If you are a voting, politically-aware American, there will inevitably come a time when you have to step back and take stock of the decisions you’ve made and the causes you’ve supported. This time usually comes a year or so after an election. I like to watch how people react at moments like these. This is where you can separate the intellectually-honest from the rank tribalists.
Given that main-party presidential candidates are just pre-approved servants of Wall Street, they must lie and pretend to represent regular people. Obviously they can’t just go out there and say, “I will serve my corporate overlords loyally.”
In the 21th century, given the amount on information at your fingertips, there is no excuse for still thinking your interests are being represented, unless you happen to be the CEO of a Pharmaceutical company or arms manufacturer.
I’m ashamed to admit that I was conned by Obama in 2008. I had become disgusted by Bush-era Republicans’ American exceptionalism, growing surveillance state, and military worship and was sucked in by Obama’s promises of withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq, closure of Guantanamo Bay, ending of warrantless wiretapping etc. Call me naive, but I still had hope in my country’s institutions. But of course Obama expanded the use of robotic flying death machines 10x, turned three interventions into seven, expanded NSA spying, and prosecuted more whistle blowers under the Espionage Act than all previous presidents combined.
To my dismay, many friends, who once cared about peace and civil liberties, lost all interest as soon as their team was winning. I also began losing respect for many of my favorite media figures as they defended the charlatan. I began to feel like the last sane person on Earth. By 2012, I had no interests in either of the flamboyantly corrupt conmen in the reality show spectacle of our elections, but still I saw people defending Obama. He couldn’t make the same promises that he did four years earlier, so he ran more of a neoliberal, ‘at least I’m not as bad as the Republicans’ campaign. I watched in awe as people engaged in mental gymnastics to rationalize their continued support for him. They would say things like: “He can’t just change everything. The system is against him. It’s like he has a gun to his head.” Then when I would point out the ways in which he was objectively worse than bush, they would stick their heads in the sand.
Now, a year and a half into the Trump Administration, I’m watching acquaintances, media figures, and family members suffer from the same cognitive dissonance.
Lets make one thing clear first. Supporting Trump is not like supporting Ron Paul or Bernie Sanders, who have been ideologically consistent for decades. Trump has been on every side of every issue. It’s become abundantly clear that he has no ideology. He just memorized a few Fox News talking points to con gullible people. So if you support Trump, you are admitting that you don’t care about policy substance. You can’t really be a Trump ‘supporter.’ The correct terminology would be a ‘fan.’ Either way, it’s been fun to find out which of my right-leaning acquaintances are objective and which are tribalists.
A lot of Trump fans used to care about ‘big government’ and the deficit, but not so much now that their team is winning. Trump doubled the national deficit in his first two years in office, and his new tax plan will add 1.5 trillion to the national dept. Trump said he would cut taxes, and he did for his corporate overlords, but he raised them for the poor and middle class. Trump fans also claim to care about free speech, but their dear leader is the most anti-free speech president since Lincoln. He has, on multiple occasions, threatened to prosecute journalists critical of him, and tried to sue Bill Mahar and the Onion over jokes. Trump claimed he would rebuild infrastructure. Instead, he is effectively doing the opposite by privatizing it. Trump said he would negotiate cheaper drug prices, but after one meeting with pharmaceutical lobbyists, changed his mind. He signed a bill with a 6% approval rating, allowing ISPs to sell our private information to marketers. He said he would drain the swamp, criticizing Hillary for her close ties to Wall Street, then filled his cabinet with Goldman Sachs lackeys. He said he would make healthcare more affordable, but prices keep going up. He pretended to be anti-free trade. He did delay the TPP for a whole year, but negotiations have begun again. He said he would disincentivize outsourcing, but he did no such think, and outsourcing has only increased under his administration. He criticized Obama for golfing too much, but he has golfed three times as much and has taken more time off than any other president in history. He said we should “take the guns first,” and “kill innocent family members of terrorists.” On foreign policy. he ran on a platform of getting out of Afghanistan, stopping the support of terrorists in Syria and Yemen, and improving relations with Russia, all of which proved to be lies. Do I need to go on?
I would say at least 90% of Americans fail the objectivity test of assessing their decisions a year into an administration. Being politically objective in America is a very lonely existence. Many of my friends think I’m a right winger, and all of my family think I’m a ‘crazy liberal.’
It’s unpleasant to admit that you were conned. It’s so much easier just to support your team and to stick your fingers in your ears and hum whenever you’re exposed to information than makes you’re team look bad. But after you take those first few timid steps, you will realize how much energy you’ve wasted, how much care you’ve misplaced, on defending the indefensible, and a great weight will have been lifted off your shoulders. You’ll never look back.