Column: Tight Biden-Trump election shows the cult of Trump is strong, and America isn’t the place many think it is

Rex Huppke, Chicago Tribune
·4 min read

In the days before the election, I wrote two columns. The first warned that Trumpism is akin to a cult and cult members tend to show up. The second said we must count every vote — period.

It seems those two things are playing out. Trump’s followers showed up in huge numbers. And we’re still counting.

As I write this, we don’t have a clear winner. But democracy appears to be doing its thing, despite a flirts-with-fascism president, and for that we should be thankful.

What surprised me Tuesday night and well into the day Wednesday, as many of my fellow liberals bemoaned the fact that former Vice President Joe Biden hadn’t won in a landslide, was that anyone, liberal or otherwise, felt surprised that such a large portion of the populace would still support Trump.

Of course they did. That shouldn’t surprise anyone.

Throughout Trump’s presidency, as he has demolished presidential norms and routinely behaved in ways that would have destroyed any previous president, we’ve heard well-meaning Americans cry out: “This is not who we are!”

I respect those cries for decency and wish they were true. But they’re not.

If this — imagine me waving my hands wildly in all directions — is not who we are, it wouldn’t all be happening. There wouldn’t be GOP lawmakers too cowardly to stand up to Trump’s corruption and incompetence, because there wouldn’t be voters back home ready to punish any Republican who dares question King Trump.

Trump’s approval rating wouldn’t have held steady in the low- to mid-40s while he brutally separated children from their parents at the border, fleeced taxpayers relentlessly by visiting and promoting his own resorts and bollocksed up the worst health crisis in modern history, leading to the deaths of more than 230,000 Americans.

But all those things happened, and more. And they were allowed to happen because a huge hunk of the U.S. population was not just fine with it all, but viscerally delighted.

There should be no shock in the way the vote has unfolded this election. I look at the appalled reactions on social media and among television talking heads and think about my favorite “Why does this violence surprise you?” rap lyric, from the late Notorious B.I.G.: “What ya think all the guns is for?”

What did you think all the anti-immigrant vitriol, the online trolling, the “(EXPLETIVE) Your Feelings” T-shirts, the wide-eyed fist-pumping at Trump rallies were for? What did you think Fox News’ domination of ratings and the popularity of rabid right-wing radio talkers were for?

Like it or not, a huge swath — almost half — of this country is either racist or just fine with racism, a distinction without a difference. Those same people, clearly, can be taken in by a con man — no matter how incompetent or transparently self-obsessed — who gives them permission to blame their own struggles on others.

The Rush Limbaugh/Fox News brainwashing of America is real and soul-crushing. And it will persist, regardless of this election’s winner.

I’ve said it before: Those in thrall to a villain like Trump are gone. Those friends and relatives who bought into the MAGA cult aren’t coming back to a place of reason or reasonableness. And you can’t welcome back people who aren’t showing up.

This shouldn’t add to the doom-and-gloom many liberals, and even well-meaning conservatives who recognized Trumpism for what it is, are feeling. Frankly, my view isn’t gloomy — it’s pragmatic, and one can find optimism in pragmatism.

Should Biden wind up winning the election, regardless of the margin, it will be a victory against all — again, imagine me waving my hands wildly in all directions — of this, the dark side of America that Trump pushed to the forefront. And if Trump wins, it shows what everyone should’ve already known: Those who cling to old ways of thinking and to power don’t go away easy.

America is what it is right now. It’s a mess, but it’s our mess. So whether it’s this election, or the next, or the next, or anything in between, we keep fighting for and believing in something better.

We can’t bend reality to our sense of right and wrong. That’s what the other side, the side that will inevitably be eroded by progress, is doing.

Those who believe America can be better than Trump’s version of America have to keep putting in work to create real change. Change built to last.

That takes time. And a clear-eyed acceptance of the world around us, no matter how discouraging that world might seem.

For now, let’s count all the votes.

Then let’s move forward, unbowed.

rhuppke@chicagotribune.com

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