Republicans cannot disown Trump without repudiating themselves

Edward Luce writes: Republicans are paralysed on two counts. First, the party cannot disown what Mr Trump is doing without repudiating themselves. His victory was the logical outcome of the party’s “southern strategy”, which dates from the late 1960s. The goal has been to siphon off southern whites from the Democratic party. Most Republicans have preferred to keep their tactics genteel. The signal of choice has been the dog whistle rather than the megaphone. Thus, in one form or another, most Republican states are reforming their voter registration systems. The fact that such laws disproportionately shrink the non-white electorate is an accidental byproduct of a colour-blind crackdown. Even without proof of widespread fraud, voter suppression has plausible deniability. Over the years, the same has applied to various wars on crime, drugs and welfare fraud, which were never discriminatory by design. Mr Trump has simply taken that approach into the open. He is the Republican party’s Frankenstein. The age of plausible deniability is over.

The second Republican problem is fear. Because of gerrymandering, most Republicans — and Democrats — are more vulnerable to a challenge from within their ranks than to defeat by the other party. As the saying goes, American politicians choose their voters, rather than the other way round. Unfortunately that gives the swing vote to the most committed elements of each party’s base. Though Mr Trump’s approval ratings are lower than for any president in history, he still has the backing of most Republican voters. Any elected Republican who opposes Mr Trump can be sure of merciless reprisal. It is a rare politician who would invite vilification from their own side. [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump is a racist — there is no mystery

Yesterday, CNN reported:

A coalition of major civil rights and faith groups on Sunday called on President Donald Trump to “directly disavow the white supremacists” who participated in violent protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, this weekend — a reference to Trump’s remarks condemning the deadly clashes on Saturday.

“It represents a failure of leadership from the nation’s chief executive,” the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, an umbrella group, said in a statement. “It is long past time for Trump to personally and unequivocally denounce white supremacy, violent extremism, and hate in all its forms.”

The group also called for the ouster of White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and deputy assistant Sebastian Gorka, who have drawn criticism from civil rights organizations for their associations with the alt-right, a hodgepodge of far-right, white nationalist groups that drafted off the President’s 2016 campaign to rise to national prominence.

For Trump to disavow white supremacists — to claim he has no connection with their current rise even while selecting the likes of Bannon, Gorka, and Stephen Miller as close advisers — would be dishonest. For him to denounce them after having persistently courted their support would be disingenuous.

What civil rights leaders are calling on Trump to do is something he cannot with credibility claim: that he is not a racist.

The unpalatable truth is that when Donald Trump was elected president, he won the support of voters who either welcomed his racism or at the very least were willing to turn a blind eye to it.

Just over a year ago, during the presidential campaign when Donald Trump repeatedly attacked Gonzalo Curiel (the Indiana-born judge presiding over a case against Trump University) who Trump believed couldn’t be impartial because of his Mexican ancestry, House Speaker Paul Ryan had no difficulty in describing Trump’s remarks as the “textbook definition” of racism.

Long before then and up to the present day, Trump’s racism has been no harder to detect than the odor of a man with insufferable foul breath.

And yet, in spite of this and in spite of a mountain of evidence that no one can dispute, Trump’s racism is still treated by many politicians, journalists and pundits like one of those ultimately unanswerable questions — like whether a dog has a soul.

This issue is sustained as a question on the basis that we lack enough knowledge about Trump’s interior life, which is to say that in order to know whether he is a racist we would supposedly have to be able to gain insight into what animates his very being. Only God knows whether Trump is a racist, so the implicit argument seems to turn.

This is nonsense.

Why?

To determine whether someone is a racist is a determination, first and foremost, about behavior.

To doubt, for instance, whether the birther campaign that Trump led was anything less in substance, appearance, and intent, than a racist attack on Barack Obama is a form of denialism — a refusal to accept the implications of evidence that very few people ever had any difficulty in interpreting.

Even though racism is defined in terms of beliefs, it is clear that in practice we only attach significance to such beliefs if they result in some kind of tangible expression.

If somewhere there are racists who racism leaves no discernible trace in the world, such a subtle form of racism would hardly be worthy of the name.

Since Trump on countless occasions has acted like a racist, we don’t actually have to know anything about what he thinks in order to say unequivocally that he is indeed a racist.

Under pressure or political guidance, any statements that he might make now to distance himself from the hatred he has with such determination fomented, will be utterly hollow words.

