The Joy of Being In a Rageful Movement07-09-2023
David French captures something essential about the endurance of the Trump MAGA movement. Even as the former President has lost an election and faces multiple prosecutions for sexual crimes and political crimes, his core base rallies around him. They know what he has done, but they love being part of his movement and will likely bring the country to the brink by voting for him again. So many outside the movement see these MAGA voters as angry, enraged, violent, and racist. And one must admit that the movement is all of those things, at times. But what outsiders forget, or what they are unable or unwilling to see, is that the movement is not built on rage. It is built on laughter and joy. French writes:
Can something be cheerful and dark at the same time? Can a holiday message be both normal and so very strange? If so, then Ogles pulled it off. This is a man smiling in a field as a dog sniffs happily behind him. The left may be “coming after you,” as he warns, but the vibe isn’t catastrophic or even worried, rather a kind of friendly, generic patriotism. They’re coming for your family! Have a great day!
It’s not just Ogles. It’s no coincidence that one of the most enduring cultural symbols of Trump’s 2020 campaign was the boat parade. To form battle lines behind Trump, the one man they believe can save America from total destruction, thousands of supporters in several states got in their MasterCrafts and had giant open-air water parties.
Or take the Trump rally, the signature event of this political era. If you follow the rallies via Twitter or mainstream newscasts, you see the anger, but you miss the fun. When I was writing for The Dispatch, one of the best pieces we published was a report by Andrew Egger in 2020 about the “Front Row Joes,” the Trump superfans who follow Trump from rally to rally the way some people used to follow the Grateful Dead. Egger described the Trump rally perfectly: “For enthusiasts, Trump rallies aren’t just a way to see a favorite politician up close. They are major life events: festive opportunities to get together with like-minded folks and just go crazy about America and all the winning the Trump administration’s doing.”
Or go to a Southeastern Conference football game. The “Let’s Go Brandon” (or sometimes, just “[expletive] Joe Biden”) chant that arises from the student section isn’t delivered with clenched fists and furious anger, but rather through smiles and laughs. The frat bros are having a great time. The consistent message from Trumpland of all ages is something like this: “They’re the worst, and we’re awesome. Let’s party, and let’s fight.”
Why do none of your arguments against Trump penetrate this mind-set? The Trumpists have an easy answer: You’re horrible, and no one should listen to horrible people. Why were Trumpists so vulnerable to insane stolen-election theories? Because they know that you’re horrible and that horrible people are capable of anything, including stealing an election.
At the same time, their own joy and camaraderie insulate them against external critiques that focus on their anger and cruelty. Such charges ring hollow to Trump supporters, who can see firsthand the internal friendliness and good cheer that they experience when they get together with one another. They don’t feel angry — at least not most of the time. They are good, likable people who’ve just been provoked by a distant and alien “left” that many of them have never meaningfully encountered firsthand….
Trump’s opponents miss the joy because they experience only the rage. I’m a member of a multiethnic church in Nashville. It’s a refuge from the MAGA Christianity that’s all too present where I live, just south of the city, in Franklin. This past Sunday, Walter Simmons, a Franklin-based Black pastor who founded the Franklin Justice and Equity Coalition, spoke to our church, and he referred to a common experience for those who dissent publicly in MAGA America. “If you ain’t ready for death threats, don’t live in Franklin,” he said.
He was referring to the experience of racial justice activists in deep-red spaces. They feel the rage of the MAGA mob. If you’re deemed to be one of those people who is trying to “destroy our country and our family,” then you don’t see joy, only fury.
Trump’s fans, by contrast, don’t understand the effects of that fury because they mainly experience the joy. For them, the MAGA community is kind and welcoming. For them, supporting Trump is fun. Moreover, the MAGA movement is heavily clustered in the South, and Southerners see themselves as the nicest people in America. It feels false to them to be called “mean” or “cruel.” Cruel? No chance. In their minds, they’re the same people they’ve always been — it’s just that they finally understand how bad you are. And by “you,” again, they often mean the caricatures of people they’ve never met.