Writing in an expansive piece entitled “The Eruption” for the Outlook section of Sunday’s Washington Post, non-fiction book critic Carlos Lozada compared Trump voters to “military units,” “cancer cells,” and even “explosives” because they have all been “activated” with Trump voters being “activated” as bigots running roughshod over American politics.
Lozada began his review of three books that looked back to the 2016 election (but tell me again how it’s the President whose got a problem with living in the past) and warned that “‘activate’ is the most ominous word I encountered” in his review of the three.
By paragraph three, Lozada dropped this doozy:
Military units are activated. Cancer cells are activated. Explosives are activated, too.
Donald Trump is hardly responsible for the existence of white supremacy, misogyny, nativism or anti-Semitism in America, but his politics enables and thrives on their resurgence. Trump’s 2016 campaign encouraged citizens to indulge some of their most retrograde instincts, a tactic that succeeded so well it is now back for the midterm races:Left-wing “globalist” billionaires threaten America, we are told, any protesters are invariably “paid professionals” and immigrants seek not a better life for themselves but a worse one for you. No wonder the administration has announced plans to deploy thousands of U.S. troops to the southern border to repel what the president calls a migrant “invasion,” even while he muses about ending birthright citizenship via executive order — all just days before the elections.
Trump says the coming vote is about “Kavanaugh, the caravan, law and order . . . You know what I’m talking about.” Yes, I believe we do. Tuesday’s vote is not just a referendum on the Trump presidency but on the values that Trump has activated — on whether Trump’s America is simply America now.
Taking the first book (Identity Crisis by political scientists John Sides, Michael Tesler and Lynn Vavreck), he explained that the three “conclude[d] that white voters’ financial and job concerns, while real, flowed from their cultural and racial resentments” and the President didn’t so much sow fear about people losing jobs but instead that “you’d lose your job to those lazy, entitled people who are different from you.”
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At the very least, they conceded that the messaging from the Clinton campaign was to respond by making the vote a referendum on how you viewed minorities:
Rather than focus on economic policy or the size of government, Hillary Clinton and Trump “made the campaign about . . . whether the country’s increasing ethnic, racial, and religious diversity was a strength or a threat.” That’s what “Stronger Together” vs. “Make America Great Again” was all about.
Kathleen Hall Jamieson’s Cyberwar was also on Lozada’s list, focusing on the Russian troll operation. He noted that “Jamieson does not make a case for collusion between the Republican candidate and Moscow” even though the trolls knew how to speak to voters (through really crappy memes), she blasted the media from the left :
At critical moments during the 2016 race, the hacked material shifted the political debate and press coverage against Clinton and in favor of Trump, and Jamieson chastises the news media for its unwitting “complicity” with Russian efforts. The final two debates between Clinton and Trump included damaging questions about leaked excerpts from the Democratic nominee’s paid speeches — questions that were possible only because of Russian cybertheft. “Too often,” Jamieson laments, “the press served as a conveyor belt of stolen content instead of a gatekeeper.”
The debate over whether the Russians tilted the election is not settled in these books: Jamieson offers a detailed and compelling case that they could have done so, particularly through the magnified impact of the hacked materials, while Sides, Tesler and Vavreck counter that the effect of online ads tends to be limited, and that the Russians simply added misleading and polarizing content into a political system that was already suffused with it.
Going lastly to Ben Bradlee Jr.’s The Forgotten profiling Luzerne County, Pennsylvania (which went gave near 60 percent of the vote to Trump), Lozada began with an excerpt in Bradlee admitted to doing what other (liberal) journalists did after the election, which was rushing to try and understand Trump voters in “much the same way that Jane Goodall studies chimpanzees in the wild.”
And that point couldn’t be emphasized enough as that is precisely how little the press think of voters who don’t look like or share the same views as they do.
What was even more cringeworthy was Lozada’s closing thoughts focused around the book by the son of the famous Washington Post editor, which argued that the President is dragging America back into an era in which Plessy ruled the day (click “expand”):
What makes “The Forgotten” memorable is not the white-working-class cliches or cross-cultural animosity, but how our national divides are reflected within individual families.
Bradlee ends “The Forgotten” warning that Trump is pushing us back to “the old separate-but-equal ethos.” He urges the Democratic Party to “develop more of a heartland sensibility” and nominate someone with “blue-collar cred.”
But the authors of “Identity Crisis” see no incentives for such a move. They argue that Democrats are likelier to win by advocating for racial and ethnic minorities than by trying to woo back white Obama supporters who flipped to Trump, while Republicans have had more success rallying their base over immigration and the national anthem rather than tax cuts or health care. The “centrality of identity,” they write, has become the defining feature of American life.
These impulses and instincts have always been with us, and, properly understood, identity can dignify as much as it divides. But the spillovers of racialization and the politicizing of difference now mean that shootings at synagogues and baseball fields are assessed by their politics as much as their victims, that mail bombs receive dismissive scare quotes if their senders and targets are inconvenient, and that the president of the United States attempts to make this midterm vote a referendum on nationalism and exclusion, on the threats beyond rather than the rot within.
It is easy to activate, but much harder to defuse — if we even wanted to try.