The real question is for the Republican party itself: whether it chooses to remain America’s white party, or whether it’s ready break away from the many currents of bigotry it has harbored for so long.

If it chooses the latter, it’s time for the Republicans to dump Trump.

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Poll: Half of Republicans say they would support postponing the 2020 election if Trump proposed it

Ariel Malka and Yphtach Lelkes write: Critics of President Trump have repeatedly warned of his potential to undermine American democracy. Among the concerns are his repeated assertions that he would have won the popular vote had 3 to 5 million “illegals” not voted in the 2016 election, a claim echoed by the head of a White House advisory committee on voter fraud.

Claims of large-scale voter fraud are not true, but that has not stopped a substantial number of Republicans from believing them. But how far would Republicans be willing to follow the president to stop what they perceive as rampant fraud? Our recent survey suggests that the answer is quite far: About half of Republicans say they would support postponing the 2020 presidential election until the country can fix this problem. [Continue reading…]

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McCain: ‘We are not the President’s subordinates. We are his equal!’

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No one cares about Russia in the world Breitbart made

Joshua Green writes: The revelation that Donald Trump’s son, son-in-law and campaign manager met with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer promising information that would “incriminate” Hillary Clinton was a true bombshell in an era when we have become almost inured to them. Here was proof that members of Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign had, at the very least, been eager to collude with Russia to influence the 2016 election.

No one could gainsay the facts: Mr. Trump’s own son published them on Twitter.

As recently as five or 10 years ago, every major news outlet would have treated this set of facts as front-page news and a dire threat to Mr. Trump’s presidency. The conservative press and Republican voters might disagree on certain particulars or points of emphasis. But their view of reality — of what happened and its significance — would have largely comported with that of the mainstream. You’d have had to travel to the political fringe of right-wing talk radio, the Drudge Report and dissident publications like Breitbart News to find an alternative viewpoint that rejected this basic story line.

Not anymore. Look to the right now and you’re apt to find an alternative reality in which the same set of facts is rearranged to compose an entirely different narrative. On Fox News, host Lou Dobbs offered a representative example on Thursday night, when he described the Donald Trump Jr. email story, with wild-eyed fervor, like this: “This is about a full-on assault by the left, the Democratic Party, to absolutely carry out a coup d’état against President Trump aided by the left-wing media.”

Mr. Dobbs isn’t some wacky outlier, but rather an example of how over the last several years the conservative underworld has swallowed up and subsumed more established right-leaning outlets such as Fox News. The Breitbart mind-set — pugnacious, besieged, paranoid and determined to impose its own framework on current events regardless of facts — has moved from the right-wing fringe to the center of Republican politics. [Continue reading…]

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Vladimir Putin’s Republican soul mates

The New York Times reports: Years before the words “collusion” and “Russian hacking” became associated with President Vladimir V. Putin, some prominent Republicans found far more laudatory ways to talk about the Russian leader.

“Putin decides what he wants to do, and he does it in half a day,” Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor and longtime friend and adviser to President Trump, gushed in 2014.

Mr. Putin was worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize, K. T. McFarland said in 2013, before going on to serve a brief and ill-fated stint as Mr. Trump’s deputy national security adviser.

“A great leader,” “very reasoned,” and “extremely diplomatic,” was how Mr. Trump himself described Mr. Putin that same year.

Though such fondness for Mr. Putin fell outside the Republican Party’s mainstream at the time, it became a widely held sentiment inside the conservative movement by the time Mr. Trump started running for president in 2015. And it persists today, despite evidence of Russian intervention in the 2016 American election and Mr. Putin’s increasingly authoritarian tendencies at home.

The veneration of Mr. Putin helps explain why revelations about Russia’s involvement in the election — including recent reports that members of Mr. Trump’s inner circle set up a meeting at which they expected a representative of the Russian government to give them incriminating information about Hillary Clinton — and Mr. Trump’s reluctance to acknowledge it, have barely penetrated the consciousness of the president’s conservative base. [Continue reading…]

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Why Republicans won’t work for the Trump administration

The Washington Post reports: The array of legal and political threats hanging over the Trump presidency has compounded the White House’s struggles to fill out the top ranks of the government.

Trump’s firing of FBI Director James B. Comey last month and the escalating probe into Russian interference in the presidential election have made hiring even more difficult, say former federal officials, party activists, lobbyists and candidates who Trump officials have tried to recruit.

