On Thursday evening, a unanimous panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to lift a temporary restraining order on President Donald J. Trump’s executive order barring foreign nationals from seven countries from entering the United States.
In response, Trump tweeted: “SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!”
Terrorists supposedly preparing to enter America from seven predominantly Muslim countries are not this nation’s greatest security threat. In fact, Trump may not even appeal the Ninth Circuit’s decision (in other words, the “see you in court” day may never come) and/or he might rewrite the executive order, but no worries. To his loyal supporters, Trump is correct that the court ruling was, in his words, a “political decision,” and that is all they need to know. This willingness by Trump’s supporters to march in lockstep with whatever reality he creates is the country’s greatest security threat.
Political scientists have long known that a large percentage of citizens lack even the most basic political knowledge. As Ilya Somin, author of Democracy and Political Ignorance: Why Smaller Government is Smarter, points out, only about 34% of Americans can name the three branches of the federal government. He argues that some level of “rational ignorance” is inevitable among even the smartest voters due to the limited time available to study the issues and politicians’ positions. However, such ignorance is only tolerable in a democratic republic where voters defer to trusted, more knowledgeable authorities, such as the mainstream media and political party leaders. However, a large percentage of right-leaning voters no longer trust, and even despise, these authorities.
In his book Against Democracy, Jason Brennan theorizes that there are three types of voters: hobbits, hooligans, and Vulcans. Hobbits are people who possess little interest in or political knowledge of political issues; they tend to be nonvoters. Hooligans have strong, largely-fixed worldviews. They consume information in a biased way and seek information that supports their political leanings. Brennan writes that hooligans “tend to despise people who disagree with them, holding that people with alternative worldviews are stupid, evil, selfish, or at best, deeply misguided.” Finally, Vulcans are people who attempt to approach political issues in a rational manner; they do not believe political opponents are necessarily stupid, evil or selfish.
Trump’s most vocal supporters are a very different type of voter, like a hooligan fed after midnight. The loudest Trump supporters are very politically active (at least online), ignorant, prone to make up facts to create reality as they wished it to be, extremely confident, disdainful of the mainstream media and Republican party leaders, loyal to their heroes (in this case, primarily, Trump), and hateful of their enemies (anyone who opposes Trump). This observation, based upon my interactions on social media for more than a year, is supported by polls showing that 51 percent of Trump voters say the non-existent “Bowling Green massacre” (a fantasy fabricated by Trump senior advisor Kellyanne Conway) justifies the travel ban executive order and 73% believe liberal billionaire George Soros is paying anti-Trump protesters (no evidence exists).
Although rationally ignorant, Trump supporters’ sole authorities for truth and the “right” political stances are Trump and pro-Trump mainstream and alternative media operatives, who spin failures as rousing successes. For example, in response to news that the Trump administration might not appeal the Ninth Circuit panel ruling concerning the travel ban executive order, Kimberly Guilfoyle, a panelist on Fox News’ The Five, said the decision not to appeal was “throwing the Ninth Circuit a bit of shade, legal shade. He’s not going to even address it [or] follow up with them. He’s going to follow a different path that [the Trump administration] feel[s] will be more successful.” In other words, by not appealing the ruling, Trump is showing his disdain for the court (appealing the ruling would be dignifying it?). The constant spinning or ignoring of every Trump foible is pervasive throughout the conservative media spectrum, from Fox News’ Eric Bolling, Lou Dobbs, and Sean Hannity to Rush Limbaugh to the influential blog Gateway Pundit.
Let a thousand fact checks bloom, but a thousand instances of pointing out Trump’s false statements or judgment errors will not discourage his hard core supporters. If he is insulated from the normal political constraints of public opinion pressure and reality, impeachment or removal from office under the 25th Amendment may be the only way to curb a chief executive who goes too far. That would require a lot more courage (or fear of political consequences) than demonstrated thus far by congressional Republicans or Cabinet members.
Although he possesses authoritarian impulses, Trump does not appear to have an authoritarian master plan (yet). However, post-Trump, an individual with authoritarian ambitions—that person could come from the left or the right—could use the Trump phenomenon as a model for establishing a tyrannical regime. The national security threat of ignorant voters untethered from traditional information sources and institutions will not recede any time soon.
Currently the principal of Everest Law Firm in Alexandria, Virginia, Kris Hammond has served as an attorney for a district court judge, the National Republican Congressional Committee, and the U.S. Department of Justice in its Civil Rights Division. He has run for office twice and was an elected delegate to the 2016 Republican National Convention.