Stupid or Evil?

The dictatorship theme continues.

  • Are Trump supporters stupid or evil? A WaPo piece gives many examples of statements by them, dismissing his dictatorship intentions; then Salon’s Amanda Marcotte deconstructs them;
  • Her take: “Regular readers know I’m Team They’re Evil, in no small part because I grew up in red state America and know that Republicans like to play at being stupider than they are.”
  • Worst Congress Ever;
  • Krugman on threats to universities — not presidents of elite universities equivocating about anti-Semitism, but the Florida education system.
  • And a teaser for a piece I’ll explore tomorrow.

Washington Post, Marianne LeVine and Isaac Arnsdorf, 13 Dec 2023: Trump backers laugh off, cheer ‘dictator’ comments, as scholars voice alarm

CORALVILLE, Iowa — Clyde Carson was in the audience of the Fox News town hall with Donald Trump last week when host Sean Hannity asked the former president to rule out abusing power as retribution. “Except for Day One,” Trump replied, volunteering that, “after that, I’m not a dictator.”

“A lot of us Trump people get it, but he was trying to fool with the media. He did that on purpose,” said Carson, a 53-year-old caucus captain from Davenport attending Trump’s speech here on Wednesday. “He just done that because he knew the news would go crazy with it.”

Many of Trump’s supporters here, in an area where the former president held a campaign event Wednesday evening, said they appreciated his comments and did not take them to be a literal declaration of an intent to govern as a dictator. Trump in recent days has returned to the “dictator” theme, on Saturday repeating his intent to “to be a dictator for one day,” to drill for oil and close down the border, while claiming two days later that he was joking.

The article goes on with other examples of how Trump supporters have dismissed his threats of dictatorship. As jokes; as successful attempts to troll the media; or even as perfectly welcome — what’s needed to be done! Some of the examples are of things Trump claimed he was kidding about, where he clearly was not. The article ends with this:

“It’s common sense. Of course he’s joking,” said Russell, who’s been to more than a dozen Trump events. “He’s not going to be no dictator. You can’t be a dictator with a constitutional republic.”


Actually what I noticed first today was this piece, reacting to the above WaPo article.

Salon, Amanda Marcotte, 15 Dec 2023: Republican voters know Trump isn’t joking with his “dictator” remarks — it’s why they love him, subtitled “MAGA folks are gaslighting reporters when they say Trump is kidding”

Stupid or evil?

It’s the perennial question that haunts those of us who support democracy when gazing upon the red-hatted minions of Donald Trump, who are working to destroy it. The everyday Republican voters who issue ungrammatical and fact-averse defenses of their beloved orange demagogue are a forever mystery. Are they really just too stupid to know that backing Trump means ending democracy? Or are they fascists who long for an American Reich, where all the people who made them feel bad for being racist will be made to suffer? On one hand, Trump supporters do sound like a bunch of morons, leading credence to the “stupid” theory. On the other hand, it’s impossible to believe anyone could think a guy who attempted a coup is safe for democracy. Most Republicans hold down jobs and manage to dress and feed themselves, suggesting they aren’t so braindead as to miss that Trump cannot wait to be a fascist dictator.

And then Marcotte — senior writer for a site that is basically a collection of opinion pieces, not a journalistic news site — states her opinion, and segues to the WaPo article.

Regular readers know I’m Team They’re Evil, in no small part because I grew up in red state America and know that Republicans like to play at being stupider than they are. But a recent Washington Post article interviewing Trump fans in Iowa underscores the point:  Republicans who plan to vote Trump in the primary know that he has promised to be a dictator. They know he’s not joking. They’re just thrilled, because they loathe America’s multiracial democracy and want to bring it to an end.

And then she deconstructs several of the WaPo examples. Here’s one.

Another woman, 66-year-old Leann Reed, couldn’t even keep her story straight on whether Trump is “joking.” Her comments are worth quoting at length:

“I don’t think he meant what everybody is saying, being a dictatorship — and actually you know right now under Biden, that’s probably what we got because he does what he wants to do and he’s not really listening to the voters,” Reed, 66, said. “I think we need somebody that’s going to move forward fast to clean up everything, and I think that’s what he meant.”

