The same question keeps coming up: why does anybody support Donald Trump? I wouldn’t trust him to run a day camp, but almost half the country wants him to be president.
Trump has the full and direct support of Nazis and the KKK (once again, we’re all living in a Ramones song) but also plenty of honest, poor, patriotic, concerned, frightened American citizens. (Witness the “Farmers for Trump” signs throughout Northern California. What class of citizens depends on immigrant labor to make a living from the land while supporting an anti-immigration real estate baron?)
Every one of those characteristics should compel those voters to recognize Trump as a fraud and stop him at all costs, but many still defend and support his campaign. Why?
I don’t think it’s because they’re filled with hate. (Although we all have to manage some hate.)
I don’t think it’s simply that they’re stupid. (Although we all have to manage some stupid.)
I think it has to do with the way we navigate contradictory information.
Every one of us can download more information today than can be read in a human lifetime. Inevitably, complex ideas are reduced to articles, articles are reduced to headlines, headlines are reduced to soundbites, and soundbites are reduced to opinions collected from friends and family that may have no basis in anything at all.
That flood of information ‘shows’ that Donald Trump is a ‘compulsive liar’, a ‘childish racist bully’, a ‘pandering fraud who contradicts himself on an hourly basis’, a ‘business cheat whose empire is built on failing to honor his contracts’, etc.
But that flood of information also ‘shows’ that Hillary Clinton is ‘crooked’, a ‘warmonger’, a ‘shill to corporate interests’, a ‘radical liberal’, a ‘closet Republican’, etc.
I’ve used ‘quotes’ to make a point, but the record shows they belong only on the line describing Clinton.
Every contradiction demands that we choose sides. We want things to make sense, even at the expense of understanding reality.
At a certain point of saturation, facts lose their place in the argument: they’re just more information to be directed with sandbags and drainage systems.
Some hear Trump say “crooked Hillary” and take his side against Clinton; some hear it and take Clinton’s side against Trump. Some hear it and, apparently, take sides against both.
The most difficult reaction is to ignore such meaningless statements – or, if there’s time, to weigh them for their factual value. Trump doesn’t prove that Hillary is ‘crooked’, but he does demonstrate his own infantile habit of name-calling, as if pro wrestling provided the model for presidential behavior. How might that quirk affect delicate international negotiations?
Sorting through contradictory statements is difficult and exhausting, but sorting through contradictory facts is more complicated still. Did progressive politicians support the war in Iraq? Many did. Did progressive politicians support DOMA against gay marriage? Many did.
Struggling to make sense, we reject contradictions. We assume a politician can only be for us or against us, for rights or against rights, for justice or against justice. We rightly demand justice and human rights, often ignoring the ugly demands of keeping our allies in office.
We despise corruption, dishonesty, and the influence of money. It’s easy to forget that we’ve built a system that requires a little of each.
(Those who hold Bernie Sanders up as a shining example of a politician free from corruption and dishonesty: While I supported his campaign, I also read his campaign emails where he aggressively trashed Clinton for petty or nonsensical offenses. He’s spent the last few months trying to preserve American democracy by reversing the damage from his own exaggerated claims. I like most of Bernie’s policies, but he’s been playing the same game as everybody else.)
I think Trump has an instinctive grasp of all of the above. He sputters out a torrent of contradictions and lies because he knows quantity will ‘Trump’ quality. American decisions are made in a hurricane of headlines and claims, usually on the way back to work.
The group that disturbs me most are progressives who think they can reject all of these contradictions by voting for third-party candidates. This group will decide the election.
If they reject Hillary Clinton’s contradictions – her record on gay rights, say, or use of military & diplomatic strategies – they create a much larger contradiction, their concern for justice and human rights directly supporting Donald Trump’s promise of American fascism.
Only by accepting that we all have contradictions – every politician, every voter, every human being – can we make a responsible decision together.