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No, We Don’t Have To Be Friends With Trump Supporters

On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a ruling that would change the course of American asylum policy: the closing of America’s doors to those escaping domestic violence and gang violence.

Asylum seekers from Central America and elsewhere else, fleeing desperate conditions and frequently in terror for their lives, are now officially unwelcome. Coupled with the administration’s new and ghastly family-separation policy, this functionally means that America’s official response to those who flee violence and seek succor in our enormous, wealthy country is to rip their children from their arms and leave their hopes to wither in federal jails.

Far from a surprise, this is the culmination of Trump’s rhetorical assault on minorities, which began at the very inception of his campaign. Monday’s announcement is that rhetorical excess, turned into a promise, now executed as policy.

Everyone saw this coming. And if you didn’t, you should have.

The truth of the matter is that anyone who willingly declares themselves a Republican is aligning themselves with an administration whose official policy is to torment minorities, to empty the public purse both for private gain and for sheer cruel parsimony, to strip away healthcare from the afflicted and to comfort the wealthy.

The Republican Party is enmeshed with Trump: Its domination of the Senate and House have led those august bodies to become supine and listless, willfully abandoning their Constitutional duty of oversight.

There has never been a Congressional hearing about Trump using governmental resources to visit and promote his various properties, most notably Mar-a-Lago. Not a single one about any of the egregious breaches of security that have leaked out into the press – from Trump’s reportedly non-secured cell phone to his divulgence of classified intelligence to Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. John Kelly’s email has been hacked, he admitted. Grift goes past unchecked while racism ossifies into official policy.

Anyone who is a current Trumpist might as well be an ICE agent ripping an 18-month-old child from its mother’s arms, or shipping a five-year-old boy to Michigan to dream of his father and weep in a stranger’s house.

From June 2015, when Trump launched his campaign with open attacks on Mexicans, and over the course of an egregiously misogynist campaign, it became clear that racism and sexism made up the primary basis of his appeal. His fixation on punishing and humiliating black athletes and female critics; his commitment to stripping away LGBT protections and women’s reproductive health; and most of all, the policy of separating families at the border, even those seeking asylum has borne out the fact that his rhetoric will be bolstered by action.

The current Republican Party seems content to view itself as a limb of Trumpism, and has done nothing to check its cruelty or excess.

It is no coincidence that 2018 has seen a rising influx of white supremacist candidates for office under the aegis of the Republican Party.

To be a Trump supporter in 2018 is to have seen every cruelty unleashed thus far and to bay for more.

After the election, dozens and dozens of news articles sought to examine who had gone Trump – fetishistic rust-belt diner stories that quickly became a subgenre of their own, one ripe for parody. Although this conclusion was not borne out by data, the resulting body of journalism seemed to cast the blame for Trump on the poor, those who didn’t know better.

The truth is that there are many educated suburban individuals who voted joyously for Trump and remain satisfied with their decisions. It has always seemed foolish to me that journalists traveled to rural Pennsylvania, or Indiana, or Alabama for their Trump-voter profiles when they could have just as easily taken the train to Scarsdale or a tony New Jersey suburb and interrogated their own relatives. In white families, there is almost always someone – often many someones — who voted for Trump.

Since 2016, there have been many commentators who have argued that decency is our essential path out of the current turmoil engulfing the United States; David Frum, writing in the Atlantic, attempted to sharpen this dictum into a rallying cry of sorts: “Let Trump be Trump. Let decent people be decent.” It was reminiscent of two familiar phrases from the 2016 elections: Barack Obama’s “Don’t boo, vote,” and Michelle Obama’s “When they go low, we go high.” One companion to the legion of Trump-voter-as-curious-oddity portraiture is the endless stream of op-eds prevailing upon liberals to be more tolerant. To cease being smug. To simply reach across the aisle, grasp a hand, and speak softly, leaving the big stick at home.

To which I say: tough nuts, sugar. When they go low, stomp them on the head.

The 2016 election upended the peppy bromides of reconciliation – the notion that civil words and politeness could triumph over cruel, broad barbarity, with a side of slapstick and a lurid undercurrent of scandal. The pernicious, bad-faith arguments that typify contemporary Trumpist rhetoric, and the brutality of action that underlies that rhetoric, means that maintaining an air of civility in such discussions works to legitimize a regime that is fundamentally immoral.

The central and salient feature of Trumpism is brutality: the desire to crush one’s enemies, to sweep those who are unlike you away, to humiliate and punish difference. It is the most consistent characteristic of the man at its center, and it has spread to its minions.

To respond to this onslaught with politeness is a doomed endeavor. The current elected Democrats in Congress seem not yet to have realized this, insofar as their opposition seems mainly to consist of strongly worded letters, numerous members voting in egregious nominees, and milquetoast policy-paper pronouncements that are incapable of breaking into a news cycle.

It isn’t working. It never will.

In 1941, Harper’s Magazine published an article by Dorothy Thompson entitled, “Who Goes Nazi?” It featured the author examining each attendee of a dinner party, imagining them in the circumstance of choosing whether to affiliate with the Nazi Party or not—who would triumph over the urge to join a barbarous regime. “It’s fun—a macabre sort of fun—this parlor game of “Who Goes Nazi?,” she wrote. “It’s an amusing game. Try it at the next big party you go to.”

Thompson’s article is characterized by a kind of wry, amused scrutiny of her fellow partygoers, an unflinching dissection of their personalities, circumstances and convictions. It’s a work of social satire of the most scathing kind.

In 2018, the question is not “Who goes Nazi?” but rather “Who goes Trump?” While Trump is far from Hitler and his supporters are a far cry from Nazis, it is undeniable at this point that his is a regime ruled by cruelty and evil.

It is high time, when you find yourself next at a dinner party with someone who has gone Trump, to smash your glass to shards and leave. It is time to push yourself away from the table. It is time to cease to behave with subservient politesse towards those who embrace barbarity with unfettered glee.

Politics have always been about the fates of others; it is the height of privilege to pretend that they are merely a game, or a supplement to identity. To be a Trumpist should mean earning the total condemnation of your peers. The counterrevolution against cruelty will not be accomplished through appeasement. There is no other way to proceed but to fight.

Talia Lavin is a fact checker for the New Yorker and a Forward columnist writing about Jews in American politics.


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