My wonderful family road trip is now over. We went from New Jersey to Nebraska and back, with plenty of detours in both directions. Politics was one of the many things on my mind during those two weeks, and a LOT happened in Trumpworld. The president went abroad and gave a white identity speech and appeared to unite America's allies against him. The G20 summit looked like another chapter in America's fall from its perch as the "essential nation." Hardly anyone over here noticed, however, because the Russia scandal blew open even further. Junior provided the world evidence that his dad's campaign colluded with Russia. On top of all of that, Trump tweeted gross sexist stuff about Mika Brzezinski and violently threatened CNN in another tweet. He also joked with Putin about the press, the latter a man who has had journalists killed.
I have never seen a president have a two weeks like this, but as recent polling points out, a very high percentage of Republicans think Trump is doing a great job. Some people seem surprised by this, but I'm not. My trip these last two weeks has confirmed my theory that allegiance to political conservatism is primarily a matter of identity. Republicans view themselves as "real Americans," and anyone opposed to them as enemies of the state. Trump is thus ipso facto in the right, no matter what he does. It doesn't matter that he is the kind of wealthy, amoral New Yorker that these heartlanders typically profess to see as the mirror opposite of themselves. He is the chosen leader of their tribe, and as such, MUST be supported. All the talk of "Trump voters" has badly clouded the reality that after the primaries "Trump voters" are basically just Republicans.
At the same time, a lot of folks on the left make the mistake of thinking that this is the dominant identity of conservatives. I was a bit shocked, actually, at how little I heard about the president on my trip. In fact, I heard a lot about Chris Christie closing down beaches, but nothing about Trump. I get the feeling that a lot of conservatives are supporting him out of obligation, rather than enthusiasm. Nevertheless, they still and will always hate and fear liberals more than they will love and support anyone else. In any case, little of the opposing viewpoint will get past their filter. A reminder of this happened when we stopped at a roadside pizza place in rural Pennsylvania and Fox News was blasting away in the corner. This was a very common experience when I lived in rural Texas as well. Many parts of this country have public spaces dominated by what amounts to crass propaganda. Fighting that is an uphill battle, to say the least.
During the height of Jim Crow in the early 20th century any Republican trying to win over masses of white Democrats in the South would be considered a fool. Voting Democrat was a vote for the South, whomever the candidate happened to be. The dynamic today for white conservatives in large swathes of the country is pretty much the same. They might think that someone like Louie Gohmert is a dope, but they'd rather cut off their left arms than vote for a Democrat. Those who think they will get these voters to change their minds by magically making them see their "class interests" are fools. Any money spent on trying to get Republicans to vote for Democrats may as well just be set on fire.
I believe now more than ever that if the Democratic Party is going to win next year it needs to focus on getting its presidential election voters to the polls. This will mean not only a message that appeals to the base, but a massive effort to help voters targeted by suppression efforts to get registered and to get to the polls. (I am contemplating taking election day next year off of work so I can drive people to the polling places in the nearby purple districts currently represented by Republicans.) If the party wants new voters, it needs to find them in the large numbers of independent voters who do not currently vote in midterm elections, but who are not conservative. Again, the party needs to have a compelling message to get those people to want to vote, and "look how crazy those Republicans are" won't cut it.
It needs to be a message about what kind of country they want to build, not just policy wonkery. It should be a country where every person can get medical care, quality public education, and equal rights. A country that values immigrants. A country that protects its black and brown members with the same care as it protects its white members. A country where workers are fairly compensated and protected from exploitation. A country where women will not just be afforded equal rights, but provided the support needed (such as subsidized child care and birth control and protection against sexual assault) for them to lead fuller lives. A country where religion cannot be used as an excuse to persecute LGBTQ communities. A country that values schools over prisons. A country that values sharing wealth so that all may lead a life with dignity over making sure it goes into the hands of a few.
Conservatives, many of them seemingly decent people, are completely willing to support a corrupt criminal maniac in the White House because they see it as a way of asserting their identity and values. The other side needs to have its own values clarification if it wants to win. After this trip, I am more sure of that than ever.