It started as a kind of cathartic release, snowballed into an obsession, and ended as … well, I’ll get to that in a moment. For the last few months, my Twitter account has been ground zero for shitfights with Trump supporters (or Trumpistas, as I call them). I’ve been pretty much starting fights with anyone who crosses my path. Increasingly though, it’s been Trumpistas themselves coming to me. In the early stages it was mostly about trolling. I just wanted to rile them up a bit, and see what would happen. Later, I began to develop a genuine interest in their point of view. I wanted to understand where their horrific ideas came from, and how they actually saw the world.
This is what I learned from the experience.
1. Trumplandia really is a fact free zone
I initially enjoyed trolling Trumpistas because it was just so easy. So easy, you can pretty much crush any argument they try to make with just one word: “source”. To be precise, that word should be followed with a question mark.
As you can see from this example, the supposed source is actually an article from politifact.com assessing whether or not this specific claim is accurate. A cursory glance at the handy truth-o-meter to the left might give you some insight into just how well the claim held up to Politifact’s scrutiny.
In other words, the closest thing this guy could find to evidence for his claim that immigrants cost the US $200 billion a year … was an article explicitly stating that immigrants do not cost the US $200 billion a year.
For anyone curious, this is how the rest of the conversation played out:
This is around where I was blocked by this particular Twitter denizen. By the way, I’ve now been blocked by quite a few Trump supporters. It usually happens when they realise they’ve been intellectually outgunned. They’ll freak out, tell you to go fuck yourself, then block you. This is normal.
2. Don’t bother bringing your own sources to the table
It’s probably self evident that back in the early days, my trolling was something a lot like fact checking. Some Trumpista would make some bogus claim, and I’d refute it with actual data. At first, this seemed like a great strategy, but then I started to notice this kind of thing:
Here’s a conversation that got going after one guy claimed Muslims never condemn terror attacks.
And finally, this guy really had me stumped when he asked me to back up my claim that Jeff Sessions told Congress he never spoke to the Russians. If only there was some way to confirm what Sessions actually said …
Oh, that’s right, CSPAN exists.
Here’s a few more of the generic responses you’ll get whenever you try to use facts against Trumpistas:
“Everything is FAKE NEWS except InfoWars.”
“You can prove anything with facts.”
“Well, you may have facts, but I have my own personal emotions.”
And of course, the most common response:
“You are blocked from following @(insert Twitter handle here) and viewing @(insert Twitter handle here) Tweets.”
It soon became clear that trying to provide credible sources is pretty much a waste of time. Most Trumpistas are glad to label any facts that clash with their world view as a false flag, mere liberal propaganda or part of a NWO plot. This left me with two pretty obvious conclusions.
A. If you want to try your hand at trolling Trumpistas, follow this general rule: rather than trying to create an argument of your own, focus on poking holes in their claims. Yeah, that might seem hypocritical, but the reality is they will never take any actual facts seriously (unless those facts come with a side of Bill O’Reilly).
B. Speaking more broadly, I don’t think the media’s obsession with fact checking Trump/ his supporters’ claims is particularly useful, beyond simply preaching to the choir. For example, try convincing Trumpistas the wall is a terrible idea. Just try it. You could try making one of the very obvious economic arguments, or point out the fact that boats and planes exist. It doesn’t matter, because …
3. The truth is whatever feels right in the moment
Moving on from how to argue with Trumpistas, let’s consider for a moment the broader implications of their world view. This is a world view where nothing is real, unless Trump (or one of his proxies like Alex Jones) says it’s real. This is bad enough, but it gets worse when you consider how quickly the “truth” can change. For example, during the 2016 US election, Trump and his supporters (rightly) riled against Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street connections. Specifically, her links to Goldman Sachs. In this narrative, Goldman Sachs is bad. Then, when Trump stacked his cabinet with Goldman Sachs guys, the narrative changed. Suddenly, Trumpistas love (or at least are open to) Goldman Sachs.
This wasn’t a one off. Rather, I found Trumpistas tend to change their tune a lot. One day they all h8 dem Mexicens that cant speek engllish …
… Then one episode of the O’Reilly Factor later, and …
Of course, claims like the one above are obviously untrue. We all know Trump vowed to crack down on the Mexican border. Moreover, we have the total and complete shutdown of Muslim immigration (which now isn’t actually a ban, according to Trumpismo). At the time of writing, this vow was still on his website. So factually, it’s true that Trump wants a Muslim ban. However, that fact isn’t convenient right now, and that just doesn’t feel right. Therefore, in Trump World the president never suggested a Muslim ban, and anyone who says otherwise is a liar. Reality is totally subjective, and nothing is real unless the government says it’s real.
