June 4, 2024 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

Democrats, liberals and leftists are being way, way too cynical about Trump’s conviction

Fighting fascism isn’t just about the election, writes Noah Berlatsky.

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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Editor’s note: The following, which is for Editorial Board subscribers only, first appeared in Everything Is Horrible, Noah’s newsletter. –JS

Friday was a very bad day for Donald Trump. Bill Pruitt, a producer on Donald Trump’s reality TV show The Apprenticepublished a piece accusing Trump of using the n-word to denigrate a finalist on the show — and to justify not letting them win.

That was in the morning. By the afternoon, Trump was convicted by a jury of his peers on all 34 counts of falsifying business records related to hush money payments. Trump was covering up a sexual encounter with adult film star Stormy Daniels. He was worried that if the story came out it would cost him the 2016 election.

Both of these are huge, negative stories about Trump. Yet many Democrats, liberals and leftists on social media responded with cynicism. We already knew Trump was racist, many said. His hardcore supporters won’t care that he’s a convicted felon. Nothing matters. Nothing changes.

I think there are various incentives here. Cynicism plays well on social media; it makes you look wise and jaded, allows you to dunk on the more hopeful, and generally is designed to boost social media engagement and brand building.

When people take a stand, and insist that, yes, some things are right, and fascism is wrong — don’t leap to the keyboard to insist that their sacrifice (and it is always a sacrifice) doesn’t matter.

More charitably, I think people are often afraid to feel hope because they are afraid to have those hopes dashed. Insisting that nothing matters is a way to lower one’s own expectations, to keep oneself from feeling too optimistic. You don’t want to feel happy, because you can’t stand to feel the disappointment as America fails again, and as fascism continues to close in.

I understand that for sure. I am also frightened and despairing and miserable. I get the impulse to curl into a ball of cynicism, lest hope make you intolerably vulnerable.

I think, though, that that impulse can be self-defeating — and morally wrong. And the reason it’s morally wrong is that, in cases like this, the bad news about Trump doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from particular people standing up to him and insisting that he face at least some minimal consequences for his wrongdoing.

Bill Pruitt knows that coming forward is going to mean he gets death threats, and possibly worse than death threats, from Trump’s neo-Nazi fanbase. The jurors who delivered their unanimous guilty verdict have to know that Trump’s fans, and possibly Trump himself, will try to find their names and addresses. All of them have to know that if Trump is elected president, he may well try to prosecute them — or just have them shot. Fascists do that. And Trump is a fan of Putin’s.

It’s quite possible that neither of these setbacks for Trump will affect the election. Most of Trump’s supporters know pretty well who he is, and either tolerate it for partisanship’s sake or are enthusiastic about his thuggery and criminality. A tape (if it comes out) of racial slurs might swing some votes; a felony conviction might swing some votes. Or they might not.

But defending democracy and fighting fascism isn’t just about the election. It’s about the erosion of institutions, the erosion of individual courage, the erosion of a sense of right and wrong. In that context, the constant drumbeat of cynicism, the constant assertion that nothing matters, even defensively, can actually contribute to fascism’s victory. If we assume that there is no collective virtue, that resistance is useless, then what else is there for Trump to do? He’s already won.

So in these cases, and in general, when people take a stand, and insist that, yes, some things are right, and fascism is wrong — don’t leap to the keyboard to insist that their sacrifice (and it is always a sacrifice) doesn’t matter. Instead, take a moment to appreciate, to stand in solidarity with, and yes, even to be inspired by those people who come forward at considerable risk to themselves to oppose Trump today, in whatever way they can.

Bill Pruitt and those jurors put a target on their own heads, because they felt that holding Trump accountable — even in a limited way, even for a day — was important. That’s not foolish or naïve. It’s admirable. And anyone who thinks democracy is worth fighting for, and fascism is worth fighting against, should say as much.

Noah Berlatsky writes about the political economy for the Editorial Board. He lives in Chicago. Find him @nberlat.

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