The president recently tweeted out a pro-Trump video created by the irrepressible memester Som3thing Wicked (Twitter account here, YouTube channel here). It is, in my opinion, mesmerizing, slightly nausea-inducing, and brilliant. Some of the stats are off (Trump's approval rating is 51 percent in a single, outlier poll; his average approval rating peaked at 45.5 percent the week he entered office and is mired in the low 40s), outdated (the regulations repealed figure is from last year), misleading (crime was been dropping for decades before Trump took office), or missing altogether (no mention at all of the explosion of debt under Trump). But it hits all the bases for Trump's base: crowing about judges, economic growth, paid family leave, deporting illegal aliens, defunding Planned Parenthood, and record-low unemployment rates for minorities and women.
It's also funny: Watch carefully and you'll see the bull's balls sway gently in the section highlighting the Dow's rise, and it's hard not to read the lion logo that appears at the end as a shrewdly calculated fuck-you to #resistance types always on the lookout for links between the president and the alt-right. The rave-up music, which sounds like a great riff the old anarcho-pranksters KLF might have come up with, is hilariously over-dramatic, which only adds to the trolling quotient. Take a look:
Thank you for the support as we MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN! pic.twitter.com/qKgwRMSgcf
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 28, 2019
Does watching this video push all your anti-Trump buttons? Does it make you sputter with rage? Does it make you ashamed that such a vulgarian is your president? If so, it's working almost certainly as intended. But here's a word to the wise: Every time you gnash your teeth and rend your garments over what a disgusting, déclassé, embarrassing piece of protoplasm Donald Trump really is, you're making him stronger. He's like the old Marvel supervillain The Blob, a psychologically unstable mutant who gained strength whenever he was attacked. You're simply not going to beat Trump by talking about his inability to tie a tie properly or insisting that he is "an extinction-level event" when it comes to "liberal democracy and constitutional order."
As Windsor Mann notes in The Week, Trump supporters cite his personality, not his policies, as what they like most about him:
Trump has done nothing that another Republican could not do, and do better. What distinguishes Trump from other Republicans is his behavior….Republican support for Trump is not about ideology or policy. It is psychological.
In a related way, Reason's Robby Soave noted right after Trump's election the billionaire in part "won because leftist political correctness inspired a terrifying backlash." When you strip away Trump's personality, his demonstrated inability to spell or speak in polished phrases, and his general crudeness, his platform is not seriously different from the standard-issue Republican Party platform of income tax cuts, deregulation, and a never-mind attitude toward spending and deficits.
He is unapologetic in waging a trade war, but George W. Bush levied tariffs on steel and timber during his time in the White House. Trump is fiercer in his rhetoric about illegal aliens than any president since Bill Clinton, whose 1996 reelection campaign praised his zero tolerance for undocumented immigrants, but his policies are not that different from those of Barack Obama, who also pushed a "Buy American" program that was wildly popular among Democrats back in the day. If you think immigration policy is going to be vastly different under, say, Bernie Sanders (who frets that too many poor people want to move here) or Joe Biden (who was deporter-in-chief Obama's vice president), you're focusing on the sizzle, not the steak.
What should be shocking to people are the ways in which Trump deviates from worn-out GOP positions and embraces some Democratic policies too. He's been good on criminal-justice reform, for instance, has spoken out against military adventurism, and was better than Hillary Clinton on ending marijuana prohibition. He has been more forward on school choice than any president and he embraces paid family leave too. These are not all good things, in my view, and his negatives, especially on immigration and trade, are disturbing as hell. But especially from a libertarian perspective, he's a mixed bag, as are all presidents.
Put slightly differently, he is mostly an abomination, but that merely makes him the most recent president, not history's greatest monster.
Trump and his sharpest supporters are shrewd folks who, in their heart of hearts, know that the president is not going to top the 46 percent of the popular vote he eked out in 2016. His path to victory in 2020 is a hard one that will involve minimizing enthusiasm and turnout for the eventual Democratic nominee by making the primary candidates and their supporters appear deranged, unhinged, and extreme. In 2016, Hillary Clinton and her supporters played into this strategy perfectly by taking her support among swing voters and eventual victory for granted. Today's Democrats, helped along by a number of often-unconvincing #NeverTrump conservatives who are now denouncing exactly what they stood for a few minutes ago (hi, Joe Walsh!), are making Trump's job easier with almost every passing day. Such antics harden existing Trump supporters.
At the same time, each call to give away more "free" stuff and every charge of racism, Russian influence, and undermining of the American experiment lobbed against Trump will only alienate the 38 percent plurality of voters who identify as independent (just 29 percent call themselves Republicans and only 27 percent cop to being Democrats). What independent is not going to be insulted when reading invective like this from supposedly learned and objective political scientists—in this case, Rutgers' Ross K. Baker, writing in USA Today?
I am now hesitant defending what I used to refer to as the "genius" of the framers of the Constitution because I no longer have confidence in the checks and balances that James Madison assured us were "auxiliary precautions" to prevent our government from going off the rails at times when the wisdom of the American people is faulty. The faultiness of that wisdom is, in my mind, on vivid display by the man they chose to lead the nation.
The smarter course of action for all of us who didn't vote for Trump and don't plan to in 2020 is to engage in a substantive critique of the actual effects of his policies and to offer an alternative that does more than attack the president's many character flaws and rhetorical awfulness.