Gaslighting, part two
Both parties have spent decades making voters dumb, and now Democrats are complaining that voters are too dumb to reject Trump.
“Are you for or against Trump?” is a question that is thrown at me quite often. I reject the premise of the question, because attached to it is a container ship of assumptions that would sink the Ever Alot (which can carry 240,000 tons).
To those who think even the best-intentioned Republicans are Hitler reincarnated, I can never be sufficiently opposed to Trump unless I agree with their every intersectional, identity-laced, and frequently self-consuming political morality. To those who believe Trump is their voice in a world of bicoastal elites aligned against them, I can never be sufficiently supportive of Trump, no matter what law he flagrantly violates, never mind all the other bad things he does or has done.
The black-and-white of the question “for or against Trump” is just too loaded. Of course, I’m against Trump, but that doesn’t mean I’m against, by association, everyone who is for him. (Which would include, if you look at political spending, not a few Democrats! It also doesn’t mean I’d vote for pro-Trump candidates either.) President Biden’s speech indicted anyone who defends Trump, without the least bit of sympathy for why or how they became enmeshed in MAGA. That’s unfair and dishonest.
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I’m not going to play “both-sidesism” here because it’s a stupid game. But in a nutshell, both parties have promoted uninformed voters as the best voters over the past four decades. They replaced policy with money-laden messaging and carefully curated talking points punctuated with sound bites by their anointed leaders. Every election cycle has taken its place on the dubious podium as the most money-drenched and dumbest cycle in history, knocking off its predecessor from that shameful honor.
In 2015, I noted this in my first analysis of Donald Trump’s candidacy. I called Trump “the great white hope of the uninformed voter.” (Remember, this was in the days when there were 28 GOP contenders.)
But most of America can’t even name their own Senators. 77% in fact, according to the Benenson Strategy Group, which powered, among other brands, Obama for America. Democrats and their media in orbit around the Clinton Death Star count on this. They don’t need to fight Sen. Ted Cruz and Gov. Scott Walker and Mike Huckabee and Sen. Marco Rubio (et al). They only need to fight The Donald, who makes an excellent stand-in for “Republicans” to the great low-information voter pool.
Trump spent years building his name brand, and his connection with voters who grew tired of Barack Obama’s smug self-righteousness. In fact, Obama voters won the race for Trump in 2016. They broke for Trump over Hillary Clinton, despite the fact that they knew—and readily confessed to pollsters—Trump was unfit for the office.
In 2020, many of these voters swung back to vote for Joe Biden, but that was really about coronavirus, and the mixed messaging of the Trump administration. Remember that Anthony Fauci was Trump’s front man on COVID-19. Fauci was on the podium day after day with Trump, and—uncharacteristically for the Trump administration—was given free rein to say whatever he wanted to the media.
As time went on, Trump turned on Fauci, who was more invested in protecting his turf than crafting a coherent policy for dealing with COVID-19. Putting Trump on the same podium every day with health experts was an amateur move, but one expected from a former reality show star.
Meanwhile, Fauci, congressional Democrats, and the drug companies bowed to tremendous pressure not to give Trump a “win” on Operation Warp Speed. And they lied their heads off about it. Fauci, the nation’s top expert on communicable disease, trusted by his extensive media contacts, and respected by leaders of both parties, wilted when there was an actual event that he supposedly prepared for his whole decades-long career.
Regarding Fauci’s legacy, Dr. Marty Makary, a member of the National Academy of Medicine who is regularly published by the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal, wrote on Substack.
In short, Dr. Fauci didn’t deliver the basic research we needed so that public policy would be shaped by the best science. Because policymakers lacked good evidence to support their dictates, political opinions filled the void. So Covid-19 became a highly politicized health emergency—to all of our detriment.
The loss of trust in public health institutions Fauci contributed to, as well as in the rest of our government that Democrats, Trump, and the media on both sides fomented, will take decades to repair, and that’s being optimistic.
During the pandemic, the over- and under-reactions to the virus and its effects on elections, education, and the economy, created a giant gap in trust, and fed every manner of conspiracy theory. Anti-vaxxers morphed from far-left “earthy crunchy people” who favored chicken pox parties, herbal remedies, and unproven nature cures into far-right ivermectin mainliners. These are the people who fell for the hoax linking autism to measles vaccines. Many of them didn’t trust the government to begin with, and Trump fed their worst inclinations.
The 2020 primary elections brought a cluster of confusion, again peppered with over- and under-reactions. In March 2020, Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brad Raffensperger, unilaterally mailed every Georgia voter an application for an absentee ballot. This contributed to general chaos during the June primary, marked by long lines and thousands of provisional ballots. In August of that year, 2.2 million ballot application forms were mailed by Democrat-linked organizations. The 2020 general election was about safety from large crowds, and easy access for all to vote, but the huge crowds attending demonstrations about George Floyd and Black Lives Matter were deemed safe and necessary.
