The fetish for covering Trump backers fails to treat them like adults
“The Wall is the Wall, it has never changed or evolved from the first day I conceived of it,” the loser of the 2016 popular vote tweeted last week, before rejecting at least two bipartisan agreements to keep the government open. Both reportedly included some funding for the president’s request for “the Wall,” from the taxpayers of the United States.
No, Mexico is not paying for the wall, as Trump promised his supporters it would hundreds of times, so often that the promise was sung back to him at his rallies like a discordant German drinking song.
Normally, the president of the United States lying to his biggest supporters over and over about his signature promise would be a major news story. That it’s become something reporters barely even mention leads to a simple conclusion: It’s an accepted fact that the current occupant of the Oval Office lies about everything.
The lies are relentless. About five a day, according to most counts. They’re usually petty or irrelevant, but often they cloak massive betrayals.
He has broken promises to release his tax returns and reveal the details of his wife’s dodgy immigration status. Most consequentially, he vowed to not cut his own taxes. The lies shield the other lies from being accurately debunked. But any adult can discern that a giant tax cut for the rich helps Trump and his kids, if he is actually rich. Or maybe that’s a lie too.
Some lies are so massive that people don’t even bother parsing them. He vowed to replace a “corrupt machine” in Washington. Instead, he’s packed his administration with billionaires like Betsy DeVos, who runs her department like a patronage machine for herself and her fellow profiteers, and Scott Pruitt, the sort of politician who thrives because he makes life easier for billionaire polluters and robber barons.
Of course, there is a massive subtext here. Trump has been honest about his desire to harm immigrants, specifically the ones he’s not married to. And he’s carrying out that promise. Some Trump supporters (I’m separating Trump voters from supporters) are obviously fine with anything Trump says as long as he does he brutalizes non-white people or nominates Mike Pence’s picks for the judiciary. But these voters are rarely or never asked why they are okay with being lied to.
During and after the campaign, many consensus builders adopted Salena Zito’s fabulism: “The press takes him literally, but not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”
Maybe that makes sense on the campaign trail when you’re basically running to start a cable news channel.
But he’s president of the United States now, and the government is literally in a partial shut down. Trillions have been literally transferred to the rich and corporations. Trump literally spends one third of his time at his businesses he has not divested, using the power and the taxpayer money invested in him to promote his businesses and solicit personal profits in manner that Republicans would definitely call bribery if Hillary Clinton were doing it.
When the press heads out to “Trump Country” or hands over its editorial page to diehard 45 supporters, you get to see how people who voted for this man, and likely voted Republican since 1980, adopt Trump’s surly defenses of his lies, often word-for-word. You’re likely to hear that Mexico will pay for the wall “directly, or indirectly,” as Trump began insisting after Mexico made it clear that he would never be
The Trump supporters the press keeps finding don’t seem to feel lied to; they feel complicit in the lying, which feels so good because it feels good to hurt the people Trump is hurting with his lies and his policies. And they’re fine with the hurt he lathers everywhere, until a little gets on you.
There are questions to ask these people that might be useful for the rest of us — like how do you know when he’s lying? Is it good that the rest of the world can’t expect the president of the United States to tell the truth? When Trump promised to bring coal jobs back, were we supposed to take him metaphorically, since the industry is still dying?
One of the most lasting corrosive aspects of Trump’s willingness to lie about everything is the way he’s figured out how to get away with it. If you move on, the press does too, in search of another story.
But it’s time we start taking Trump voters seriously by asking them why they are okay with Trump’s lies. I don’t think they’re going to crack and admit that their guy ordered the Code Red. But it’s not news that a minority of Americans backs Trump. It would be news if the press would tell us why.
[Image by kyle tsui on Flickr, who has some great #WomensMarch18 photos]