I’ve never thought of Bill O’Reilly as an oracle, and, well, I still don’t. Not to pick on him here, but he made a passing point in his show on Wednesday night that nicely encapsulated how the old-consensus right just doesn’t get where Trump supporters are coming from.
He was covering the professionally organized anti-Trump protests in Albuquerque and Anaheim this week, which produced a lot of violence (by the radical left protesters) and a number of arrests. Speaking to a couple of Fox contributors, O’Reilly made this observation about the kinetic, disruptive protests (my transcript based on the video below. The passage in question starts right after the 10:45 mark. Emphasis added):
Now, this is being done by design, obviously…um…to create a kind of chaotic environment around Donald Trump. And…it can go two ways, I believe – and by the way, Mexican flags were visible at this protest, which we’ve said here on The Factor [chuckle], that’s gonna get Trump more votes, all right…
But, if you continue to do this and you create chaos, you’re going to get what I call, you know, the Vietnam effect…people are starting to go, Gee, you know, do we really want this kind of turbulence in the White House? I think that’s behind a lot of this.
This is really off the mark. These words are spoken by a person who doesn’t understand what’s going on with the American people, and apparently doesn’t have a visceral feel for it.
More on that in a moment. O’Reilly handed off to Monica Crowley, one of his commentators, to address the theme. And Crowley’s opinion was that the professional leftist protesters are basically overplaying their hand. Their impact will diminish as people become inured to their tactics.
Again, not to pick on either Crowley or O’Reilly in particular, but they’re both wrong. They interpret what’s going on as if our other conditions haven’t changed: as if it’s 10, 20, or even 30 (or 50!) years ago, and Americans can watch the shenanigans of radical-left thugs on TV and feel repulsed, but still basically insulated from them. Both O’Reilly and Crowley speak as if Americans feel the luxury of disengaging from the main issue. Which they were effectively willing to do from Vietnam, when no one in authority would organize and spearhead a positive policy anymore (i.e., after Watergate broke and Nixon resigned).
This is so far from the reality of America in 2016, you really do entertain that hackneyed wonder in your mind: do these pundit people live on the same planet as the rest of us?
The reason the left’s violent anti-Trump protesters drive people more and more enthusiastically to Trump is that so many Americans perceive their way of life, all they hold dear, their very selves, soul and body, to be under attack by the rad-left mobs – and by the political establishment. This is not something the Trump voters feel they have the luxury to disengage from, like Vietnam on the other side of the world. The fear of turbulence in the White House isn’t going to make Trump supporters give in to the mobs. It’s going to make them bring a gun to a knife fight.
They sense not just their country but their homes and families to be under attack. Their very lives are at stake. This is a battle they are willing to fight, and they see voting for Trump as the way to fight it.
Notice I didn’t predict that Trump will requite their hopes. In my judgment, he will not. But to say that is not to comment on the propriety of their hopes. Snobbish observers who dismiss Trump voters and their hopes are profoundly wrong about almost everything. Many of the Trump voters see quite clearly who is wrong, even if they miss the mark, in some important ways, about what.
Quite honestly, I think hardly anyone with a public voice starts out with the right premises about this astounding situation America finds herself in, in 2016. The Trump voters have been right all along, about the point that matters. They can expect no better from the political establishment than a continuation of the current situation – which is the problem. The current situation, building for decades and created by both political parties, has marginalized Trump voters, dramatically and perilously weakened their economic circumstances, and deliberately vaunted other people at their – quite literal – expense.
In too many cases, old-consensus Republicans and conservatives have been complicit in institutionalizing this intolerable situation. Democrats have spearheaded the policy effort to turn government’s power against the people, but Republicans have bought “stability” for the political establishment by agreeing out of self-imposed weakness to fund half-measures, which Democrats have seized on, with the juggernaut of the federal bureaucracy, and made whole.
No: Trump has no plans to actually fix any of that. He’s not a political-principle guy, and a political-principle guy (or, more accurately, a good 300 of them, all working together) is what we really need.
But in 2016, anyone who doesn’t see, as Trump voters do, that this is where the stand has to be made – that fighting the left’s street mobs, instead of giving them an open-ended veto over the rest of us, has to happen now, not next year or next decade – is part of the problem.
The Trump voters do see it. I wouldn’t bet against Trump winning in November. The conditions that drive voters to him aren’t going to get better between now and then. They’re probably going to get worse. The old-consensus right does itself no favors by being angry with people who are justified in thinking they have nowhere else to turn, for a battle that they know has to be fought – right now.