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Range Rover: Absurdity 2.0?

'On Feb. 16, a sack of decaying brain cells and orange-stained vitriol known as Donald Trump was fined $355 million...'
The 2016 U.S. election revealed a deep partisan divide that won’t soon be mended.

On Feb. 16, a sack of decaying brain cells and orange-stained vitriol known as Donald Trump was fined $355 million and banned from running businesses in New York state for three years after a civil trial found he’d knowingly committed financial fraud. With interest, he’ll fork over at least $454 million and probably closer to a half billion by the time his appeal is eventually quashed.

This was but one of the former president’s indictments, with a remaining total of 91 criminal counts in four separate prosecutions: 1) Federal Election Interference—four felony counts in Washington, D.C. for efforts to overturn the 2020 election of Joe Biden, an effort that began on Nov. 3, 2020 (election day) and culminated with the Jan. 6 2021 insurrection riot; 2) Georgia Election Interference—13 felony counts for alleged election interference based on a recording in which Trump asked Georgia’s Secretary of State to “find” the votes needed to win; 3) Classified Documents–40 felony counts in a Florida federal court for allegedly hoarding classified documents after leaving office and impeding efforts to retrieve them (11,000 were seized from Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Florida resort, including about 100 marked as classified or top secret); 4) Hush Money—34 felony counts in connection with alleged cash payments during the 2016 election to adult film star Stormy Daniels with whom Trump had an affair; the payments are legal, but not disclosing them violates federal campaign finance law.

These are some heavy albatrosses to wear during a presidential race, and that’s just what’s in the hopper. There will be more, and Trump was already dogged by sexual assault and fraud allegations during his first two presidential runs (in May 2023 he was found liable for sexually abusing and defaming E. Jean Carroll and ordered to pay $5 million in damages; a counterclaim and appeal went nowhere and by July, the Judge clarified publicly the jury had found Trump raped Carroll).

That such a scofflaw and grifter ever became president is a testament to the current absurdity of American politics. That he remains the clear choice of 65 million conservatives to hold office again literally beggars the imagination. Who votes for such people?

As I’ve always maintained, only three kinds of votes were cast for Trump in 2016: stupid, selfish, or both. Believed his lies? Demonstrably stupid. Knew he was lying but voted for him anyway? Stupid… and likely selfish. A wall-building aficionado? Selfish. Hoping he dropped a bomb on someone? Dangerously selfish. His business “acumen” would make your life better? Selfish beyond belief, and a special kind of stupid. His racism, misogyny and xenophobia sounded sensible? A sad kind of selfish. Didn’t back the hateful rhetoric but knew you’d make a killing in the stock market? His kind of selfish. He wasn’t a “liberal elite” (the bizarre pejorative conservatives equate with knowledge and expertise), see point one. A fan of mob violence? Well… say no more.

It’s an easy post-hoc analytic when any of today’s brand of populist conservatives is elected (looking your way, Argentina). If you don’t believe selfishness and/or stupidity motivate voters, look at the quotidian hatred of Justin Trudeau, mimetic divisiveness and disinformation on everything from energy to inflation being promulgated to appeal to the Conservative Party of Canada’s base by a photoshopped Pierre Poilievre. Almost funny if it weren’t so shameful.

This isn’t to say some original Trump voters in the U.S. heartland didn’t have legitimate beefs with the status quo (read Hillbilly Elegy for a summation). Certainly our Western neoliberalist agenda has stolen the future for many on a range of fronts (hello housing!)—but this doesn’t excuse voting based on personal anger or the hallucinatory premise that an extra $5 a week saved in taxes will somehow improve your lot, with the damning implication of not caring about the effect on others or long-term consequences for all.

As a metric, take post-election behaviour. After Trump took the Oval Office in 2016, many Americans were seen sobbing in the streets, shell-shocked, holding and comforting each other. Not so much because Hillary Clinton lost or they worried for themselves (many did), but because a brighter future was suddenly stolen from everyone. They cried because they’d all watched an ignorant demagogue mock a disabled person in front of a crowd, equate a woman’s worth with her looks, spout hateful racism, and advocate for war crimes, treason, anti-science and environmental destruction (he’s still at it BTW—check out his feed on X), yet somehow many of their fellow citizens chose to be complicit in supporting his racism, sexism, cruelty and bullying. Trump disgusted these people, yes, but that he didn’t disgust his supporters was even more terrifying—the reason for an instant division where progressives simply couldn’t seek rapprochement with Trumpists to “move forward,” and instead felt a deep need to collectively resist with, as the mayor of New York voiced at the time, “moral fortitude” (cue the women’s march on Washington).

Let’s be clear: when their candidate lost in 2020, Trumpists were not seen crying and hugging, seeking solace on the couches of America’s therapists, but instead, fuelled by the same inchoate anger behind their vote, spewing vitriol even harder, waving pitchforks, torches, guns, swastikas and Confederate flags, and storming the capital for God sakes. What does that even say?

And now America seems set to do it all over again—with Canada’s conservatives following the same rhetorical playbook as closely as they can get away with (thankfully, there are still some Trumpian tropes Canadians would never stand for—criminality being one).

Charles Taylor, writing on wilful ignorance in the Boston Globe after the 2016 election noted “since the [election], in the guise of tolerance and understanding and that most useless of bromides, ‘having a dialogue,’ we are being told that there should be no shame in not knowing… that Donald Trump was elected by people… sick of being looked down on by liberal elites. The question [those] pushing this narrative have not asked is this: Were the elites, based on the facts, demonstrably right?”

Leslie Anthony is a science/environment writer and author who holds a doctorate in reversing political spin.