4. White Christian men are under attack
It was at this point that I started to realise I was on a very different plain of existence to the average Trump supporter. As a journalist, I mostly deal in facts and data. However, to really buy into the Trump narrative, you need to be able to embrace a kind of emotion-driven double think.
I can’t think of a better example of this than the Trumpista’s feeling of perpetually being besieged. I ran up against this time and time again, and simply can’t dismiss it as anything less than a central element of the Trump Train mindset. Every Muslim is a ticking time bomb, every (vaguely liberal) woman is a feminazi, every African American is a thug. They think the US is being overrun with Mexicans, despite the fact the exact opposite is true. Maybe I’m overreaching here, but frankly I can’t help but suspect most Trumpistas live in a constant state of sheer, unmitigated terror. These people are scared of everything. As Yoda once said, “Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” Oh, and it also turns you into a raving lunatic.
5. This fear has a source
It was around this point when I lost interest in being an upstart Twitterite fact checker, and really became interested in understanding what’s going on. How did such a vast segment of society become so divorced from reality, and so bound up in a mindset of pure fear? I decided to try going straight to the source. One day, I sat alone for 12 hours, and watched Fox News non stop. At the 12 hour mark, I wrote this:
My American friends tell me talk-back radio leaves Fox in the dust, but for me, this was enough. Around half way through the marathon, I even started to feel myself buying into the narrative, just a little. I could feel it tugging at my brain, coaxing me in. I let it, and I started to feel insecure, and surrounded by enemies. The good ole days are gone, and there’s nothing left for us white folk to do but sit in our underwear all day, surrounded by empty beer cans and flies, basking in the warm glow of the idiot box. The more you consume this fear mongering media, the more you lose touch with reality. The more it sucks you in, and eats away at your higher cognitive functions. The big lesson here is that a fearful person is malleable. The more you’re terrified, the easier you are to manipulate, and the more you’ll unquestionably embrace any savior put in front of you.
6. So, what do they actually want?
At this point, I understood the emotional dimension to Trumpismo. However, I still didn’t have a grasp on the intellectual dimension. I found myself repeatedly asking, what do they actually want? At first, I thought it was fairly obvious: “drain the swamp”, better healthcare, decent jobs, and perhaps an actual economic recovery for the working class. I figured Trump supporters want the same things that all of us want: a better life for themselves, and the ones they love. I’m no big Zizek fanboy, but in November I did have room for hope that Trumpismo really was a rejection of morally vacated, indifferent mainstream politics. I hoped Trump supporters voted for an outsider after recognising they had been screwed over for decades by both the Democrat and Republican parties alike; a desperate cry that anything would be better than the stagnant, condescending status quo, as personified by HRC (remember that America is already great, so stop complaining about the endless recession for working people). I liked to believe these were people frustrated by a political system that had left them behind. Sure, I despise Trump, but as a bit of a Bernie fan I understand the appeal of a political outsider promising big change.
Yet time and time again, I was hit by anecdotal evidence suggesting this outlook was overly optimistic. I ran into Trumpistas who seemed delighted to see Trump’s cabinet packed with swamp creatures. None seemed to really mind when Trump/Ryancare flopped. With every broken promise, Trump might have lost a handful of moderate supporters, but the hardliners just doubled down. Heck, even on the economy, Trumpistas don’t make much sense. The Republican party has traditionally loved free trade, yet Trumpistas hate it. In other words, it’s extremely difficult to pin down what Trumpistas want – at least in any concrete terms.
7. Trumpismo is a movement of emotions
This led me to a startling conclusion: Trumpismo isn’t a movement in the typical, ideological sense. It doesn’t have any (serious or concrete) goals. When we really get to the heart of the matter, Trumpistas don’t really support anything. Instead, this is a movement based entirely on things they oppose: immigrants, diversity and goddamn stuck-up liberals. For example, ask a Trumpista about government corruption, and odds are they’ll give you a shrug. Ask them about sticking it to the libtards, and watch their face light up. That’s because fundamentally, this is a movement about anger, insecurity and fear.
