Someone in the morning thread mentioned a column in The Post by Gary Abernathy, and because I’m addicted to rage like a common Trumper, I went over and read it. I wish I hadn’t, but now that I’ve suffered, I’m asking you to suffer with me by hearing my thoughts on it.*
First, some context. Remember when The Times channeled its self-doubt, repressed guilt, etc., about not foreseeing the outcome of the 2016 election into a series of idiotic Midwestern diner interviews, which were ostensibly about trying to understand Trump voters? They weren’t the only outlet that did that, and they and fellow media anthropologists have been rightly ridiculed for that pointless exercise. But there are worse things. Things like Abernathy.
The Post is a better paper, at least when it comes to covering national politics. They screw up — a lot, sometimes — but their Beltway crew is generally heads and shoulders above The Times, IMO. That said, in a way, The Post’s reaction to the self-doubt, etc., occasioned by being blindsided by the 2016 election outcome was worse than The Times’ tiresome Cletus Safari reaction. The Post went out and bagged themselves a gen-yoo-wine Cletus, carried him metaphorically back to DC and placed him in their opinion page.
That’s Abernathy, Voice of Cletus, a state Republican Party operative and former editor at a Trump-supporting rag in some Christ-forsaken Ohio hellhole.** And ever since he got his Post gig, Abernathy’s output is exactly what you’d expect, i.e., somewhat less interesting than the diner drivel because there’s not even the menu and atmospherics to discuss. It’s been four solid years of unalloyed apologetics for an increasingly unhinged authoritarian wannabe president and defensive screeds about how elitist libs made the Common Clay turn Nazi by being woke scolds.
Okay, enough context. Today’s Abernathy column is different from its predecessors in one way: a new mission intruded on Abernathy’s usual shtick, and that was the need to make “move on from Trump” an attractive offer to “both sides,” i.e., to Trump supporters and to woke scolds. It doesn’t work. The column’s title, written (whether by Abernathy or not, I do not know) from the Trump supporters’ perspective, foretells its failure: “You can disavow Trump without apologizing for his presidency.”
Actually, no, you can’t. Abernathy’s premise is that while Trump is flawed, his supporters are pure and have nothing to apologize for, and Democrats should stop insisting that they apologize and we’ll all just move on like it’s 2015 again. Unpossible, as Abernathy demonstrates. But first, he establishes his Trump voter spokesman bona fides:
I think I can safely speak for millions of Trump voters when I say that the disparaging things said about us by people who never liked us anyway only make us more obstinate.
He’s got the aggrieved tone right. The sentence conveys the ever-present Trumpist delusions of persecution and channels Trumpism’s mass oppositional defiance disorder pretty well. It puts us libs on notice that haranguing Trump supporters only makes things worse. But after dense paragraphs of false equivalences and both-sidesing, Abernathy fails to stick the landing at the nut graf aimed at Trump supporters. He fails because he assumes his fellow Trumpers are where he, Abernathy, is:
But they [Trump voters] must also acknowledge that Trump’s refusal to admit his election loss, and his reckless admonition to “show strength” in order to “stop the steal” just before an angry mob marched on our U.S. Capitol, are acts that no patriotic American can defend.
Abernathy probably realizes the importance of repudiating the Big Lie because he’s an embedded cog in a conservative propaganda machine that exists to sell unpopular plutocrat-friendly policies to the so-called Heartland and Deep South by packaging it in belligerent culture war bullshit. As such, Abernathy knows national instability from whatever quarter is bad for business, a fact Trump propagandists (as opposed to true believers) receive as relevant and actionable information.
But the problem for Abernathy and fellow propagandists is that an indeterminately large portion of Trump voters are true believers, and among their beliefs is that the election was stolen from Trump. They therefore view insurrection as a good thing. Maybe this distinction is less of an abstraction to me than it is to Abernathy because I saw my Trump-poisoned neighbors screaming about it for weeks in front of the local courthouse. Or maybe Abernathy knows that and is just being disingenuous to shoo them along.
Regardless, everyone who carried Trump’s water as he lied constantly and ultimately fomented a violent attack on the US Capitol is responsible for the present national crisis, including Abernathy. I don’t give a shit about their feelings, and I don’t care if they ever apologize. What their support for a malignant, bigoted, incompetent narcissist says about their character is something they need to figure out for themselves if they’re interested in personal growth.
But while we don’t have to give a fuck about their feelings, what we do have to see before we “move on” is that a sufficiently large plurality of the Trump cult is willing to crawl back under its rock instead of engaging in further destabilizing sedition. When the question of whether Trumpism will destroy American democracy is settled — when those who violently turned on our democracy are held to account and those who cheered them on acknowledge reality in deeds if not in words — then we can move on. And not one second sooner.
*Or just skip all the horseshit above and use this as an open thread. That’s my recommendation, actually.
**I live in a Christ-forsaken, swampy Florida hellhole, which I love and have no intention of ever leaving, so I describe Abernathy’s hometown in that way without judgment. I assume his hellhole, like mine, has its unique delights and saving graces too.