Op-Ed

Trump’s cult followers too often mistake debate for bullying

Supporters of President Donald Trump cheer as he arrives for a campaign rally, Wednesday, June 27, 2018, in Fargo, N.D. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Supporters of President Donald Trump cheer as he arrives for a campaign rally, Wednesday, June 27, 2018, in Fargo, N.D. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci) AP

I was recently accused of bullying. I thought it was a debate, where the other citizen made statements that I rebutted, and then I waited for a reasoned response.

But I got no reasoned response. I got told I’m rude (something often confused with directness, so OK). I got his gratefulness that none of his family or friends think like me.

I got a broadside about the Miami Herald being too liberal to accurately report a court order — at least according to a letter to the editor. And I got the same old lecture about how the dozen mainstream news citations I offered weren’t worth even considering, because “fake news!”

What struck me most wasn’t the cult of personality, though. No, those “base” supporters know this president is a moral degenerate. They don’t care.

They don’t care that he publicly lies numerous times every single day, even when contrary facts are obvious, and even when the truth might better benefit him. I am lying, I hear, when I point it out.

They don’t care that he was born to his wealth and still managed to drive business after business into the ground. In their alternate reality, he is a “real businessman” instead of a greedy “community organizer.”

In this alternate reality, no one opposing the cult of personality tells the truth because all we want is to tear down the greatness they see.

But ask a direct question, then demand a direct answer, and those adoring their own political incorrectness fold in horror about bullying, then retreat to that time-tested toddler’s defense, “unh-uh, it’s really you.”

Well, demanding a straight answer is not bullying. It is a citizen’s sovereign duty to speak truth to power, to hold leaders’ feet to the fire and to not accept gaslighting in lieu of a straight, simple answer. Like it or not, your First Amendment right is a right to speak, not a right to be free from other people speaking their disagreement.

Challenging authority is just as patriotic now as during the last administration — the former president many toss into any “answer” before actually discussing this president.

There are mainstream conservatives out there, and even some Donald Trump supporters, who will meet this challenge. They might not accept this president is profoundly flawed, but they will give straight explanations about how they believe their economic or social models are better than mine. Good on them. This Socratic banter is how our great republic once achieved compromise, and thrived for it.

But today’s GOP base is a cult of personality. Facts are not facts. Allegations against their boy are a witch hunt. And all the many signs pointing to mental illness are quickly turned back on the observers, I suppose in hopes that we will doubt our own eyes and ears. Challenge any of this if you wish, but expect no straight answer. You will hear instead about Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, “fake news” and (if addressing admissions of sexual assault) Bill Clinton.

But never once from the cult will you get a straight answer, or any defense of an indefensible human being. Adulation, sure. Idol worship, too often. But never an acknowledgment of this president’s worst characteristics, or his incapacity to deal with any except those who praise him.

Most baffling to me is how a group that so prided itself about its own political incorrectness now go apoplectic for others not accepting the “correct” talking points. Somehow their incorrectness was appropriate, but mine is now disrespectful and fake.

We have a word for that thinking: “hypocrisy.”

Challenges in politics are pointed, and pointed questions can be tough on someone not used to debate. But aiming a direct question at a waffling opponent is Debate 101, not bullying. Educated and patriotic citizens should know better.

E. J. Hurst II of Lexington is a federal attorney who concentrates on appeals, post-conviction matters and the Freedom of Information Act. Reach him atjayhurst@jayhurst.net.

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