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You don’t say.

The committee members felt that taking on this oh-so-altruistic act on behalf of America meant that they didn’t have to publicly reckon with the moral compromise of working for someone like Trump. Somehow this justification persisted even after they no longer worked for him and were using their access to make it rain in the private sector. Convenient!

Not a single one of the brave warriors on the Committee to Save America endorsed the only person who could actually save America from Trump — his opponent in the 2020 election.

Despite this logical incongruence, it was the self-flattering messiahs who won the argument among Republicans in D.C. Their demand that “good people” do everything in their power to protect the country from the horrific realities of the president eventually extended not just to those in the national security apparatus but to mid-level political offices throughout town.

From their wake emerged their messianic junior partners who worked as Trump aides and Hill staffers and campaign flacks. They may not have convinced themselves they were saving the world exactly but were justified in the knowledge that if they did not take a glamorous White House job or continue working for a white-bread rational senator, the country would be saddled with someone far worse. Maybe even a white nationalist! Who’s to say? (The fact that a white nationalist might be their replacement did not seem to strike many of the juniors as something that required reflection on the nature of their employment.)

These Junior Messiahs told themselves they were patriots, sacrificing on behalf of the American people, who deserved dedicated public servants like them. This belief was buttressed by the fact that they often had a point: The staffer who would replace them or the politician who would upend their boss in a primary was almost assuredly more terrible. In Trump’s GOP, entropy was taking hold. From the cabinet to the Senate to the school board, the stodgy erudite men of yesteryear were being replaced by ambitious MAGA-fakers who were in turn being replaced by psychotic true believers, giving credence to the conceit that they used to comfort themselves anytime doubt crept in.

The Demonizers were the quickest to drink the Trumpian orangeade as a chaser to liberal tears. For some this was a dogmatic response to any signs of Democratic hostility to people of faith or the free market (or both, for those with the in-home Milton Friedman shrine).

For others, it was cultural, a rejection of the liberal pieties that ground their gears, a discomfort with how fast the script around gender and race was changing. For still others it seemed more personal, emanating from a bitterness over the snooty know-it-allism of the liberals in their life. They clung to anger over the way the left and the media had treated decent Republicans over the years, concluding that, if Mitt Romney and John McCain were going to be tarred as sexist, racist warmongers, then they had no choice but to throw in with the real sexists and racists.

This notion of anger driving support for Trump echoes what a lot of elite conservatives have admitted on the record. Rich Lowry, the nebbish National Review editor (and frequent POLITICO contributor), wrote on the eve of Trump’s losing reelection bid that supporting Trump was a “middle finger” to the cultural left. This seemed to me to be an unbelievably asinine, if understandable, mindset coming from a fussy, middle-aged, Manhattan-dwelling white conservative who resents his more culturally ascendant neighbors. But what caught me off guard was how many of my peers felt the same. Over drinks in Santa Monica, a friend who I had gradually lost touch with over her rabid Trump fandom, stopped me cold when explaining her rationalizations. Despite being a socially liberal, urban-dwelling Millennial, she still had absorbed a deep well of hatred for “woke” culture.

“I just don’t feel the need to drive around my Prius drinking a coffee coolata with a coexist bumper sticker and checking the box like I’ve solved climate change,” she said. “Me moving from plastic to paper straws is not actually moving this needle. The liberal culture of judgment, of do as I say, not as I do. John Kerry flying places in private jets. That’s why I was so drawn to Trump. I was at a breaking point.”

I was genuinely dumbstruck by this. As someone who loves a chocolate shake, I also find forcible paper straw usage to be an utterly moronic inconvenience of modern urban life. But connecting that to support for Donald Trump? Being upset with Joe Biden about private companies switching to deteriorating straws? This anger didn’t click with me at all.

Whatever the underlying reason, these Demonizers have decided that the left, the media, the Lincoln Project, the big-tech oligarchs, the social justice warriors, the people who put they/them pronouns in their email signature, the parents who take their kids to drag queen story hour, the Black Lives Matter protesters and the wokes who want to make stolen land acknowledgments at the start of meetings are all so evil that there is no need to even grapple with the log in their own eye. Trump was a human eff you to the bastards they thought were out to get them. Once you’ve decided that the other side are the baddies, everything else falls into place rather quickly.

