Believe Half of What I Say

The key to being the ideal sucker for a two-bit carnival barker is to want to believe him so badly that you are prepared to block your own ears to the second half of everything he says, so as to avoid facing the contradictions, the ugly revelations, and the not-so-hidden meanings behind the half you wanted to hear.

Thus, for example, when Donald Trump says he’s going to build a big, beautiful wall with a big, beautiful door, you choose to hear only “big beautiful wall,” since that’s what you would like him to have said, whereas you would not like the touchback amnesty proposal his son said was the campaign’s real position.

When he says everybody hates Ted Cruz because of the way he disrespected his leader Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor, you hear “Everybody hates Ted Cruz,” and adopt it as a mantra against the closest thing to a genuine constitutional conservative among Trump’s main rivals, ignoring the fact that in so doing you have joined Trump in defending Mitch McConnell against conservative critique.

When he says ObamaCare is a disaster, because it doesn’t take care of everyone as single payer systems do so successfully in Canada and Scotland, you hear only “ObamaCare is a disaster,” because to hear the rest would make it patently obvious that Trump only wants to “repeal” ObamaCare in order to reclaim and entrench government-run health care as a Republican position.

When he says he will make better deals for America by working with his friends Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, with whom he gets along very well, you hear only “make better deals for America,” and ignore the lack of content and the promise to work in coordination with the neo-Marxist Democratic leadership.

I could go on and on like this, since everything Trump said during the primary and general election campaigns was two-faced hokum calibrated to appeal to (i.e., appease) whichever audience he happened to be working on that day. But that would be superfluous. For the issue here is not Trump’s duplicity, instability, and lack of scruples. Anyone who has been aware of his existence these past few decades already knows about those things.

The issue I am focused on here is the act of will required of anyone who would believe the first half of each of these statements so ardently, while carefully ignoring the other side entirely. It’s a choice. The Trump cultists are people who had lost hope so thoroughly that their desperate need to believe in something trumped their basic common sense and the evidence of their own ears. Nothing in their real experience met their needs, least of all the dimwitted vulgarian Trump. So they simply invented a faith and followed it, experience and facts be damned. They invested their faith in Trump because he had the audacity to demand faith, when other candidates were foolishly trying to persuade voters that they actually had detailed plans to achieve well-defined goals.

Against all that reasoning and pleading for rational acceptance, Trump simply puffed up his chest and blared, “I’ll do great things. You won’t believe all the great things I’ll do. I know how to make great deals. There will be so many great deals and so much winning with a Trump presidency that you’ll all get tired of winning so much. Vote for me and I’ll make America great again. How? Believe me, I know how to do it!”

As the Greeks teach us, when speaking to crowds, it is not the wise man who persuades, but the one who appeals to the desires and fears of the mob. Simple answers, simple words that sound superficially “right,” and a level of feigned hyper-confidence that seems reassuringly untroubled — these are the elements that will win a crowd that feels abandoned and weak, if anyone has the chutzpah to step forward and assert his ability to “take care of everyone,” details be damned.

Trump was that man. His lack of definable principles, of meaningful answers to straightforward questions, and of basic knowledge of the subject matter — any subject matter — were conveniently reinterpreted by his crowd as insouciance and an unwillingness to let the media define the issues. He became an idol and an article of faith precisely by seeming to say nothing and everything, in effect by refusing to stop talking when it was obvious that he didn’t know what he was talking about. His wealthy blowhard persona — “Daddy,” as Milo Yiannopoulos aptly dubbed him — was a perfect match for the (mostly) white lower-to-middle income voters who had been beaten into politically meek wallflowers by a generation of progressive assaults on everything they liked and believed about their lives and their country.

It was precisely because Trump demanded faith, rather than rational agreement, that he satisfied their hopes. They needed to experience blind faith, having lost confidence in reasoned strategy. They needed a wrecking ball, a protector, a god. In other words, they had given up on themselves under the endless progressive onslaught, and therefore felt they had no options left but to hand their souls over to a savior.

They got the savior they craved. And now fate has arrived for the believers in false idols. The second half of everything Trump said, the half the true believers willingly ignored, is increasingly asserting itself as the dominant feature — the primary reality — of the Trump presidency. The moment of truth is here, and although I believe the cultists themselves will sleep through the whole thing, the rest of America, and hence of the civilized world, will have to find a way to survive the results of this absurd pseudo-theology the true believers have thrust upon us all.

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