Tuesday, August 25, 2020


In The New York Times, Will Wilkinson of the right-centrist Niskanen Center summed up the first night of the Republican convention this way:
The cultlike air of the proceedings, the constant lies about the catastrophic Covid-19 pandemic, the night’s motif of incendiary anti-urban fear-mongering showed us that the president and his party are in such profound disarray that they fear they’re losing their own voters, feel they need to double down on their most distasteful themes to nail them down, and can’t afford to waste a moment reaching out and appealing to wavering independents and Democrats.
No, that's not it.

It's been clear since 2016 that Trump believes his unfiltered impulses, grievances, and prejudices are precisely what got him into the White House, and people who think he needs to moderate his views or his rhetoric are just being "politically correct." And, of course, he's one-for-one in election campaigns. How many of the haters and losers who question his strategic brilliance have a batting average of 1.000?

It's easy to believe that this level of extremism is what America wants when you watch hours and hours of Fox News every day. That's what Fox delivers continually, all while proclaiming to its audience (including its most famous fan) that anyone who doesn't agree with the Fox worldview isn't really an American.

I'm sure the rest of the party would prefer the meat at the convention to be a bit less red and bloody. But these folks have been all in on Trump for years, so his instincts are now their strategy.

Wilkinson isn't the only observer who misreads Trump and his fan base. In The Washington Post, Paul Waldman writes:
... watching the first night’s proceedings, something ... came into focus: an entirely different President Trump from the one we all know, one whose actions and character are completely at odds with what we’ve watched over the past four years.

To put it simply: This is Trump fan fiction.

For the unfamiliar, fan fiction allows fans to take well-known entertainment properties and write their own scenarios into them, creating everything from brief stories to entire novels. What if Kirk and Spock were lovers? What if you threw Harry and Hermione into the “Star Wars” universe? What if the a cappella singers from “Pitch Perfect” had to fight zombies?

Or what if Trump were a caring, compassionate, totally non-racist person who saved America from the coronavirus pandemic? Wouldn’t that be an interesting twist?

So Republicans decided that the way to handle the crisis affecting all our lives was to present an alternate timeline, a bizarro-universe story in which rather than spending months denying the coronavirus would affect the United States and claiming it was about to disappear, Trump was in fact the only one who realized how serious it was.
But the thing about fan fiction is that the people who write it and read it know that it's fiction. In fact, they know it's fiction twice over: It's stuff that didn't really happen, even in the fictional worlds (or at least the "official" ones) to which the authors are referring.

But Trump fans aren't indulging a fantasy -- they really believe all this about the president. (So does the president himself.) They've persuaded themselves that Trump, and only Trump, kept the pandemic from killing millions (even as they simultaneously tell themselves that the whole thing is a hoax, the virus is no worse than the flu, and Democrats will abandon all interest in it as soon as the election is over). They certainly don't believe any of the facts in this fact check from The New York Times:
Mr. Trump’s partial travel ban on travelers coming from China had only a limited effect in stopping or lessening the spread of the novel coronavirus in the United States. The ban was porous — a New York Times analysis of data determined that nearly 40,000 travelers arrived in the United States on direct flights from China in the two months after Mr. Trump imposed his ban. Scientists have also found that the strain of the virus that began circulating in New York around mid-February was one that spread earlier in Europe, indicating it was carried by travelers from there.

In any case, even with Mr. Trump’s partial travel ban on China, the United States has had one of the worst pandemic outcomes in the world, with deaths estimated to be as high as 200,000, about a quarter of the total worldwide.
No Trump fan believes that death total. Trump fans think the real numbers are the fan fiction.

And Trump fans don't believe he's a racist in the same way they don't believe any Republican is a racist. All racism, they believe, is Democratic (you know, because Democrats were the party of the Klan and segregation many, many decades ago). We're the ones who want to tear down Confederate monuments while they defend them, but we're the racists -- somehow. It's not fantasy to them, it's truth.

You can't properly assess Trump and his followers by thinking like a normal person. You have to think the way they think. Then, in a horrifying way, it will all make sense.

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