People Want Trump On the Ballot Because They Think He's Authentic
White supremacy makes serious pundits dream of the heartland.
My post on why you should just fucking support removing Trump from the ballot is my most popular article on substack by some margin. Proving I should curse more, probably? Or that everyone really enjoys mocking Damon Linker. Maybe both.
Anyway. Since people seem to be interested, I thought I’d talk a little bit about why people don’t do the obvious fucking thing. Why is it so hard for supposedly serious, supposedly anti-Trump pundits to just say, “Hey, he committed insurrection. Kick that motherfucker off the ballot”?
There are a couple of reasons. Some people are I think genuinely afraid; again one social media user said if you kick Trump off the ballot, his followers will pick up guns and attack voters and perhaps Congress.
Of course, we all know Trump’s followers will do that anyway if he loses. But part of the reason political violence and terror can be effective is that when people are scared, they don’t necessarily think straight.
Fear makes people cower and try to assuage the people they fear. A billion teen comedies teach the lesson that if you don’t stand up to bullies now, they’ll just keep hitting you. But even so, when you’re in the moment, it’s difficult to stand up to bullies. Nobody wants to get punched in the face. You keep hoping, “Well, if we just let the fascist stay on the ballot, he’ll go peacefully when he loses!”
Again, he won’t. But the logic is seductive. Why stand when you can crawl? Why do something when you can hide and do nothing? Everybody’s felt that temptation, I think. It’s not admirable, but it’s understandable.
I don’t think fear’s really the main force behind the rage for Trump appeasement among the pundits, though. Instead, the thing that trips people up is a kind of reverence, both for Trump and for his voters.
Pundit Damon Linker worried that disqualifying Trump will leave us “unable to hold elections that most Americans consider legitimate.” New York Times’ columnist Ross Douthat, whined, “The way we defeat Trump is by championing the core values of liberal democracy, like having judges remove bad people from the ballot.”
The common thread here is that people thing that Trump is authentic and legitimate, and that holding him or his coalition to Constitutional standards, or to any standards, is somehow anti-democratic, or anti-American. The core values of liberal democracy require Trump to be on the ballot even if the plain text of the Constitution disqualifies him.
The Constitution says that an election with Trump on the ballot is illegitimate, but to Linker it feels more illegitimate to kick Trump off. In the immortal words of the New York Times pitchbot, “Letting voters vote for the candidate of their choice, even if that candidate has been Constitutionally disqualified, is one of the core vibes of our democracy.”
What are “vibes”, though? I’d argue “vibes” in this case are just unspoken, unconscious assumptions and prejudices about how government should function and how things should be. And in the US, when you look into unspoken assumptions and prejudices about who should be in charge, you often end up with white supremacy.
In theory, the US rejects white supremacy; we all in public at least agree that everyone should be equal, and that no one race is entitled or destined to rule. In practice…well.
The truth is that pundits, and the public, still tend to believe that the truest America, the core America, is a vision of heartland rural white America. That vision dovetails with Trump’s voter base, or at least with Trump’s propaganda about his voter base. It’s why we have been swamped for years with stories about Trump supporters in rural diners, rather than with, say, stories about Biden supporters in South Side Chicago bars or suburban strip malls.
Those diner stories tell us that certain people (wink wink) are more American than others. You can babble on about what the Constitution allows and doesn’t. But the real legitimizer is whiteness, and Trump is whiteness’ avatar. How can you kick him off the ballot when he embodies the racism for which America stands?
For a lot of pundits and analysts, attuned to the poisonous vibes of authenticity, Trump’s rank racism and his contempt for the rule of law make him paradoxically more worthy of deference. Few contemporary national politicians have embraced racist populism as enthusiastically as Trump; few have appealed so obviously for legitimacy not to the Constitution, but to a racist volk. Trump pretty openly insists that Black people in cities, or Hispanic people in the west, can only vote legitimately if they vote for him.
This was the basis for his insurrection. Trump says he is above the Constitution because white supremacy is more important than the Constitution. And the truth is that, for many Americans, even those who nominally oppose Trump, that racist formulation feels more natural than the 14th Amendment ever will.
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