It hasn’t been lost on many politically minded Americans that the Republican party has betrayed most of the principles they once held dear.  For decades Republicans pretended to be the zealous guardians of the rule of law.  They stood up for “family values” and ridiculed divorce, much less infidelity.  They supported without question our intelligence agencies, including the CIA and FBI.  They championed free trade and abhorred tariffs. And they screamed bloody murder about deficits.  But in the age of Trump, these things no longer matter to Republicans.

As Perry Bacon Jr. pointed out last month on the Five Thirty Eight website, while Republicans used to define themselves by principles, Democrats used to define themselves by identity.  Democrats resembled a coalition of identities, including ethnicity, gender and orientation. Here’s a link:

Under Trump, however, Democrats have embraced many principles and institutions formerly heralded by Republicans. Support for the Justice System. Reverence for the Constitution. Helping and bolstering families–in whichever way they are configured.  Protecting children. Cautious backing of law enforcement. Opposition to tariffs.  Championing fiscal responsibility.

At the same time, Republicans now see themselves less defined by principles than by identity. They have become the guardians of whiteness in America, and Trump is their symbol.  According to Bacon,

Trump is defending the identities of people who align themselves with the GOP, and this is a more powerful connection and reason to back him than pure ideological concerns. In defending Trump, conservative voters are really defending themselves.

That last line is critically important.  When we attack Trump, his supporters feel attacked.  They take it personally because he isn’t some distant politician in the White House, he has become a symbol–an embodiment–of their grievances.  Keep in mind the great line about Trumpers from Adam Serwer in the Atlantic:

…this is what they always wanted: a president who embodies the rage they feel toward those they hate and fear, while reassuring them that that rage is nothing to be ashamed of.

The Trump cult doesn’t care about principles.  His supporters want to feel good about themselves again.  The fear and hatred they feel, fed and fostered by Fox and Limbaugh, is excused and promoted by Trump. Imagine living for three or four decades in a nation where your bigotry, misogyny and intolerance were increasingly called out and shamed, and along comes a guy who says, “you shouldn’t be ashamed to feel that way.”  That’s what Trump did, and that matters to his supporters.  It matters so much, they abandoned whatever values, principles, scruples and common sense they had in order to join his cult.

The more clearly we see and understand the Trump phenomenon the more effectively we can work against it.  Keep resisting Trump and keep working to “vote his ass out of office.”

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