Friday, August 12, 2022


A headline from David Brooks:
Did the F.B.I. Just Re-Elect Donald Trump?
Answer: No. The FBI might have just increased the likelihood of Trump's renomination, but that's not the same as reelection. Brooks doesn't understand that. Like much of the mainstream media and all of the right-wing media, Brooks believes that only Republicans are Americans.

Brooks writes:
Why is Donald Trump so powerful?
He isn't really. He lost the popular vote in two straight presidential elections. At least a dozen Republicans think they can beat him in the 2024 primaries. And then there are all those legal woes. But Brooks means "powerful" in the sense of holding sway over Republican voters -- the only real Americans.
How did he come to dominate one of the two major parties and get himself elected president? Is it his hair? His waistline? No, it’s his narratives. Trump tells powerful stories that ring true to tens of millions of Americans.

The main one is that America is being ruined by corrupt coastal elites. According to this narrative, there is an interlocking network of highly educated Americans who make up what the Trumpians have come to call the Regime: Washington power players, liberal media, big foundations, elite universities, woke corporations. These people are corrupt, condescending and immoral and are looking out only for themselves. They are out to get Trump because Trump is the person who stands up to them. They are not only out to get Trump; they are out to get you.
Those aren't Trump's narratives -- they're narratives Trump learned directly or indirectly, from Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and Steve Bannon. Trump borrowed them, rewrote them, and played them at maximum volume, like Led Zeppelin ripping off Muddy Waters. Republicans voter liked Trump's rehash of these ideas because he's reported to be a rich guy who gets laid a lot, and because he said the racist parts without euphemism.
This narrative has a core of truth to it. Highly educated metropolitan elites have become something of a self-enclosed Brahmin class.
Maybe one other reason right-wing voters respond to this narrative is that even the mainstream media agrees with it.
But the Trumpian propaganda turns what is an unfortunate social chasm into venomous conspiracy theory. It simply assumes, against a lot of evidence, that the leading institutions of society are inherently corrupt, malevolent and partisan and are acting in bad faith.

It simply assumes that the proof of people’s virtue is that they’re getting attacked by the Regime. Trump’s political career has been kept afloat by elite scorn. The more elites scorn him, the more Republicans love him. The key criterion for leadership in the Republican Party today is having the right enemies.
Translation: When Trump does something terrible, it's the establishment's fault.
Into this situation walks the F.B.I. There’s a lot we don’t know about the search at Mar-a-Lago. But we do know how the Republican Party reacted. The right side of my Twitter feed was ecstatic. See! We really are persecuted!
The fact that right-wingers are happy is what a columnist with a degree of moral decency would be writing at this moment. A better David Brooks would be telling us that the entire right wing is pretending to be outraged -- and is stoking outrage in its voter base -- out of pure cynicism. But right-wingers aren't Brooks's bad guys. He blames the feds.
... According to a Trafalgar Group/Convention of States Action survey, 83 percent of likely Republican voters said the F.B.I. search made them more motivated to vote in the 2022 elections. Over 75 percent of likely Republican voters believed Trump’s political enemies were behind the search rather than the impartial justice system, as did 48 percent of likely general election voters overall.
Trafalgar Group is a pollster that made its name by more or less accurately polling races in which Trump was on the ballot. It doesn't do nearly as well when Trump isn't on the ballot and allegedly shy Trump voters aren't a factor. (Trafalgar's final poll of 2021 gubernatorial recall election in California predicted that Gavin Newsom would win by 8. He won by 24.) And Convention of States Action is a Koch-linked group attempting to enact an ALEC wish list of bog-standard GOP/corporatist proposals by means of a constitutional convention. So I'm skeptical of the source.

According to the poll, 83% of Republicans say they're more likely to vote in November in response to the "the FBI raid on President Trump" (which wasn't a raid and wasn't "on" the absent Trump, who isn't president) -- but 55% of Democrats say they're also more likely to vote now. And the numbers on the reason for the search (referred to in the survey question as "the FBI raid on President Trump's private home") make clear that most non-Republican respondents don't think the motivation was political.
In a normal society, when politicians get investigated or charged, it hurts them politically. But that no longer applies to the G.O.P.
Brooks writes this as if this is a law of nature rather than the choice of a voting bloc gone feral. It never occurs to him to say that if millions of voters admire Trump more because he's being investigated for crimes, that attitude is a problem for democracy. Instead, he implies that the investigators are the problem.
What happens if a prosecutor charges Trump and he is convicted just as he is cruising to the G.O.P. nomination or maybe even the presidency? What happens if the legal system, using its criteria, decides Trump should go to prison at the very moment that the electoral system, using its criteria, decides he should go to the White House?

I presume in those circumstances Trump would be arrested and imprisoned. I also presume we would see widespread political violence from incensed Trump voters who would conclude that the Regime has stolen the country. In my view, this is the most likely path to a complete democratic breakdown.
Yes, but only because his admirers choose to reject the rule of law.
In theory, justice is blind, and obviously no person can be above the law. But as Damon Linker wrote in a Substack post, “This is a polity, not a graduate seminar in Kantian ethics.” We live in a specific real-world situation, and we all have to take responsibility for the real-world effects of our actions.
So if a Trumper takes an AR-15 to an FBI office and then has an armed standoff with law enforcement, that's the FBI's fault. The Trumper doesn't have agency. The Trumper is simply acting according to his innate nature. He doesn't have an obligation not to attack the government. He's just going to do that -- he can't help it! It's our responsibility not to get him riled up.
America absolutely needs to punish those who commit crimes. On the other hand, America absolutely needs to make sure that Trump does not get another term as president. What do we do if the former makes the latter more likely? I have no clue how to get out of this potential conflict between our legal and political realities.
I accept the notion that this makes Trump a more likely nominee. But a more likely victor in 2024? Let's look at what Axios is reporting today:
Florida swing voters in our latest Engagious/Schlesinger focus groups said the FBI's search of Mar-a-Lago was justified — and that it would be a "serious crime" if former President Trump did take classified documents from the White House.

... Eleven of 12 participants said it was appropriate for the FBI to execute a signed search warrant at the home of the former president — and that it would be a serious crime to take documents from the White House in an unauthorized fashion even if that person previously held the office.

None said they would support Trump if he ran again.
I know this will come as a shock to David Brooks, but there are some Americans who are not Trump Republicans. They're citizens. They're legally permitted to vote. And they don't like Trump. They don't want him to run for president again. A plurality of them think he should be charged with crimes in connection with the January 6 attack on the Capitol.

Brooks thinks their opinions don't matter -- and shouldn't matter. Their job is to manage the emotions of the "real" Americans by not upsetting them with justice. And if those "real" Americans vote for a criminal because he's a criminal, or burn the country to the ground, then it's everyone's fault except theirs.

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