We take an entire journey from “he’s joking” to falsely claiming Democrats did it first to arguing that fascism is a necessary evil — all within the space of a few seconds. These aren’t folks who are confused about what they’re voting for. They’re people who want a dictatorship very badly, and feel justified in playing word games to get what they want.

Marcotte think the mainstream media “is still unable to grapple” with why Trump remains popular. And she concludes,

But having a clear-eyed view of what is really driving the Trump base is critical. For one thing, the less credulity shown the “just joking” argument, the harder it is for the small-but-crucial number of swing voters to convince themselves there’s nothing to worry about with Trump. More importantly, it will help progressives and Democrats conserve their energies. Trying to convince Trump’s loyal supporters that he’s a fascist is not worth your time. They know — it’s why they like him. That’s time and energy that needs to be directed towards turning out the vote for Democrats and educating the persuadable voters to take the Trump threat seriously. And that will be much easier to do if we don’t get bogged down with bad faith arguments that he’s “just joking.”


Washington Post, Dana Milbank, 15 Dec 2023: Opinion | Worst. Congress. Ever.

A year ago, I assigned myself to the Capitol to cover the new House Republican majority, suspecting that this erratic crowd of lawmakers would provide some lively material.

They did not disappoint. What I could not have known then, however, was that this would turn out to be the most ineffective session of Congress in nearly a century — and quite possibly in all of American history.

The year began with chaos and incompetence. It ended with chaos and incompetence. In between were self-created crises and shocking moments of fratricide — interspersed with more chaos and incompetence.

“This will go down as … the least productive Congress since the Great Depression,” Rep. Joe Neguse, Democrat of Colorado, observed this week as the Rules Committee marked up plans for an impeachment inquiry into President Biden for imaginary crimes.

The piece goes on with details of what House Republicans did, and did not, accomplish. Quite a long piece.


Paul Krugman, NY Times Opinion, 14 Dec 2023: The Biggest Threat to America’s Universities

Krugman contrasts the recent hullabaloo over university presidents and anti-Semitism, that imply woke policies are threatening higher education, with the less-reported, far greater threat.

These are troubling times for American higher education. On one side, some students at a handful of elite universities have made harsh anti-Israel statements, some crossing the line into outright antisemitism, and some university presidents have been diffident and mealy-mouthed in their responses. Ugly as these events have been, however, there isn’t much reason to believe that the quality of education at these institutions — which, in any case, account for a small fraction of America’s college enrollment — is under serious threat.

On the other side, the State University System of Florida, which has more than 430,000 students, is under intense political assault by the state’s Republican government. The American Association of University Professors recently released a report titled “Political Interference and Academic Freedom in Florida’s Public Higher Education System,” which details a takeover of key administrative and oversight positions by partisan appointees and growing pressure on faculty members to avoid teaching anything that might be considered woke. This political assault almost certainly will degrade the quality of higher education for large numbers of students, in ways I’ll talk about in a minute.

But first, let’s ask the obvious question: Which of these two education issues has been absorbing our collective attention, and which has flown mostly under the radar?

You know the answer.

He makes this key point:

The extreme left may be morally no better than the extreme right. But in America the extreme left has almost no political power, while the extreme right controls one house of Congress and a number of states.

And concludes,

So, yes, let’s hold college presidents’ feet to the fire when they bungle on a major issue. And let’s denounce calls for violence wherever they come from. But let’s also focus on the biggest threat to our system of higher education, which is coming not from left-wing student activists but instead from right-wing politicians.


Finally, I’ll note this longish piece, which I’ll pick up with tomorrow. It’s about the history of democracy — a blip in the long arc of human history — and Trump.

Vox, Zack Beauchamp, 15 Dec 2023: What Trump has already taken from us, subtitled “Democracy is a culture — and Trump is destroying it.”

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