tells Americans of color to “go back” to countries they were never from, and who otherwise governs like just another corporate fat cat Republican with tax cuts and social benefit cuts–except for trade policies that are actually hurting Americans far more than they are helping. And then, there’s anything else. Literally anything else.

Maybe Joe Biden and the centrist wing of the Democratic Party isn’t to your liking for a variety of reasons, and you want more of a shock to the system. Maybe you’re wary of progressives like Warren or Sanders because you’re afraid of radical change. Maybe you hate all politicians and think America should be run like a business. Maybe you don’t trust Kamala Harris or Pete Buttigieg. Maybe you’re an anarchist, an accelerationist, a libertarian. Maybe you just hate people who drink turmeric lattes and eat sushi. Maybe you think Millennials are entitled and you want to knock them down a peg. Maybe you dislike Trump but you really like tax cuts, or you’re uncomfortable with abortion, or you’re a Netanyahu fan who wants to bomb Iran, or you just want more conservative judges. The world is complex, people are cross-pressured. Maybe the right Democrat just hasn’t said the right words to make it OK to cast a vote against Trump.

None of it matters. There time for excuses is over. A lot of voters who cast their ballots for Trump in 2016 soured on him and voted for Democrats in 2018 to keep him in check. Voting for Trump once is forgivable. People make mistakes and have flights of fancy and errors in judgment.

But if you still back Trump now in July of 2019, knowing what he is, knowing what kind of people you’re aligned with, that’s not on the opposition party–no matter how poorly or well it may be run, no matter how stodgy or populist it may be. That’s not on any politician or group. That’s on you. You’re responsible for every ugly word out of his mouth, and out of the mouths of all the Republican politicians protecting him. You have to own that. Your motives don’t matter.

Because ultimately, as someone wisely said not long ago (usually attributed to Julius Goat on twitter, though I cannot verify the attribution):

“Historians have a word for Germans who joined the Nazi party, not because they hated Jews, but because out of a hope for restored patriotism, or a sense of economic anxiety, or a hope to preserve their religious values, or dislike of their opponents, or raw political opportunism, or convenience, or ignorance, or greed.

That word is “Nazi.” Nobody cares about their motives anymore.

They joined what they joined. They lent their support and their moral approval. And, in so doing, they bound themselves to everything that came after. Who cares any more what particular knot they used in the binding?”

In this case, there is time to rectify the mistake. But those who don’t should be held fully morally responsible. It’s on them and no one else.

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