Judges wielded unprecedented authority to change or throw out longstanding election laws and procedures in multiple states, with little to no advance notice or planning. Other states preemptively changed processes without fully considering the effect of those changes. Both Trump and Democrats used these changes to fuel conspiracy theories prior to the 2020 election. Should Trump have won in November 2020, Democrats were ready to claim that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy—who was appointed during the Trump administration—purposely slowed the mail to delay ballots from arriving on time, a claim that DeJoy thoroughly debunked.
Trump did claim that Democrats tried to stuff ballot boxes, threw out reams of Trump-marked ballots, that Venezuelan hackers reprogrammed electronic voting systems, and every other harebrained idea under the sun. But claiming “the other side” rigged the election was nothing new. In Georgia, Stacey Abrams never recanted her claim that Gov. Brian Kemp stole the 2018 election from her. She is running again this cycle, with new court-approved election laws in place. She will claim, despite loads of evidence to the contrary, that voter suppression is the reason for her loss if (when) she loses in November.
In 2020, the dumb, uninformed voter chickens came home to roost, with the nation’s institutions we are supposed to trust (including both political parties) engaging in outright gaslighting to protect their own power.
Two years later, President Biden amplified his catastrophic messaging policy of blaming voters who didn’t vote for him as the reason for his own failures. His “blood red” prime-time speech took that further by painting those voters as a “clear and present threat” to democracy itself. The dodge “not all Republicans” could have been lifted straight out of a Seinfeld episode, “not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
Biden is essentially correct in his observation that there’s no longer any distance between MAGA and the GOP. With the notable exception of now-defeated Rep. Liz Cheney and a few Senate holdouts like Mitt Romney, Trump has fully captured the heart of the national GOP, and is opening blood vessels down to the state level in many places.
So what’s left to do? “Vote vote vote!” is not a useful rallying cry for a president whose messaging team is so incompetent that they overshot the mark for “grim authority, law and order” by about 83 years—hearkening back to the dreadful 1939 “Pro-American Rally” held by the German American Bund at NYC’s Madison Square Garden.
In case you didn’t know—and I give my readers credit for knowing—the Nazi party itself is not illegal or banned in America. Possessing Nazi paraphernalia, or publishing Nazi material, is perfectly within any American’s rights under the First Amendment. You can still buy and read a copy of Mein Kampf (which I will not link here, if you can stomach its turgid, congealed prose and its disgusting ideals). The Nazi party, and anything related to it, except to express correctly contemptible history, is strictly banned in modern Germany, but America allows pretty much any opinion to be shared and believed. We abuse this right regularly.
Both political parties are far too generous in their tossing around Hitler comparisons, and even posting deepfaked video on Twitter, as Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene did.
In normal circumstances, I’d say that Biden deserved mockery, because, well, he participated in a pageant of fear-mongering. But two things emerge here: One, MTG is a heartless, hypocritical fool to use the Hitler imagery, when she regularly blames Jews for everything wrong with the world, including space lasers. Two, nobody deserves to be Hitlerized. I seem to remember plenty of Hitler references, even in print ads, to President George W. Bush, who in comparison to Trump could be sainted, and who recently spoke a firm rejection of Trumpism that Biden would have been wise to emulate.
Instead of speaking to the one-time Obama voters who put Trump in office in 2016, and then removed him in 2020, and opening the tent to admit more Trump voters into the realm of useful conversation, Biden pronounced them all as agents of chaos, akin to Bush’s State of the Union speech about “evildoers” and states harboring terrorists in 2002. Bush took the country to war to eliminate the evildoers and their enablers, creating an American gulag archipelago, and a tropical version of Moscow’s Lefortovo Prison for uncharged enemies to rot in.
What will Biden do? He can’t ban political speech without trouncing the First Amendment. He can limit the social media outlets, reach and impact of that speech, but not for long. The aftereffects of the FBI’s warning to Facebook (and presumably other social media giants) about stories—correctly reported—about his own son’s indiscretions being Russian disinformation have not yet returned to the roost. The FBI had participated in some of the most heinous gaslighting campaigns of the past three decades. They have given Trump all the ammunition he needs to keep claiming he’s a victim. In fact, he’s still doing it to this day on his own Truth Social site.
Every move Biden can make to attack Trump has a countermove that results in a worse outcome for Biden, and the nation. Biden has already shown that the FBI will pursue, and lock up, anyone who participated in the January 6th riots, if they entered the Capitol. Trump will foment more of this kind of behavior.
I’ve always believed that Biden’s best move was to offer a more-or-less blanket pardon to all but the most violent members of the January 6th mob, with special attention to the leaders, funders, and promoters. Let Congress do its investigation, and let local DAs like Fulton County, Georgia’s Fani Willis do the yeoman’s work on getting charges filed against Trump.
