This weekend, we were treated to a depressing rendition of Why You Got Trump. No, I’m not talking about the de facto slogan of the #NeverTrump faction that they shout almost singularly in the direction of liberals. I’m talking about why the ideologues who tied themselves to Trump got Trump.
A shocking deviation, I know. But some of us still believe in personal responsibility and taking ownership of your actions. Donald Trump completely invaded conservatism using a toxic mix of racism and nationalism, then won while inventing an unreality away from the peering eyes of the “fake news media.” Media conservatives reacted with near-universal scorn and condemnation of his vitriolic campaign, but that’s the only kind of mainstream conservatism this 31-year-old has ever known (remember when George W. Bush defeated John McCain in the 2000 South Carolina primary partially thanks to a robocall insinuating that McCain fathered “an illegitimate black child?”)
Conservatives have allowed these poisonous ideologies to fester within their belief system for at least a half-century. When Richard Nixon lost to John F. Kennedy in 1960, he won 32% of the nonwhite vote. When Nixon won the presidency in 1968, he only received 12% of the vote from minorities. What happened in between, with Barry Goldwater’s unsuccessful 1964 run and George Wallace’s 1968 segregationist campaign (the most successful third-party showing in presidential history), is basically the big bang of the modern Republican Party. Donald Trump is simply the logical conclusion of the publicly stated beliefs of the “law and order” GOP, as famed Republican advisor/Republican National Committee Campaign chair/dirty trickster Lee Atwater said in 1981:
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
If you think I’m being unfair to the #NeverTrump folks, consider that 89% of Mitt Romney voters voted for Trump. At best, #NeverTrump is a tiny minority within the GOP—far smaller than the socialist faction within the Democrats—yet they have a disproportionate effect on the public debate since it feels like literally all of them work in major media. They have more than earned this pushback. They created high-profile cover for fascism to spread within their party, and we just saw a perfect example of how this happens during the past weekend’s moronic debate around “civility” towards Trump officials—all while the administration locks kids in cages and openly flouts the very concept of the rule of law.
This weekend, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was denied service at a restaurant, and the ensuing debate was an example of how respectable conservatives have allowed themselves to be played in exchange for a vacuous Very Serious Person shtick. Here is how co-owner of the Red Hen, Stephanie Wilkinson, described the ordeal to The Washington Post:
“I said, 'I'm the owner,' ” she recalled, ” 'I'd like you to come out to the patio with me for a word.' ”
They stepped outside, into another small enclosure, but at least out of the crowded restaurant.
“I was babbling a little, but I got my point across in a polite and direct fashion,” Wilkinson said. “I explained that the restaurant has certain standards that I feel it has to uphold, such as honesty, and compassion, and cooperation.
“I said, 'I'd like to ask you to leave.' ”
For such a supposedly uncivil act, that sounds like a pretty civil way to get your point across. Wilkinson said that several Red Hen employees are gay, and their discomfort with Sanders defending Trump's desire to ban transgender people from the military as well as her evasion of questions surrounding child concentration camps was the rationale behind the request. Sanders didn't provide many details in her account of the story, but she confirmed that she was asked to leave by the owner.
This episode launched #NeverTrump Twitter into a frenzy. In many conservatives' retelling of the 2016 election, Republicans have little to no agency. Hillary Clinton was a historically awful candidate (well, they're right about that), and the “intolerant left” pushed people towards Trump. You see, when we fervently fight for equal rights for gay people, transgendered people, women and minorities, it's seen as “intolerance” in this worldview—never mind the irony of those who oppose equality labeling others with that term. Those of us demanding that people accept the humanity of their fellow man are supposed screeches who push otherwise well-meaning folks into the arms of a fascist. I mean, what else are they supposed to do?? Not vote for the fascist?! But there are conservative judges to be appointed!!
Here's a sampling of what much of #NeverTrump Twitter sounded like over the weekend.
Note: Byron York used to be part of the “respectable” faction of conservatives before kneeling at the altar of Trumpism as of late.
To be fair, not all #NeverTrump conservatives shared this mindset, just a significant and extremely vocal chunk.
Here's the problem: for straight white men (like myself) in America, politics is more of a theoretical exercise than a personally impactful one. All of society is tilted in our direction, so we see less of a need for the safety net provided by government. However, given the societal barriers placed in front of every non-white man, politics is far more than a debate over how to allocate resources—for some it is literally about life and death.