Then you had the LOL Nothing Matters Republicans. This cadre gained steam over the years, especially among my former peers in the campaign set. It is a comforting ethos if you are professionally obligated to defend the indefensible day in and day out. Their arguments no longer needed to have merit or be consistent because, LOL, nothing matters. Right? The founder of the Trumpy right-wing website The Federalist, Ben Domenech is, I believe, the one who coined it. He said the LOLNMRs were “inherently fatalist,” believing that the most “apocalyptic predictions about right and left are happening no matter what and that the lights will go down in the West.” Now, from my vantage point, that’s a rather ostentatious way of describing the standard-issue prep school man-child of privilege contrarian cynicism that has been memorialized in teen cinema for ages . . . but you get the point. The LOLNMRs had decided that if someone like Trump could win, then everything that everyone does in politics is meaningless. So they became nihilists. Some eventually took jobs working for Trump; others flipped from center-right normie game players to MAGAfied populist warriors in a flash; still others gave themselves a cocoon of protection working for the Mitch McConnells of the world, staying Trump adjacent so as to not have to challenge their newly developing worldview. But all of them avoided any of the hard questions of the era, wrapping themselves in the comfortably smug sense of self-satisfaction that comes with a lack of concern for consequences.

The professional Tribalist Trolls overlap in their tactics with the Nothing Matters crowd but are different in that they at least have an ethos. Whatever is good for their side is good. And whatever is bad for the other side is good. Simple as that. In the early social media era, I was attracted to this mindset, and for a time when the stakes seemed lower, I was even a member of their ranks. But during the Trump years, I became aghast as it spread like a virus to people’s parents and friends and well . . . some days it feels like pretty much everyone? Or at least everyone who is part of the online political discourse.

If you want to know if you are a Tribalist Troll, ask yourself this — when something horrible happens in the news, does your mind impulsively hope someone from the other tribe is responsible? Nobody wants to admit that they do this. But social media has laid bare our darker angels, and we can now see in real time that a large swath of the participants in our civic dialogue have reduced themselves to the most base type of Tribalist. Veterans of the very online Washington wars have warped themselves to such a degree that every news item, every action, is not something that requires a real-world solution that mitigates the suffering, but is just the latest data point in our online forever war. Many people believe the bullshit they are being sold about their opponents to such a degree that there is an internet culture adage — Poe’s law, which indicates that no matter how over-the-top your parody may be of your political opponent, some of your followers will believe it to be real because they’ve been so conditioned to hear the other side’s awfulness. This insidious Weltanschauung has infected everything from sports message boards to recipe websites to online gaming, which are all now consumed by politicized power users who want to turn every corner of our society into their battlefield. This has created a reinforcing feedback loop up to the politicians and media personalities who are rewarded for constantly embiggening their troll game and expanding the remit outside the bounds of campaign politics. I’ve seen decent people become so warped by this imaginary battle that they began to appreciate Trump’s skill at trolling it even if they were personally repulsed by him. Of all the categories of enablement, this might be the most pernicious and inexpiable.

Naturally, in Washington there are those who don’t need complex ideological justifications for their actions because they are pure old-fashioned Strivers. Some, especially the politicians, are motivated by a blind ambition that is just frankly not that interesting. The fact that pols want to attain higher office so they contort themselves to the whims of the crowd is not a new or unique phenomenon, nor does it merit much deep examination. It’s the first subcategory to the world’s oldest profession. But there’s a uniquely Washington class of Striver that was drawn to Trump like moths to an orange flame. This species doesn’t necessarily want to move up the career ladder for ambition’s sake, but instead, they crave merely the possibility of being “in the mix.”

Every Striver city has a drug that best suits its residents. In New York it’s money . . . and coke. In Los Angeles it’s fame . . . and coke. In Silicon Valley it’s the chance to be a revered disruptor, changer of worlds . . . and microdosing. In D.C. the drug of choice is a little more down-market. All political staffers really want is to be in the mix. It’s not even the power itself that they crave. That would be less pathetic, frankly. It’s the proximity to power. For these Little Mixes, it’s the ability to tell your friends back home that you were “in the room where it happened.” (If it’s possible for an entire body to cringe while typing, that’s what mine did when I wrote “in the room where it happened.”)

 

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