Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality
By David G. Young
St Petersburg, Florida, December 1, 2020 --
America's democracy remains under threat from nearly half of the electorate willing to throw it all away.
A F250 pickup truck barreled down the Florida Interstate with an enormous Trump flag flapping from the tailgate. It passed countless RV dealerships, truck stops, trailers, and ramshackle houses in rural central Florida flying the same colors. There was not a single Biden sign in sight. Precisely four weeks after President Donald Trump was decisively defeated at the polls by a far more conventional rival, Trump's supporters show no signs of fading away.
Indeed, the most striking thing about America's 2020 election is not that Trump was defeated, but that the election was so close. The global pandemic saw America's GDP plummet over 30 percent in the second quarter.1 And while it recovered most of the loss in the third quarter, unemployment remains stubbornly high at 6.9 percent -- double what it was a year ago.2
History shows that presidents always suffer at the polls for economic downturns -- whether they are the fault of the president or not. There is no reason to think this year is any exception. Yet 74 million Americans voted for Donald Trump 3 -- more than any politician in history save for President-Elect Joe Biden.
On Sunday, Fox personality Maria Bartiromo gave the first interview of the President since the defeat he refuses to acknowledge. In a shocking spectacle, Bartiromo played along with Trumps's deranged claims of a stolen election, making utterly no effort to reign in a man who increasingly lives in a dark fantasy world erected from his own imagination. Inso doing, the TV host helped feed disinformation to the huge minority of Americans who believe the President's lies.
Trump's Republican allies are abandoning him one by one in favor of the clear reality of the new Biden presidency. Just today, Attorney General William Barr said there was no evidence of widespread fraud in the election.4 Yet that doesn't matter for TV personalities like Bartiromo who are more focused on publicity than fine journalism.
Bartolomo's Sunday performance provides a blueprint for celebrity shills to feed on publicity provided by the outgoing president and his millions of zombie-like supporters largely divorced from reality. She certainly won't be the last one to take this bait.
If America's democracy is to survive, this cannot continue. Nearly 49 percent of voters chose to re-elect President Trump. Many of these people have cult-like loyalty to Trump and are willing to believe his words no matter how much they contradict the facts on the ground. How can a democracy function under such conditions?
The last time a large segment of Americans chose to check out from reality in the wake of the the1960s counter-culture revolution. Strange movements and religious cults became popular. Tragedies started with the followers of Charles Manson, then the Jonestown massacre and then the Branch Davadian and Heaven's Gate tragedies of the 1990s. During the 1980s, terrified parents turned to "deprogrammers" to bring their adolescents back from cults. They would tear down the cult leaders by emphasizing their flaws and contradictions, smashing their aura of mysticism. But deprogrammers' extreme and sometimes violent tactics were ultimately denounced by mainstream therapists.
Specialists in exit counseling have since earned favor for helping those leaving cults. But their gentler techniques require that members first decide to leave and voluntarily seek help to return to the mainstream. Trump voters show absolutely no signs of doing that.
Unfortunately, this means there is very little most of us can do now to bring our fellow Americans, still bamboozled by Trump, back into the fold. Perhaps once a defeated Trump leaves office, his image as a strongman "winner" will fade in the minds of supporters. Such a change would provide a critical opportunity to offer real hope to disaffected voters. Thoughtful politicians must prepare now to seize the moment if and when this day comes.
Let us pray that this day does come. Because the alternative is to live with our democracy on a razor's edge -- with 49 percent of Americans ready to throw it all away should a tiny sliver of the populace ever choose to join them at the ballot box.
1. Bureau of Economic Analysis, Gross Domestic Product, Third Quarter 2020, November 25, 2020
2. Bureau of Labor Statistics, The Employment Situation - October 2020, November 6, 2020
3. ABC News, Election Results Live Map, As Posted December 1, 2020