But Democrats are so scared of Trump and his popularity that they’re willing to keep gaslighting, as if they can magically stop Trump’s message from reaching American ears. Then when they fail to do that (because they have no legal means to do it), they’ll blame the voters who listen to Trump, and whip up fear, loathing, and division among Americans. That may work and keep Democrats in power (though I doubt it—I think we’ll have a divided Congress, and a divided America), but it won’t give anyone a mandate to fix what needs fixing.
Short of actually declaring Republicans and the GOP a domestic terror operation, there’s really nothing Biden can do to follow up with action on his threatening speech. The answer is political, but Democrats don’t believe they can win that way, mainly because their polling tells them their policies aren’t popular with voters, and they refuse to change their policies. In their own strategy, they’re giving Trump more power, hoping voters will reject him again, and choose them and their bad policies. That’s incredibly dangerous and it’s also dumb. But it’s counting on the voters being dumber, while blaming the voters for that very attribute.
Both parties have spent decades making voters dumb, and now Democrats are complaining that voters are too dumb to reject Trump. Both parties have spent decades lying to voters, and now Democrats are complaining that voters believe lies (when it’s not their lies). Both parties have spent decades telling voters the other party is Hitler, and now Democrats complain that voters can’t see how bad Trump really is.
Neither party wants to be the first to declare how stupid, power hungry, and prideful they’ve been. So we continue with the gaslighting, fear-mongering, money-soaked messaging, and terrible election cycles.
Don’t be surprised if the “great white hope of the uninformed voter” becomes President of the United States again in 2024. I don’t know their plan if that happens, other than refusing to accept the results, claiming the election was rigged, invalid, and must be overturned. Sounds pretty familiar.
Happy Labor Day to all. Lots to unpack here and worth a deeper dive. I don't see this issue quite so black and white; or perhaps in this case, so red or blue. BTW, i loved the article because it made me think.
This won't be a short answer, it's more complex than just a few sentences. I live in Sun City Arizona, the first of it's kind age restricted community. We didn't exist prior to Jan, 1 1960, so as a "historian," reaching back isn't too difficult. It's all right there.
Whys does that matter? To use a boxing metaphor, it's simply a tale of the tape. The community was built by "the greatest generation." They owned it, we were self-governed. Accountability and responsibility were mainstays. New buyers were compelled to work together to insure we survived and flourished.
We moved here in 2003. We were the beginning of the baby boomers who would take over. In the course of work life, i had cause to try and understand the differences in the various generations. I heard all kinds of logic to explain how the various ages of people differed. The best may have been Morris Massey's work but that another topic for another time.
What we do know in this small community of 40,000 people is, there's a massive shift away from ownership and responsibility to one of letting someone else do it. The boomers and the soon arriving Gen X'ers have less interest. Time constraints are part and parcel, i would argue more so than dumbing down. Throw in the lack of human interactions that used to exist and we see people withdrawing into themselves.
The pandemic accelerated that, but it's been a movement away from sociability for years. Talking across the back fence or at gatherings has been replaced by posting on the internet. Those owning and running media outlets simply replaced the written word with sound bites and video clips lasting 30 seconds. We know readers these days don't want to click through more than one time.
The greatest generation has become the minority population and everything is geared to the younger folks. Who ever thought when opening Pocket, someone would tell you how much time it would take to read the article. Years ago, my parents would spend hours reading the newspaper, cover to cover. Today, newspapers are all but gone.
Does it make me dumber if i open my news feeds in the morning rather than a newspaper? If i scan the headlines and find topics that are of interest to me? We've all changed, does that make us less intelligent? The trade-off is i can search the net and find volumes of articles on subjects that interest me.
I'm more concerned by the lack of human interaction than i am on the dumbing down of people. If we understand the challenges, we have a better opportunity to reach others. Understanding how people communicate is more important than how long than communicate for.
You know as a writer, most everyone will tell you not to write too much. This article you wrote was longer than most but clearly was a topic i fancied. It won't be everyone's cup of tea and may not get much response. That's too bad.
Some will see it from a political perspective, rather than from a human nature one. That's even more too bad. Unless and until we recognize how we can find common ground, areas of interest and ways to talk to each other rather than insulting one another, we'll stay on the down slope as a society.
We've all changed, we've all lost some of the values the greatest generation were built on. That's not to say they didn't argue and fight for the things they believed in. They just didn't hate one another for those differences.
We have a lot to learn from them, but we better hurry up because before you know it, they will all be gone. Your article helped me better understand where you have been coming from. Thanks.
I wonder if there is anything that could really be said by Biden or Democrats that would actually persuade any of the Trump voters at this point. So many view the Dems categorically as evil, plotting, dangerous, communists, etc... The dehumanization has consequences, though those that did it likely are more happy than not for this to break us apart.
Pardoning the January 6 insurrectionists that sounds like asking to be labeled "soft on crime": nor do I think it would have any effect in terms of persuading those that did commit those crimes that the Democrats are a better option than Trump/GOP...
I'd also like to push back and say that the Democrats do still try to advance policy: it's not always the best policies, but then again it's a one-sided conversation for the most part as the GOP had given up policy entirely.