"He'll listen to the scientists," Trump added in a mocking tone, before saying, "If I listened to the scientists, we would right now have a country that would be in a massive depression. Instead we're like a rocket ship. Take a look at the numbers."
This is not a parody. It's a paragraph from a news report on Donald Trump's rally in Nevada on Sunday. He was mocking Joe Biden because Biden has said he will listen to scientists and medical experts about how to handle the pandemic that's destroyed our economy and killed 220,000 Americans and counting.
But for Trump, "listening to the scientists" is for suckers, and he's telling his faithful that Biden is a fool for doing so. "Lock him up" is the crowd's ever-reliable response. "Listen to me" is now the president's only policy position. Listen to me, instead of the scientists or the doctors or the generals or the environmentalists or the hurricane forecasters or anyone else daring to cross him.
This isn't politics. It's a one-ring circus. A traveling salvation show. Trump's become the Garrison Keillor of the deplorables, bouncing around the country weaving tales and fables and jokes tailored to his faithful brood's predispositions toward racism, xenophobia, angry patriotism, and sucker-bait religions. Scary Home Companion.
- Garrison Keillor
And, in truth, Trump's campaign is a perfect distillation of the great divide in American politics. Call it what you will — science versus faith; logic versus emotion; opinion versus fact — but the reason you can't have a reasonable discussion about politics with your Trump-supporting friends on Facebook, the reason you're now blocking and unfriending and unfollowing family members and friends, is because there are no agreed-upon "facts" to argue about any longer. There are two different realities, shaped by two different informational ecosystems. We speak different languages. We are warring tribes. If you argue with a Trumper, they'll tell you your sources — New York Times, CNN, Washington Post, NPR, Wall Street Journal, or any mainstream media — are biased, as are your fact-checking sites, such as Snopes.com. I don't argue anymore. It's not worth the rise in blood pressure.
But there's no denying that one-third of the country appears to believe Trump is some sort of "tell it like it is" man of the people who can do no wrong, while the rest of us think he's a lying, amoral con man with the ethos of a mob boss. That's a serious divide.
Members of my tribe read Trump's statements like the one above and think, "What kind of idiot would believe such obviously disprovable lies? We are in a massive economic depression. Businesses are failing, millions of us are out of work. What numbers is he talking about? Taking off like a rocket ship? Seriously? And since when is not listening to scientists about science a good thing?"
But Trump's tribe believes that if their leader says scientists are wrong, then they're wrong. End of story. And they can find plenty of supporting ammo for whatever bilge comes out of Trump's mouth from their own information sources. Fox News, NewsMax, Alex Jones, Rush Limbaugh, Tucker Carlson, Sean Hannity, and others are all only too happy to prop up their Lyin' King. Finding someone to say masks are worthless? Easy as pie. Need a story about how well herd immunity works? No problem.
One might have hoped that Trump's recent COVID infection might have sobered him up, might have given him some empathy for Americans who've lost loved ones to the disease. But no, just the opposite. Trump flaunts his recklessness at rallies, day after day, spouting his anecdotal riffs and bald-faced lies at the unmasked faces of his red-clad sycophants, packed together like lemmings near the cliff's edge.
There is no strategy here. If Trump had an ounce of political sense, he'd be trying to attract new voters, maybe even moderating his brutish attacks on Democratic governors and members of his own party who dare to raise the slightest objection to his antics. But he's doubling down, searing his own base down to the diamond core of true believers, preferring to bask in their cheers of adoration rather than reaching out for new voters. It's a bizarre cult of personality, filled with rabid evangelicals, proud know-nothings, white supremacists, militia members, QAnon cultists, and other assorted fruits and nuts. And I'm sure some are fine people, but they're not sending their best.
Mark Twain once said (he really did, I swear): "How easy it is to make people believe a lie, and how hard it is to undo that work again!"
It's true. We need to undo that work now. Vote.