America has always had a comparatively small cluster of bigoted xenophobic nihilistic anti-government extremists who have, at various points in the nation’s history, temporarily conned some quasi-mainstream Americans to join their cause, briefly giving them enough numbers to do real damage. We saw it during the Civil War. We saw it during the rise of Donald Trump. But eventually these extremists always reveal their true nature, and thus lose their mojo. Now it’s happening yet again.
There’s no real way to defend those non-extremist Americans who periodically allow themselves to get sucked into extremist movements. The average American could see from literally day one of the Donald Trump campaign that he was a vicious racist. Those within the mainstream who wanted to latch onto his “nationalist” movement had to pretend he wasn’t a vile bigot, so they could feel good about supporting him. But whatever you think of these types, Trump will fall when they abandon him. That’ll leave Trump with only his base, which isn’t large enough to keep propping him up.
So everything changed when the Stoneman Douglas shooting just happened to take place as the national groundswell for gun control was reaching critical mass, thus propelling the survivors of that shooting into the national spotlight. Suddenly a handful of high school kids are leading the nation in a manner which the “president” can’t come close to pulling off. The kids are sympathetic figures who have been handling themselves in tremendously mature fashion, and they happen to be entirely in the right when it comes to the issue at hand, leaving Trump’s base with nothing but bad options for fighting back.
You can’t help your own movement by attacking innocent kids, right? Yet with no other way of fighting back, Donald Trump’s base has spent the past week reminding everyone of its grotesque nature as it’s launched one misleading and cruel attack on the Stoneman Douglas kids after another. Iowa Congressman Steve King, who has been a xenophobic racist politician since far before Trump came along, attacked Emma Gonzalez over her Cuban heritage. Talk show jerk Laura Ingraham attacked David Hogg for not having gotten into his first choice of college.
This kind of viciously pointless rhetoric plays well within Donald Trump’s base, because they really are that nihilistic. Ingraham might see her radio show’s ratings go up thanks to these kinds of stunts. But if you were to write a manual on how the far-right extremists can lose their quasi-mainstream supporters, attacking innocent kids would probably be on one page one. This is the kind of thing that prompts the least deranged Trump supporters to get squeamish. It gives them an easy off ramp.
Putting an end to the Donald Trump movement won’t simply be about trotting Trump off to prison for his numerous crimes, though that’ll happen. And it’s not about convincing Trump’s base to give up on him, because that’ll never happen. It’s about separating Trump’s quasi-mainstream supporters from his base. It’s where the Resistance should be placing most of its focus. In the mean time, Trump’s base has made a grave error by attacking these kids. It plays well within the base, but it plays poorly just outside of the base – and that’s the segment that the base can’t afford to lose.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report