Democrats make a mistake every time they describe Donald Trump’s blind loyalists as a bunch of idiots.
Idiots they are not.
The Trump true believers have heard the same appalling stories about this president as everyone else, and they’re just as shaken by them.
Who wouldn’t be?
But they’re willing to compromise, because many have something bigger on their agenda.
They know all about this president’s 20,000 catalogued lies, and many can spot the emptiness in Trump’s latest denials that he called America’s military warriors “losers” and “suckers.”
Trump can feign outrage and deny these claims (reported in The Atlantic) all he wants. But he can’t erase his past. His history is right there on tape – audio and video – for all to see and hear, going back to his record on Vietnam and his unconscionable slander of the late Sen. John McCain.
Trump’s true believers know all of this, but they’ve decided to brush it off.
They know, too, about the various ways Trump conspired to rig the last presidential election: the sucking up to Vladimir Putin, the secret campaign dances with Russian spies, the six-figure hush money payments to Trump’s ladies of the night.
And now they have Michael Cohen’s new book, “Disloyal: A Memoir” (Skyhorse), in which the president’s former personal attorney quotes Trump saying of the Stormy Daniels incident, “If it comes out, I’m not sure how it would play with my supporters. But I bet they’d think it’s cool that I slept with a porn star.”
But Trump supporters have learned to live with all such creepiness, sexual and otherwise, because they have other concerns.
They know about the countless working people Trump has ripped off. They know about the business failures and frauds, and all those naïve, trusting students cheated by the phony Trump University, and they know about the insidious ways he and his family have cashed in on his presidency as no one ever previously imagined.
It doesn’t matter to the faithful.
They know he’s bungled the coronavirus plague, so that hundreds of thousands have paid the price with their lives. The number of the American dead now approaches 200,000. They know this bungling led to the collapse of the U.S. economy. And they know that millions of Americans spend sleepless nights terrified they’ll lose their homes.
It won’t matter to them in the voting booth because they believe something else matters more.
It’s the thing Trump’s counting on.
They saw him go to Kenosha, Wisconsin, last week and heard him say not a word about Jacob Blake, shot in the back seven times by a police officer.
And they knew Trump’s very silence was a signal to them.
They heard Trump open his last campaign talking about Mexican rapists and Muslim travel bans. They heard him boast about building a wall to keep desperate immigrants from coming here, and they watched him separate sobbing children from their frantic parents at America’s southern border.
Signals to the faithful, every time.
They heard him call racist and anti-Semitic bigots marching in Charlottesville “fine people” in the early months of his presidency. And now, in its closing months, they’ve heard him describe demonstrators whom he says want to “destroy” America’s suburbs.
More signals to the faithful.
Maybe they’ve even seen another Trump remark from Michael Cohen’s new book, where Trump says, “I will never get the Hispanic vote. Like the Blacks, they’re too stupid to vote for Trump. They’re not my people.”
It won’t matter to Trump’s true believers.
They’ve known where he stands from the start.
The one consistent Trump message has been his willingness to tear the country apart at its oldest fault line, which is skin color.
His supporters knew this going into the relationship. They knew it from his real estate days, when the government went after him for refusing to rent to people of color. They knew it from his eagerness to execute the Central Park Five, innocent in the eyes of the law but still guilty in Trump’s eyes. And they knew it from Trump’s phony birther issues with Barack Obama.
Am I calling all of Trump’s supporters racist bigots?
But Donald Trump is assuming they are.
There’s no other explanation for the consistency of his messaging. And he’s at least partly right. Some are racist, and some aren’t. That’s America for you; that’s human nature for you. And that’s Trump’s sales pitch.
Some of his supporters are reminiscent of post-war Americans, who bailed out of all-White neighborhoods at the first hint of Blacks moving in, and created the mid-20th century exodus to the suburbs.
Some were bigots.
Some were just frightened — not of Black people per se. But they looked at all their White neighbors bailing out, and worried they’d be the last White people on their block. They worried their homes would lose financial value. They worried history was leaving them behind. They worried they’d be unsafe, that Black people might treat them the way Whites historically treated Blacks, which was truly a terrifying thought.
Such fears were encouraged by unscrupulous realtors, and by certain bigoted politicians. But this time, it’s not Black people moving into neighborhoods – it’s all people of color, traditionally the American minority, who will soon become the American majority.
And it’s Donald Trump sending out signal after signal that he’s the last man who can somehow hold back the tide. It’s Trump trying to cash in on America’s historic anxieties over race.
He watches street demonstrations and focuses on the tiny percentage of cretins doing damage, instead of the overwhelming thousands who are out there to protest police violence against Blacks.
He tries to block the changing of U.S. Army bases named for Confederate generals. He criticizes NASCAR for banning the Confederate flag. He calls Black Lives Matter a “symbol of hate.” He threatens to strip funding from “Democrat cities.”
Signal after signal, each one designed not to unite Americans over our common dependency and values but to divide us over our ancient wounds.
The Trump faithful know all of his character flaws. They aren’t dumb. But they hear his signals on race, as clearly as he senses their anxiety and their anger, and he’s ready to exploit it, whatever the cost to America.
A former Baltimore Sun columnist and WJZ-TV commentator, Michael Olesker is the author of six books, including “Front Stoops in the Fifties: Baltimore Legends Come of Age” (Johns Hopkins University Press).