July 31, 2018 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

The End, When It Comes, Will Come Quickly

Conviction will override truth right up to the hour of Republican defeat.

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Americans are in the habit of overreacting to presidents. Whether they are Democrat or Republican, we take every word as if sacred, react to every word as if law.

You could credibly blame click-bait journalism for this phenomenon, but the Calvinist in me believes this failing was preordained. No matter how advanced we become technologically, I come back to the fact that people are born human. Twitter and Facebook are problematic, because they bring out what was already there.

This isn’t to say overreaction is bad. Most of the time, it means nothing. It might even lead to greater attention to public affairs, a good thing. But I do think it’s harmful when overreaction distorts views of reality—when we are ensnared in time loop of teeth-gnashing and garment-rending when we could have been doing something useful.

It bears repeating that large majorities of Republican voters approved of President Richard Nixon’s performance right up to the very end. When it came, the end came quickly. I think that can be explained by the nature of the conservative mind—conviction tends to override empirical truth up to the hour of defeat, and perhaps even then when you consider efforts to rewrite Civil War history. (Indeed, historian Rick Perlstein argued resentment over Nixon’s fall fueled Ronald Reagan’s rise.)

Large majorities of Republican voters again approve of an (equally?) egregious Republican president, this one Donald Trump. Unlike Nixon’s era, the GOP controls the Congress. This, combined with the party’s refusal to check Trump’s “excesses” (i.e., mendacity, corruption, criminality, etc.), lends credence to the fear, at least among Democrats, that all is lost. Or worse, to nihilism, the feeling that nothing matters—that the ruling class won’t let anyone, much less the people, derail its gravy train.

This is where overreaction distorts reality.

Trump and the GOP are losing, I think. We just can’t see it, because the Republicans control the Congress. They will say they are winning. That’s what conservatives do. Their conviction will override the truth right up to the hour of defeat. We probably won’t know how badly they are losing right now until the Democrats take the House (and the Senate, too) in November. But in 2019, I hope fearful Democratic voters take a moment to say: yeah, that was a lot of hand-wringing without much to show for it.

This is important to note, because this morning, the president tweeted what amounted to an oblique confession to conspiring with Russian saboteurs to win the presidency. Taking a cue from Rudy Giuliani, his attorney, the president said the following:

There are many ways of interpreting this. One of those, as I said, is as an oblique confession. But for today’s newsletter, I want to focus on the liberal reaction, which goes something like this: OH MY GOD CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS GUY?!!

I believe it. We all should.

We know Trump lies. We know he’s corrupt. We know he’s in deep, financially speaking, with the criminal underworld, which is to say the Russian government. He’s an unpopular president elected by a minority of the American electorate.

Yeah, I believe he’s panicking. Makes sense to me.

To be sure, we should worry he might get away with his crimes. But so far, I don’t see anything stopping the FBI’s Special Counsel Robert Mueller from pursuing justice.

Indeed, as of today, we are seeing the beginning of the trial of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Tim O’Brien thinks the trial is Mueller’s way of getting him to flip. Yes, a handful of Republicans want to impeach Mueller’s boss, but that’s the stuff of campaign mailers, not reality. Don’t make that more than it is.

As for a political solution to this president, which is to say impeachment and removal, that depends entirely on public opinion. When asked if it’s OK for a foreign government to help candidates win the presidency, 91 percent of Republicans said no, according to a CBS News poll. (Ninety-two percent of Democrats said ditto.)

While half of Republicans want to defend Trump, 42 percent said they want to see what Mueller uncovers, and 9 percent suspect his did something wrong. Put these together and the takeaway, for me, is pretty clear: A majority of Republicans (51 percent) might be persuaded by evidence to turn on Trump. Just as they did in Nixon’s era, Republican voters will have to decide whether conviction overrides the truth.

Many will refuse, just as many refused after Watergate to believe Richard Nixon was anything but a victim of a vast left-wing conspiracy. But so what? There will always been loons in this world. The world’s loons will always say they’re winning.

Until they lose.

An important note to readers

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Onward! —John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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