Friday, July 28, 2017


One voice that is considered trustworthy for many conservatives is Rush Limbaugh, the radio host who's viewed as sort of the conservative movement's Walter Cronkite.

Limbaugh tells listeners that the Russia probe is part of an effort to de-legitimize President Trump and his followers.

"Trump voters are never going to fall for this collusion story and are never going to buy into this notion that the Russians rigged it with Trump," said Limbaugh this week. "They're never going to buy into it. Because it makes them illegitimate. And they are not illegitimate. You people who voted for Trump are not illegitimate."
Amid Russia Scandals, Conservative Media Provides Air Cover For President Trump
As much as his critics tend to see Mr. Limbaugh as little more than a conservative blowhard, it's worth keeping in mind that one doesn't rise to a position of prominence, power and wealth by being pedestrian. And I think that Mr. Limbaugh has done something genuinely clever here.

On the fact of it, it seems to be a simple "if X, then Y" formulation - that is, if the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to influence the election, then those people who voted for Donald Trump are somehow illegitimate. In this, Mr. Limbaugh is both acknowledging and reinforcing the idea that of the link between the emotional investment of the voters who continue to support President Trump and their understanding of the election. A lot of people are aware of this, including the President himself. And one of the interesting things about Mr. Limbaugh's comment is the direct, succinct encapsulation of this reality, which would likely be rejected out of hand by his audience had it come from someone like E.J. Dionne, President Obama or even David Brooks.

But it's also interesting how Mr. Limbaugh continues the concept, and in so doing alters it. When he goes on to say that "people who voted for Trump are not illegitimate," he lays out the other way people tend to look at these things. Because once you have tied the concepts of collusion and illegitimacy together, what you end up with is different than "if X, then Y." You tend to wind up with "X equals Y." And therefore, an understanding of "if not Y, then not X." And in this way, Mr. Limbaugh is effectively implicating the audience in any collusion that would have taken place - only illegitimate voters would have participated in electing someone who the Russians had rigged the election in favor of. And so the affirmation of the legitimacy of Trump voters also becomes an affirmation of the fact that the Trump campaign did not collude with the Russian government.

And that, in the end, is the reality of partisanship. A shift from the idea that a person is blameless, and therefore trustworthy, and thus fit to be a member of the tribe to the idea that a person is a member of the tribe, and therefore trusted, and thus blameless. In other words, to paraphrase Slate's Dahlia Lithwick, "Everything I need to know about you I already learned from your political affiliation." And partisanship acquires this power when it's born from the idea that opposition is driven by a hatred of righteousness. And this sort of thing isn't unique to the United States by a longshot. President Nicholas Maduro of Venezuela, and President Chavez before him, have cast themselves and their followers as not only being correct, but in being opposed because they are correct.

Mr. Limbaugh casts the investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia into more than simply an attack on the integrity of the democratic process, which is what many of the investigations backers say that it is, to an attack on the entire segment of the voting public who cast their ballots in the 2016 election for Donald Trump. And so the proof that the accusations are false becomes the fact that they are being made in the first place, because the Trump supporters understand themselves to not only be legitimate people and true American patriots, but to be under attack from sinister (natch), cynical and perverse Socialists, specifically for that reason.

And as one's politics becomes more and more entwined with one's sense of personal legitimacy, the more reflexive defenses of those politics becomes. People will stand and fight much more quickly for the the idea that they are good people than they will for some random policy platform. And this is true of both sides of the political spectrum. The Right has a cadre of people who make it their business (and for whom it is a lucrative profession) to reinforce this thinking, but it also occurs on the left - the internecine squabbles of the Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama camps in 2008 and between the Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton camps in 2016 show the same dynamic. The opposition became personal more than political, because of the degree to which self-image entered into the picture.

And this is perhaps the reason why there isn't a strong centrist movement in the United States. The center simply doesn't have a view of itself as beleaguered by the forces of darkness. A centrist may see more active partisans as wrong, but is unlikely to see the majority of them (the far fringes possibly excepted) and intentionally hostile or perverse. And in such, they lose a motivating factor. And it's that motivation the President Trump's supporters are going to need if they want to avoid the Congress becoming more Democratic after the 2018 elections or to send President Trump back to the White House after the contest in 2020.

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