8. Left v right wasn’t what I thought it was
This new understanding of Trumpismo forced me to redefine what the difference is between leftists and the right. There’s many differences, of course, but there’s one very fundamental one. It’s so fundamental, it’s obvious from the moment someone opens their mouth.
Ask anyone on the progressive end of the political spectrum what they want out of politics, and you can probably expect an answer like:
End world poverty
Save the whales
Protect human rights
… yeah, you get the idea, right? It might be something a little vague, but generally progressives seem interested in bettering life for people. Now ask a right winger what their political priorities are, and you’ll get something like:
Get the immigrants out
Get the lazy poor off welfare
Immediately, the contrast is obvious. Right wingers are primarily interested in making life worse for people they don’t like. The comparison gets even starker when you consider the kinds of worlds the left and right imagine. Let’s pretend for a moment we can choose whether to live in a right or left world. Most leftists would probably be happy to live in the world they want, but what about right wingers? Imagine a world where the poor have no access to any basic public services. Where minority groups are heavily discriminated against, and the militarised state is free to commit whatever human rights abuses it pleases in order to maintain “freedom” and order. Now tell that right winger they can join that world, but their position in society will be randomly assigned. Maybe they’ll be rich, maybe poor. Maybe white, maybe Black. Alternatively, they could choose to join the other world ruled by lefties. In that lefty utopia, everyone is equal, everyone has basic rights, and access to basic services.
Which world would they choose?
I’m going to take a leap of faith here and assume they’d only be happy to live in the right wing utopia if they can be assured they’ll maintain some kind of privileged position. Of course, we don’t really need to imagine, do we? We only need to look at the stories of Trump voters shocked when their family members face deportation, or when they realise gutting healthcare might harm families just like their own.
This is when the ultimate difference between left and right becomes truly apparent. Progressives of all stripes would prefer to serve in Heaven than rule in Hell. Right wingers are the opposite.
This isn’t all hypothetical either. Throughout the last century, we saw that wherever there was injustice, there was a right-winger cowering, and a dirty lefty fighting back. Trump supporters love their Hitler references, but who actually fought Hitler? In Germany, was it the old aristocracy, the conservatives and the corporate elite (IBM, Coca-Cola)? Or was it the revolutionary socialists, like Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht? While those latter two names had the honour of dying fighting the Freikorps, the former group were (almost without exception) quickly co-opted into the fascist regime. Looking across occupied Europe, who fought back? When the Spanish republic crumbled, did big business come to the rescue? Did the landowners take up arms against Franco? But heck, we’re asking right-wingers to fight against fascism, but who led the fight against Stalinism? How many conservatives died at Kronstadt? Fast forward a few decades, and let’s ask, did the old guard return to overthrow the USSR? What was Coca-Cola’s take on Solidarność? The point I’m trying to make here is that the bastions of conservationism, right-wingers, the corporate elite and the born aristocrats (like Trump himself) are always the first to embrace repression and injustice – whether in fascist Germany, the USSR or the modern US. On the other hand, radical socialists such as myself (and my anarchist sisters and brothers), are always on the front lines, fighting against evil. When we really get down to it, to be a leftist is to be on the side of history, and to be a right-winger is to be a smear on history that future generations will be ashamed of.
9. Speaking of humanity, maybe I have too much faith in it
My career as a Twitter troll has forced me to reevaluate much more than just my concept of left and right politics. I used to also believe all people had something positive to offer society. We all bring our own unique thoughts and ideas to the table, and enrich the world with our diversity. I used to believe most people act rationally most of the time. I thought we all have the ability to reflect on our ideals, and constantly reassess our understanding of reality. We calculate what’s good for us, and what’s good for the people around us. Sure, no one is perfect, but we’re all thinking, feeling human beings with beliefs, hopes, and dreams. I don’t believe this any more. I still believe in the whole “inevitable progress of humanity”, but now I think it’s also inevitable that many of us will fight tooth and nail against our own self interests. In this sense, Trumpismo is like an alcoholic who won’t put down the bottle. However, there’s more to it than that. Remember how I mentioned how conservatives generally don’t want to live in the terrible world they’re trying to create for the rest of us? Well, that rule doesn’t apply to the hardline Trump supporters. That’s because these hardliners aren’t the conservatives of yesteryear. They aren’t people with a different set of values — they’re a group with no values whatsoever. They lack any cohesive moral code or any real sense of personal responsibility. However, it goes deeper than that. They also don’t have the capacity to assess the impact of their own decisions, and any sense of empathy towards the human beings around them.
