[guest post by Dana]
When there is no reason to further engage with Trump superfans:
[O]rdinary people worn out by the dramas and lies of the past four years have a right to refuse to take Trump’s most enthusiastic supporters seriously. To reject further debate with people whose views are completely incoherent is not only understandable, but sensible.
I am not talking about all 74 million people who voted for Trump. Some voters may well have supported Trump in both 2016 and 2020 with a sense of hesitancy, perhaps focused on a single issue, such as abortion, or because they were making a raw and self-interested calculation about taxes…
Instead, I am talking about the people who are giving Trump their full-throated support to the very end, even as he mulls a military coup; the people who buy weird paintings of Trump crossing the Delaware, or who believe that Trump is an agent of Jesus Christ, or who think that Trump is fighting a blood-drinking ring of pedophiles. These supporters have gone far beyond political loyalty and have succumbed to a kind of mass delusion. It is not possible to engage them. Indeed, to argue with them is to legitimize their beliefs, which itself is unhealthy for our democracy.
I don’t want to treat our fellow citizens with open contempt, or to confront and berate them. Rather, I am arguing for silence. The Trump loyalists who still cling to conspiracy theories and who remain part of a cult of personality should be deprived of the attention they seek, shunned for their antidemocratic lunacy, and then outvoted at the ballot box.
If we’ve learned one thing about “Trumpism,” it is that there is no such thing as “Trumpism.” No content anchors it; no program or policy comes from it. No motivating ideology stands behind it, unless we think of general grievance and a hatred of cultural and intellectual elites as an “idea.” And when views are incoherent and beliefs are rooted in fantasies, compromise is impossible. Further engagement is not only unwarranted, but it can also become counterproductive.
This is why I see no point in a “national conversation” or in “reaching out,” or other euphemisms for attempts to better understand the movement that formed around Trump. We already understand: Trump tapped into traditions of ethnic and regional grievances and social resentments that are present in every democracy and wedded them to bizarre theories and conspiracies.
The only people who need to engage such voters are political strategists, because enough of these voters in the right states can drive the Electoral College into a ditch. But the rest of us no longer need to participate in long chin-pulling exercises about “what they really want” or why they cannot grasp reality.
I agree with this approach. Because, really, what is there left to say that hasn’t already been said? What sound arguments are left to be made? Would a collective response of silence be received as a further disenfranchising of an already angry group who turned toward Trump for this very reason? Quite possibly. But how does a nation rationally deal with a large swath of its population that holds as truths the outrageous beliefs cited by the writer? The private citizen who is a Trump loyalist is one thing, but what about those who have their hands on the levers of power and hold these beliefs? And with regard to personal relationships: What point is there in continuing to have these sorts of heated discussions and debates with loved ones who happen to be Trump loyalists? Especially when both sides know that nothing can be said that will change anyone’s mind. It not only leads to friction but I believe it also breaks down the relationship. While everyone has to decide for themselves what they consider a bridge too far in a relationship, there are simply times when silence is the only reasonable response. It might also be the only response that can preserve the remaining bonds that hold two people together. The fact is, silence can often speak volumes more than anything that could be said out loud. Unfortunately, it can easily go unheard.