The persistent temptation of anti-Trump outrage

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A woman with a bullhorn.
A woman with a bullhorn. Illustrated | iStock

Many Americans have had it with Donald Trump supporters. After the opening testimony from law enforcement officers who successfully fought off pro-Trump rioters who attacked the Capitol on Jan. 6, they are tired of claims that last year's presidential election was stolen. As face masks become the norm again, even for the fully vaccinated across the country, they are sick — both literally and figuratively — of vaccine holdouts, many of whom live in communities that voted for Trump.

The current news cycle has heightened the political polarization that characterized the last two presidential elections. For some, the frustration has reached a boiling point. A Justice Department reporter for The New York Times vented in a since-deleted tweet that combating "legitimate national security threats now entails calling a politician's supporters" — she meant Trump's — "enemies of the state." An emotional reaction to the Jan. 6 committee's first hearing, perhaps, but one must ask: What if Trump had said it?

All this comes with Trump's refusal to simply ride off into the sunset, as he continues to relitigate the 2020 election, but only episodically promote the vaccines that were substantially developed under his watch. Some Trump supporters have responded to obvious media bias against the 45th president by retreating to pro-Trump outlets that either have low editorial standards or traffic in misinformation for fun and profit. But concerning COVID or the Capitol, the outcomes can be dangerous.

Thus there have been demands for some Republican — any Republican — to grab Trump supporters by the lapels and yell, "Cut it out!" The problem, however, is that this is precisely what a small army of Never Trumpers on the right have done since 2015 to no obvious effect, other than their own estrangement from the GOP.

"The theory that vaccine efforts will improve if John Cornyn tells his voters, 'you swim in a cesspool of lies!', seems pretty doubtful," New York Times columnist Ross Douthat tweeted earlier this month.

And yet this theory persists for two reasons: It is emotionally satisfying, and nothing else this side of Tucker Carlson has worked when it comes to managing hardcore Trump supporters' radical disenchantment with the political system. But a corresponding increase in rage and despair on the other side is just as counterproductive as the worst Twitter tantrum. The country needs something more. But will we get it?

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