You Don’t Have to Advocate for the Devil
Recently I’ve found myself in more and more quarrels with a certain type of political mind. A political mind that doesn’t necessarily have a specific ideology. A mind that doesn’t spend that much time discussing the actual effects of government policies. A mind that you may come to realize aligns with yours on ten out of ten policy positions — after an hour of heated political disagreement. A mind whose primary political identity can be summed up as Anti-Anti-Trump: opposed to those who oppose Trump.
Most folks I talk to these days that want to defend Trump start their defense with a similar phrase: “Look, I’m no fan of Trump, but..”. They know how ignorant, corrupt, and generally terrible he is, and they think that it gives what they’re about to say more weight if they admit that off the top. To be honest, it does, because to not admit Trump is all those things at this point signifies an unhealthy level of delusion. But what comes next is never really a full-throated defense of a Trump policy or action argued with conviction. It is a plea to me that there IS another side to this, and I, a person who opposes Trump, needs to set my biases and all available evidence aside and take that side seriously. If I refuse to take it seriously, because I know it is obvious bullshit, then I am a closed-minded person who isn’t interested in intellectual debate.
This in itself becomes the quarrel. I use the word “quarrel” because they’re not really debates. Debates usually involve two sides presenting evidence and making their case on a particular subject. These interactions tend to be a disagreement, not over a particular subject, but the “bias” implicit in the criticism of Trump. This person never tries to convince me that Trump is doing the right thing for the right reasons, because they don’t even believe that. They just want to convince me that I’m wrong for being so one-sided, and, more importantly, they’re right and noble for being so open to both sides.
For example, when Trump acted like he was going to stand up to the NRA and pursue some amount of gun control after the Parkland shooting, I was immediately told I should at least give him credit for that. When I refused, because he really hadn’t actually done anything yet and recent history signified that he wouldn’t, I was told that I was being biased and unreasonable. Typical liberal. Now here we are, months later, in a world where no meaningful gun control legislation has been passed and the President has gone back to being the world’s biggest NRA cheerleader. I was right to not give him premature credit. Those who did were wrong. And yet, when this happens again, and I’m skeptical again, I’ll have a chorus of those same people that have been duped many times telling me that my bias isn’t letting me see the issue clearly. I would argue that it is their tendency to value impartiality over truth that truly prevents folks from seeing the issue clearly.
When Trump fired FBI Director James Comey and used an obviously bogus recommendation letter from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein as the cover, I immediately called bullshit and said Trump was firing Comey to hinder the Russia investigation. I was told that my anti-Trump bias was leading me to jump to conclusions. I was told that Rosenstein’s letter made some good points, since Comey did make some mistakes in the Clinton email investigation (of course he did, but that’s not why Trump fired him). I was told I was being closed-minded to not even consider the possibility that Comey deserved to be fired. I have a hard time believing that even the folks I was arguing with believed the official Trump story in the slightest. Yet they argued with me anyway. The next day Trump admitted in an interview with Lester Holt that he fired Comey because of “the Russia thing.” I was right yet again. But I’m closed-minded yet again.
This week the Anti-Anti-Trump crowd was out in full force flexing their impartiality muscles. In a meeting with ICE leadership, Trump started off on one of his familiar wandering rants, during which he referenced “the people we’re taking out” as “inhuman” and “animals”. Media outlets took these heinous yet somewhat ambiguous statements and reported on them in ways you should report on a racist authoritarian leader who uses this type of rhetoric, and since they didn’t interpret these comments in the most Trump-friendly, benevolent way possible, the Anti-Anti-Trumpers saw this as the perfect situation to bring out their Trump shields.
Many of them will tell you that they don’t like Trump’s hard-line immigration stances or past racist rhetoric, but “the media” is taking his comments out of context to make them seem worse than they are. An objection to the criticism of Trump, not to the actual policies or subject matter. This is the issue they’ve decided to get riled up about. Not the families getting ripped apart. Not the immigrants getting harassed daily. Not Trump’s escalating fascist tone. No, the real outrage here is that a bunch of media outlets took Trump’s wandering, nonsensical, awful remarks “out of context” just to make him look bad (even though they didn’t, really, but that’s another post in itself). Strangely these folks were not outraged when an entire media ecosystem took Barack Obama’s “you didn’t build that” phrase out of context and used it to build a major political movement out of the backlash.
What are you trying to accomplish by doing this? Do you think Trump needs your help demonizing the media? Do you think a successful 30 year campaign of incessant bad-faith attacks on the press by the Republican noise machine needs your voice thrown on top of it? Do you think a President who calls the press the “enemy of the American people” is being honest about why he actually hates the press? Why are you so committed to giving Trump the benefit of the doubt when you know damn well he doesn’t deserve it?
Giving Trump the benefit of the doubt often defies logic and results in one looking foolish weeks later. Yet so many folks still expect everyone to do it. It’s been two years of this, and still we have an awful lot of people who are spending an awful lot of time and energy defending a person they supposedly don’t even support or agree with. Why is this? The way I see it, there are three core mindsets that lead to this, and most Anti-Anti-Trumpers fall along this spectrum:
This one is pretty obvious. Some conservatives can not stand Trump the person, but don’t actually mind the policies he passes and have built their political identity around opposing liberals. So opposing Trump while also opposing “liberal attacks” feels natural.
You could split this into two subgroups, because the conservative doesn’t always know that they’re the conservative. An example of this is the person that vocally hates “both sides” (and politicians in general), but also are vehemently in favor of reactionary policies such as drug testing welfare recipients.
The Kanye West Corollary
This type of Trump defender is either generally unfamiliar with positions on policy or does not hold any of them very sincerely. They see the current political climate not as a war of ideas and policies where the best ones need to be fought for, but as a passionate display of identities. Viewing it through this lense, they see that Trump support is often ridiculed and unpopular among their social circles, and recognize that as an opportunity to present themselves to the world as someone that is “different” and “free thinking”. They make contrarian arguments and then act intellectually superior and persecuted when they inevitably get pushback. It doesn’t matter that they’re rebelling against the powerless in favor of the powerful, at least they’re rebelling.
Recently this type of mindset has turned into a type of cottage industry for craven opportunists. Candace Owens, the pro-Trump media personality who Kanye West first shouted out on his free-thinking Twitter spree, was recently exposed as being very anti-Trump until she realized it was more profitable for her to go against the grain and defend him. Figures like Owens are popping up everywhere.
Impartiality as the Ultimate Virtue
This type of person thinks that it is inherently wrong to be biased and take the same side every time. They think that every side should be considered equally no matter how many times one has shown that they have little to no evidence for their arguments and are constantly lying. They genuinely don’t like Trump, and genuinely don’t favor his policies, but naively believe that all political criticisms must be distributed to both sides equally, and when they aren’t, it is their responsibility to sound the alarm. They take the phrase “the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle” to its extreme. Ironically, many of the mainstream media outlets that Trump claims are so biased against him fall under this category. (This is also the mindset that has been killing the climate debate for 30 years.)
What these Trump defenders are continually doing here is questioning motives. The motives of me, the motives of the media, the motives of anyone who criticizes the President. I wanted to write this piece to flip that around and try to illuminate the possible motives of the people that do this. If any Anti-Anti-Trumpers made it past the post title without closing the article and complaining that I have an irrational hatred for Trump because I alluded to him as the devil, then maybe rooting out these motives can cause some self-reflection.
You don’t have to play devil’s advocate. He’s already got an entire media ecosystem, the majority of the federal government, and tens of millions of people doing that for him already. Fight for what you actually believe in instead.