Thinking (sort of) about Trump's base: What does 'corruption' mean to his true loyalists?

Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 3.12.09 PM.png

Big headlines in the Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis have postponed this "think piece" from The Atlantic for several weeks now.

However, I still think this essay by Peter Beinart -- a professor of journalism and political science at the City University of New York -- is important enough to spotlight for readers and, hopefully, for some journalists who are covering religion and politics these days.

Here is the double-decker headline, which offers a lot to think about in and of itself:

Why Trump Supporters Believe He Is Not Corrupt.
What the president’s supporters fear most isn’t the corruption of American law, but the corruption of America’s traditional identity

Now, the lede is pretty dated, in this age of multiple crises were week. So prepare for a flashback. On a not so distant morning:

... the lead story on was not Michael Cohen’s admission that Donald Trump had instructed him to violate campaign-finance laws by paying hush money to two of Trump’s mistresses. It was the alleged murder of a white Iowa woman, Mollie Tibbetts, by an undocumented Latino immigrant, Cristhian Rivera.
On their face, the two stories have little in common. Fox is simply covering the Iowa murder because it distracts attention from a revelation that makes Trump look bad. But dig deeper and the two stories are connected: They represent competing notions of what corruption is.
Cohen’s admission highlights one of the enduring riddles of the Trump era. Trump’s supporters say they care about corruption. During the campaign, they cheered his vow to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C. When Morning Consult asked Americans in May 2016 to explain why they disliked Hillary Clinton, the second-most-common answer was that she was “corrupt.” And yet, Trump supporters appear largely unfazed by the mounting evidence that Trump is the least ethical president in modern American history.

Once again, a crucial question in this piece is one asked many times here at GetReligion: Who, precisely, are these "Trump supporters"? 

Are we talking about the people who voted for The Donald in the early primaries -- back when he was winning about 30 percent of the vote in a crowded GOP field -- or the people who voted for him in the election, which included millions of people who cast their votes against Hillary Clinton.

Speaking only for myself, I could not vote for Trump because I thought he was an unethical candidate who rarely told the truth. Then again, I could not vote for Clinton because I thought she was an unethical candidate who rarely told the truth. 

I know lots of voters who felt the same way I did, but they voted for Trump anyway. They did this for one reason and one reason alone -- they did not believe they could hand the U.S. Supreme Court to Clinton.

So what we have here, in this essay, is a chance to understand how America's elite journalists and academics view all the people that back Trump. What the essay fails to do is wrestle with why many Americans truly believed that Trump was corrupt, but were convinced that his form of corruption was less dangerous -- in the long run -- than that of Clinton.

As you would expect, the F-word comes into play very early. Well, there are two F-word curses here -- fascism and Fox.

In a forthcoming book titled How Fascism Works, the Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley makes an intriguing claim. “Corruption, to the fascist politician,” he suggests, “is really about the corruption of purity rather than of the law. Officially, the fascist politician’s denunciations of corruption sound like a denunciation of political corruption. But such talk is intended to evoke corruption in the sense of the usurpation of the traditional order.”
Fox’s decision to focus on the Iowa murder rather than Cohen’s guilty plea illustrates Stanley’s point. In the eyes of many Fox viewers, I suspect, the network isn’t ignoring corruption so much as highlighting the kind that really matters. When Trump instructed Cohen to pay off women with whom he’d had affairs, he may have been violating the law. But he was upholding traditional gender and class hierarchies. Since time immemorial, powerful men have been cheating on their wives and using their power to evade the consequences.

I can't speak for people in the executive suite at Liberty University, but this is the kind of action by Trump that makes the overwhelming majority of my friends who are religious conservatives want to throw up. Again.

Trump the lying adulterer is not someone they embrace. Reading on:

The Iowa murder, by contrast, signifies the inversion -- the corruption -- of that “traditional order.” Throughout American history, few notions have been as sacrosanct as the belief that white women must be protected from nonwhite men. By allegedly murdering Tibbetts, Rivera did not merely violate the law. He did something more subversive: He violated America’s traditional racial and sexual norms.
Trump’s supporters honor the American tradition of discrimination.
Once you grasp that for Trump and many of his supporters, corruption means less the violation of law than the violation of established hierarchies, their behavior makes more sense.

My point: Once you grasp double-F-word stereotype is what key intellectuals in our news culture think about ALL Trump voters, with zero attempts to see any shades of gray, the words and actions of these elites begin to make sense, as well. No wonder they have little or no ability to understand the beliefs of large chunks of the American population.

They also fail to understand why so many Americans through the 2016 election was a great tragedy -- no matter who won.

Read it all. And think about it.

Please respect our Commenting Policy