Donald Trump at the American Airlines Center in Dallas

Refreshingly Fascist

It's easy to avoid hypocrisy when you don't have any principles in the first place.


A version of this story ran in the January 2016 issue.

I have a question I’m afraid to hear the answer to: is there any degree of hypocrisy, or ideological dishonesty, that people won’t put up with when it comes to our elected officials? Is there a threshold after which even the rightest of right-wing voters will no longer tolerate lying, cheating or downright hatefulness?

Or is holding office just a free pass to leave a gaping chasm between words and actions?

Ken Paxton
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, indicted in July on charges of felony securities fraud, receives a blessing from the pastor of First Baptist Grapevine in September.

Take the issue of local control, for example. Republicans and tea partyers will fall all over themselves to tout their laissez faire, small-government ideals — until they get to the statehouse. Then it’s time to make local fracking bans illegal and block cities from banning plastic bags.

Or take religious freedom. Lawmakers passed the GOP-backed “Pastor Protection Act” earlier this year, claiming that Christian officiants were at risk of being persecuted for refusing to marry same-sex couples. At the signing ceremony, Governor Greg Abbott laid it on thick, saying “Religious leaders in the state of Texas must be absolutely secure in the knowledge that religious freedom is beyond the reach of government or coercion by the courts.”

I’m sure the religious leaders at Catholic Charities of Dallas were relieved to be “beyond the reach of government” when the state recently tried to strong-arm them into refusing aid to Syrian refugees by threatening to block their federal funding.

And our attorney general, who has described his violation of securities law as an “administrative error,” is currently being tried on felony fraud charges. But hey, he’s just the guy taxpayers continue to task with enforcing the law.

I wonder if voters are tired of keeping up the charade that the GOP is anything but a hotbed of racial and religious bigotry.

So where do we draw the line, friends? Are we so cynical that we condone open lying and deception from our elected officials? Are we so cynical that we expect it?

Every election, I keep thinking: This will be the one where even Republican voters have finally had enough. Every time another politician is indicted, I think: People won’t let it stand, not this time.

And yet here we are. Maybe the truth is that the voters who turn out for the Greg Abbotts and Ken Paxtons of the world aren’t deceived at all. Maybe they’re quite happy to have religious freedom only for those who worship as they do. Perhaps they know that “small government” is just pandering from people who will regulate anything they don’t agree with — or that doesn’t make them money.

Looking forward to the GOP presidential primary, I’m still wondering if voters have had enough — but not of hypocrisy and ideological dishonesty. Instead, I wonder if they’re tired of keeping up the charade that the GOP is anything but a hotbed of racial and religious bigotry.

Maybe that’s the appeal of Donald Trump — he requires none of the exhausting mental gymnastics it takes to support, say, an attorney general on trial for felony securities fraud, or a lieutenant governor who claims that rejecting refugees is the Christian thing to do.

Donald Trump at the American Airlines Center in Dallas
Donald Trump addressed a crowd of 16,000 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas in September.  Christopher Hooks

Trump’s just gonna Trump. There’s no expectation that anything he says or does should make logical sense. He’s a walking word salad. He’s never done anything besides make and lose money. He can’t be attacked for going against principles, because he doesn’t have any.

And, of course, it helps that he’s an openly racist chauvinist who is wholly unafraid to propose and endorse the most odious ideas. He doesn’t need to engage in political doublespeak. He’s pleased to suggest that civil rights protesters should be “roughed up” and Muslims should be banned from entering the country.

I’m not about to call Trump’s fascist fantasies refreshing in their honesty, but at least there’s no subtext to parse when the man opens his mouth. There’s no need to argue about what he really means. What does a man who is unafraid to suggest that Mexican migrants are rapists, or who brags about calling a woman a pig during a televised political debate, have to hide at this point?

And that’s what terrifies me most — the popularity of a man who decided to just outright say what so many Republicans have been hinting at for years with veiled language and dog whistles.

I can only hope that this bold new bluntness becomes the GOP’s undoing, because if it turns instead into a revolution, I will sorely miss the days when I had the leisure to get riled up about plastic bags.