Look at what's happening to the 2,500+ kids separated from their families. The former Director of ICE said he thinks most won't be reunited with their parents. Ever. And we're expanding our CONCENTRATION CAMPS as we speak. Fuck you if you think this is a time to be civil. As a Jew with family members buried in the ashes of Auschwitz, I can tell you that I am very alarmed. History may not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme.
Hamilton Nolan put the issue at hand perfectly at Splinter this morning:
One thing that people who wield great power often fail to viscerally understand is what it feels like to have power wielded against you. This imbalance is the source of many of the most monstrous decisions that get made by powerful people and institutions. The people who start the wars do not have bombs dropped on their houses. The people who pass the laws that incarcerate others never have to face the full force of the prison system themselves. The people who design the economic system that inflicts poverty on millions are themselves rich. This sort of insulation from the real world consequences of political and economic decisions makes it very easy for powerful people to approve of things happening to the rest of us that they would never, ever tolerate themselves. No health insurance CEO would watch his child die due to their inability to afford quality health care. No chickenhawk Congressman will be commanding a tank battle in Iran. No opportunistic race-baiting politician will be shunned because of their skin color. Zealots condemn gay people—except for their own gay children. The weed-smoking of young immigrants should get them deported—but our own weed-smoking was a youthful indiscretion. Environmentalist celebrities fly on carbon-spouting private jets. Banks make ostentatious charity donations while raking in billions from investments in defense contractors and gun manufacturers and oil companies. This is human nature. It is very, very easy to do things that hurt others as long as those same things benefit, rather than hurt, you. Self-justification is a specialty of mankind.
“Civility” in politics was never a thing. Anyone who believes that politics in America used to be like the Lincoln-Douglas debate should read like, one history book. Former Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton called Vice President Aaron Burr “bankrupt by redemption except by the plunder of his country,” and they fought to the death. Sarah Huckabee Sanders getting kicked out of a restaurant is a full-body massage by comparison.
Politics is a battle for resources. The Republican Party understands this far better than the Democrats, which is a big reason why we're in the spot we're in. Those who prioritize civility over raising hell to fight injustice make their priorities clear: upholding a belief about American politics which never existed supersedes literal battles of life and death. Plenty of conservatives compared the Sarah Huckabee Sanders saga to the Supreme Court battle over whether a cake shop could refuse to bake a cake for a gay wedding, but there's one teensy, tiny difference between the two examples:
ONE IS A PRIVATE CITIZEN AND THE OTHER IS A PUBLIC OFFICIAL!!!!!
Something tells me that conservatives wouldn't be as forgiving of a public official in a liberal administration using a government account to single out a small business owner. George W. Bush's White House Press Secretary, Ari Fleischer, had the hottest of hot takes over this entire kerfuffle.
Had the owner of the Red Hen decided to not serve a private citizen who voted for Trump, I would feel very differently about this. That is a completely separate frontier, but public officials should be accountable to the public. No one is saying we should censor Trump supporters from public life, just those carrying out Trump's agenda which includes ethnic cleansing. Silence in the face of that kind of immorality is complicity. Running interference for that campaign so you can continue your Very Serious Person shtick is beyond cynical.
This Is How You Got Trump, conservatives.
That is in relation to white nationalist congressman Steve King sharing yet another piece of white nationalist propaganda. By calling people like him an “asshat,” and not a racist piece of garbage who deserves to be purged from any party which considers themselves “respectable,” you allowed the Trump faction to swallow the party whole. Now, even conservative Congressmen like Bob Corker are referring to your party as a cult. By refusing to call a spade a spade and accepting those racist votes, you enabled the GOP's crimes against humanity. Trump is the human embodiment of implemented conservative policy over the last half-century. Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been telling everyone within earshot that this is the best time ever for conservatives since he has been in Washington. We should take one of this country's most powerful conservatives at his word that Trump is peak conservatism.
To put the cherry on top of this entire shit sundae—as if a message was sent down from the gods to remind us what these calls for civility were really defending—Sarah Huckabee Sanders' father sent out this absurdly racist tweet just as the #NeverTrump “civility” defense of his daughter was reaching a crescendo.
That image was lifted from a white nationalist site frequently shared by Steve King. This is your party, conservatives. Look it in the eye. Any calls for “civility” protects these monsters, and by prioritizing it over aiding those stuck under the boot of big government, you are enshrining yourselves in history as yet another wave of useful idiots running interference for the cause of fascism.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.