I’ve gotten a lot of reaction to my piece about not voting for Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, and I would say the positive and the negative are roughly equal. In case anyone needs to hear me say this: I don’t write pieces for the reactions one way or the other — via emails, blog comments, social media, even the occasional phone call or letter — they will produce. I hope people will consider what I write as they form their own opinions, but the likelihood people will praise me or blast me for what I’ve written doesn’t enter my head.
All that said, I do listen to what people say in their reactions as I try to understand what people are thinking out there in this wide world of ours. I’ve been listening in particular to what supporters of Trump have been saying in response to the many negative things I’ve written about the man. It doesn’t mean they have changed my mind (obviously). But I have listened, because I’ve been curious to know how so many people came to vote for a man who a) doesn’t meet the standards many of these same voters set for previous candidates in all kinds of elections, and b) was always likely, if chosen as Republicans’ nominee, to blow the golden opportunity this election presented for the GOP and conservatives to right our ship of state from its leftward drift.
They have said a lot — not all, or even much, of which can be attributed to the kinds of things liberals want to blame for Trump support. They’re not all, or even mostly, racists or misogynists or bigots. They think Clinton is corrupt, wrong-headed; I’ve also heard the word “evil” from numerous people not normally given to hyperbole. They think our country is headed in such a bad direction that they are willing to risk a radical correction, even an over-correction.
Importantly, they are not cowed by the accusations that Trump is, or tolerates the support of those who are, a racist or misogynist or bigot. Those labels have a whole lot of lost their effectiveness. I think we have to understand why that is true. And where better to start than with an admission from one of the left’s favorite celebrities, on the Friday broadcast of his HBO show, that he has overindulged in that kind of talk about past Republicans:
BILL MAHER: “To the young people, like they say in the action movies, the s— just got real. I know you’re young and idealistic so I’ve heard these young people out in the news and they say things like, ‘Well, Donald Trump, I don’t like him but Hillary, I can’t vote for a liar.’
“I mean, first of all it’s just apples and oranges, and orange. But, kids, I’ve been doing this for 23 years on TV. I’ve seen a lot. I know politics. This is different. I promise you this will not make your life better. And also once fascists get power they don’t give it up. You’ve got President Trump for life.
“I know liberals made a big mistake because we attacked your boy (George W.) Bush like he was the end of the world. And he wasn’t. And Mitt Romney we attacked that way. I gave (Barack) Obama a million dollars because I was so afraid of Mitt Romney. Mitt Romney wouldn’t have changed my life that much or yours. Or John McCain.
“They were honorable men who we disagreed with and we should have kept it that way. So we cried wolf and that was wrong. But this is real. This is going to be way different.”
“We cried wolf.” You think??? Heck, Maher is doing it even as he admits his past exaggerations: “You’ve got President Trump for life.” Really? If you buy into this kind of rhetoric, you are no better than the red-state “rubes” you so disdain for calling Obama a dictator who himself spent eight years scheming how to stay in the White House for more than eight years.
In case you’ve forgotten the kinds of things Maher and Co. said about Bush and McCain and Romney before Trump’s candidacy brought them a Strange New Respect, Ben Domenech has some reminders in this morning’s edition of his Transom newsletter:
“That’s all well and good for Maher to say now. But it doesn’t matter. Maher himself is a perfect encapsulation of why this will never change. Back in 2004 and 2005, he compared George W. Bush to Hitler on more than one occasion — joking in his book that unlike Hitler, Bush wasn’t a decorated combat veteran, and that Hitler actually got more votes than his opponents in 1933. He compared Laura Bush to ‘Hitler’s dog’ while using National Enquirer photos to suggest that the president had given her a black eye while drinking again. Oh and here he is again, comparing Mitt Romney to Hitler in the scene from Downfall.”
And guess what? Despite Maher’s protestations that “this is different … way different,” Domenech looks into a plausible future in which a post-Trump GOP gets the Trumped-up treatment from him and other liberals:
“(T)he point is how readily leftist commentators will be doing the exact same thing four years from now. ‘Say what you will about Donald Trump, he wasn’t the anti-abortion extremist Ben Sasse is.’ ‘Say what you will about Donald Trump, he didn’t hate gay people the way Tom Cotton does.’ ‘Say what you will about Donald Trump, he didn’t want to lead us into a bunch of irresponsible wars like Marco Rubio does.'”
And so on. You know it will happen. And that’s a big reason the left’s self-appointed police of “right-wing extremism” have lost all credibility with anyone who might even dream of voting Republican: They have been crying “extremist!” for decades now. (Charles W. Cooke wrote something similar the other day that is also very much worth your time.)
There’s a diminishing return to this, and not just politically. It really is good in society to reject racism, misogyny and bigotry — so the weakening of those labels through overuse and abuse is a very bad thing beyond the context of elections.