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CONNECTIONS: Allure of an oligarchy

Whether pro-Trump or anti-, everyone is curious: What makes Donald Trump so compelling? All have observed lawyers contradict precedent, politicians contradict their own earlier statements, public servants contradict the Constitution, […]

Whether pro-Trump or anti-, everyone is curious: What makes Donald Trump so compelling?

All have observed lawyers contradict precedent, politicians contradict their own earlier statements, public servants contradict the Constitution, and private citizens break the law to do his bidding. It prompts the question: Why are so many willing to do so much for him? Why is Trump so compelling?

Now he is impeached. Everyone on every side is upset. Supporters are affronted that anyone would question or attack their president. Detractors are deeply concerned that Trump’s style of defense is an assault on the Constitution. His supporters applaud the Republican senators for their anticipated loyalty to POTUS. Trump detractors condemn Republican senators for their anticipated disloyalty to their oath of office.

Thus, the great divide in this country is laid bare. Trump supporters think detractors are taking an awful risk opposing him; detractors think supporters are taking an awful risk defending him. Republicans do not search for reasons why Democrats oppose Trump. They are satisfied with TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrome). Democrats do try to understand — they think it is a great mystery to be solved. They begin with the premise that Republicans see the facts and judge the man the same as they do and yet support him. They guess why.

The first guess is self-interest. Self-interest divides into two possibilities — to gain something good or avoid something bad. That is, some representatives may believe they will hold their seats if they hold onto Trump’s coattails. Or, if recent reports are true, others may be co-conspirators protecting themselves as much as defending Trump.

The second guess is equally basic to the human condition — fear. Let’s be honest: All of us spent our early education unable to cope with the schoolyard bully. Whether we were the one bullied, the bully’s cohort or an on-looker, as kids, none of us could figure out what to do. So the bully ruled the schoolyard. Perhaps we never figured it out and now, as adults, the name calling, the threats, the firings, injuries to reputation, the “or-else” demands for loyalty, and the other petty slights and slaps are still effective.

The third guess is also left over from childhood. Trump gets away with it. The more guilty he is, the more incredible it is that he faces no consequences. Trump brags about it. In fact, he brags about getting away with stuff more than anything else. From the now famous “I could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue …” to “the Second Amendment says I can do whatever I want” to “no collusion” and “that call was perfect,” getting away with it is his signature move.

Once, secretly, we all wished to do whatever we wanted. We stopped for fear of consequences. It was years before we matured enough to do the right thing for the greater good or for our own self-respect. Secretly, at one time or another, we all wanted to get away with it. So, the more guilty Trump is without consequence, speculation goes, the more compelling he is to that child within us.

The companion to that is shock. Trump does that which is supposedly taboo. The first reaction is often shock. Folks take a beat to process what they witnessed and figure out how to respond. In the interim, Trump’s behavior becomes normalized.

Mar-a-Lago. Photo: Lucien Capehart/Getty Images

The fourth guess is that Trump’s unexpected behavior gives others cover. Whatever you always wanted to do, go ahead, Trump will do something more uncommon later that day. He is supported because he allows others to transgress. During the election of 2016, a minister said that we believe there are people who can bring out the best in us and, he said, Trump is a man who will systematically bring out the worst in us.

Last, at this time in this country, money is very important. Maybe the closest many come is to stand next to a rich man. In that case gaining Trump’s acceptance would be of the utmost importance. If this country has nurtured a cult of wealth, then money is an aphrodisiac. In that case, an invitation to Mar-a-Lago is fair trade for one’s dignity.

All of these potential explanations have one thing in common. The Democrats assume the Republicans actually feel as they do, actually accept the same basic truths, and only feign support for POTUS. Is that right?

Kellyanne Conway said the White House has “alternative facts.” At the time of the last impeachment, there was bipartisan agreement with respect to basic truths, for example, the supremacy of the Constitution and the belief that no one was above the law. Today, one side argues that the president may be above the law. Maybe opponents of POTUS should start listening.

A political battle is between two sides relying on the same basic beliefs and disagreeing on issues. Trump supporters may not agree on the basics. Maybe for them it is better to win than tell the truth. Maybe, long before the Trump presidency, Mitch McConnell was gerrymandering because he wanted Republicans to win even if they did not get the most votes. Maybe long before Trump, McConnell wanted to restructure the judiciary to reflect his values, not the values of the majority. Perhaps before Trump, Attorney General Barr believed in a stronger executive branch rather than co-equal branches. Perhaps the president’s men do not believe that popular conspiracy theories are debunked.

Perhaps any opposer of Trump overlooked the obvious: They don’t believe in the same things. Maybe pro-Trump and anti-Trump contingents are both supporting their core beliefs. They have different core beliefs. The anti-Trump contingent says they believe in a representative democracy, the Constitution and “A Republic if you can keep it.” They are fighting to do so.

The pro-Trump contingent may believe democracy is messy, expensive, admits too many and gives equal voice to too many. They may believe in an oligarchy, and believe that Trump facilitates rapid change. Maybe we should have considered who wanted a disruptor-in-chief and why.

If the divide is now so wide that there is no longer agreement about what our government is and should be, then this is not a political battle — this is civil war.


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