The easiest way to distinguish between Trumpismo and your garden variety conservative is to look back at the left/right hypothetical worlds a few paragraphs up. The conventional, pragmatic conservative will at least be tempted to opt for being parachuted into the left utopia instead of the right-wing nightmare. Hardline Trumpistas are the opposite.
In this sense, the new conservative (should I say Alt-Right?) is much more selfless than the traditional right-winger. While traditional conservatism is exclusively about doing what’s in one’s own best interests, the new conservative has no real sense of individual self in any ideological sense. Instead, they see themselves as just part of a larger, threatened (white) race. This is why they are so content to vote against their own interests; because after all, if they’re voting to exterminate the enemies of the white race (even at the expense of their own personal well-being and liberties), then at least they’re doing what’s in their ideological self interest.
I’m just gonna say what we’re thinking: this new group of conservatives doesn’t consist of fully formed human beings. Rather, what we’ve seen is the emergence of a generation of mindless, self destructive drones. In many ways, these people are a lot like the domestic dog. Before domestication, wild dogs were intelligent, formidable animals. On the other hand, domestic dogs are much better at following orders, but lack the cognitive capabilities of their wild ancestors. In the same sense, Trumpistas have been domesticated by an overwhelming barrage of talk-back radio, cable news and internet spam. They can follow orders and think what they’re told to think; but they really can’t do much else.
10. As an ideology, Trumpismo is doublethink
As it should be clear by now, I personally suspect most of the Trumpistas I’ve encountered so far don’t really believe in anything. They sit in front of their flatscreen TV all day, watching Fox and reading Breitbart. They believe whatever garbage they’re fed, and have no actual capacity to stop and seriously scrutinise their political views. As a person who spends about half my waking hours locked in self doubt and constantly questioning pretty much every facet of my world view, I initially found the idea that large numbers of people don’t dedicate much time to self reflection genuinely difficult to understand, yet alone believe. In all seriousness, I still find it hard to comprehend that so many people lack the ability to critically assess what they’re told. Nonetheless, I can’t shake the opinion that the whole Trump phenomenon is the result of a generation gavaged on cable news and trash tier internet spam. Before I go on though, I should point out this isn’t to say this is exclusively a right wing problem.
Rather, Trumpismo is the right wing’s response to the centrist liberal abandonment of any semblance of materialism in favour of the idealised and the subjective – from the embrace of what is effectively modern pluralism, to the bastardisation of identity politics into an ego trip art form, and the rapid decay of constructivism and its ilk into a sub genre of indie pop music aimed squarely at first year humanities students and their discontents. For more than two decades, a notable chunk of liberals have rallied around the idea that there is no tangible reality, just our own subjective experiences, feelings and emotions. Well, guess what? Now, the right wing agrees.
However, Trumpismo is more than just a right-wing reaction to the craft beer sipping, iPhone tapping, intellectual prude sans actual critical intelligence that is the liberal centre. Instead, Trumpismo has distilled liberal intellectual lethargy into something I can only describe as an Orwellian doublethink. I usually despise Orwell references as lazy, though in this case I just can’t think of anything else that quite hits the nail on the head. If you don’t know what doublethink is, then go back and re-read 1984. Or better yet, look at how Trumpismo holds ideas like:
The best way to drain the swamp is to fill it with bankers and oil barons!
It’s more compassionate to bomb Syrians than to give them humanitarian support!
NATO is both obsolete and not obsolete!
America needs to stop getting bogged down in foreign wars in the Middle East, so let’s declare war on Syria!
We can reduce big government by increasing the size of the surveillance state!
Let’s reduce crime by cracking down on sanctuary cities (which hint: actually reduce crime on their own).
The easiest way to improve education by gutting federal funding for education!
And of course, we can improve the lot of the working class by lifting taxes on the rich, and improve access to healthcare by trying to make healthcare as difficult as possible to access. To Trump supporters, the above makes total sense. That’s because Trumpismo is doublethink. It’s an ideology of obedient hysteria, fetishised hate and suicidal self preservation.
If I’ve learned one thing, it’s that this is what we’re up against. I think we can all agree it’s going to be a tough fight.