Republicans say they are turning down job offers to work for a chief executive whose volatile temperament makes them nervous. They are asking head-hunters if their reputations could suffer permanent damage, according to 27 people The Washington Post interviewed to assess what is becoming a debilitating factor in recruiting political appointees. [Continue reading…]

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How we became bitter political enemies

The New York Times reports: Last year, for the first time since it began asking the question in 1992, the Pew Research Center reported a majority of Democrats and Republicans said they held “very unfavorable” views of the opposing party. Since Pew published those findings last summer, that extreme distaste has receded a bit: So far this year, 45 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of Republicans hold “very unfavorable” views of the opposing party.

That conclusion follows a sweeping 2014 Pew study that found that “partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive” than at any point in the last two decades.

That negativity appears to have fed a growing perception that the opposing party isn’t just misguided, but dangerous. In 2016, Pew reported that 45 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of Democrats felt that the other party’s policies posed a threat to the nation.

The fear of what harm the other party could cause appears to be a major motivator behind party affiliation. “It’s at least as much what I don’t like about the other side as what I like about my own party,” said Jocelyn Kiley, associate director of research at the Pew Research Center.

When asked why they identified as Republican, 68 percent of respondents told Pew that a major factor was the harm that Democratic policies posed, just surpassing the 64 percent who cited the good that could come of their own party’s policies. Among Democrats, 62 percent said fear of Republican policies was a major factor for their affiliation, while 68 percent cited the good of their own party’s policies. [Continue reading…]

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‘A tipping point’: Record number of Americans see global warming as threat

The Guardian reports: A record number of Americans believe global warming will pose a threat to their way of life, new polling data shows, amid strengthening public acceptance that rising temperatures are being driven by human activity.

“I think a shift in public opinion and consciousness has been underway for several years now,” Michael Mann, a prominent climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, told the Guardian.

A spokesman for 350 Action, the political arm of climate activist group 350.org, said meanwhile that politicians who cast doubt on climate science would soon have to take such polling into account. Republicans, he said, “are going to be screwed if they don’t change their tune”.

Polling firm Gallup, which has been tracking public sentiment on the topic annually since 1997, found that 41% of US adults feel warming will pose a “serious threat” to them during their lifetimes. This is the highest level recorded by Gallup, a 4% increase on 2015. [Continue reading…]

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In political leanings, Catholics mirror average Americans

Since Catholics make up the largest religious denomination in the U.S. (69.5 million members, which is 22% of the population), it makes sense that their political leanings would be close to the average among Americans of all and no religious affiliations.

Still, since in the media there is a tendency to associate religious with right-wing, it’s worth noting that Catholics lean Democratic rather than Republican — 44% vs. 37% — by exactly the same proportions as do all U.S. adults.

Pew Research breaks down the numbers for all religious groups:

The political preferences of U.S. religious groups

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The more Donald Trump defies his party, the more his supporters cheer

The New York Times reports: Mark Jebens, a veteran of 22 years in the Marine Corps, found no fault with Donald J. Trump’s scathing criticism that President George W. Bush “lied” about weapons of mass destruction while leading the United States into war in Iraq.

“At the end of the day, a lot of good Marines and sailors and airmen died over something that wasn’t there,” said Mr. Jebens, who served three combat tours in Iraq. “So you’ve got to ask tough critical questions. In the military we called it a debrief or a hot wash.”

Mr. Trump’s hot wash of Mr. Bush in a debate on Saturday, including a suggestion that he did not heed intelligence warnings before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, convinced many Republicans that Mr. Trump had finally gone too far, tarring a former president who is popular in military-friendly South Carolina, and uttering charges that Rush Limbaugh, for one, called “liberal Democrat lingo.”

But numerous military veterans interviewed at Trump rallies in South Carolina this week, including Mr. Jebens, said they had no problem with Mr. Trump’s comments, even if they did not entirely agree with him. [Continue reading…]

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The conservative playbook for keeping ‘dark money’ dark

By Robert Faturechi, ProPublica

How do you stop states and cities from forcing more disclosure of so-called dark money in politics? Get the debate to focus on an “average Joe,” not a wealthy person. Find examples of “inconsequential donation amounts.” Point out that naming donors would be a threat to “innocents,” including their children, families and co-workers.

And never call it dark money. “Private giving” sounds better.

These and other suggestions appear in internal documents from conservative groups that are coaching activists to fight state legislation that would impose more transparency on the secretive nonprofit groups reshaping U.S. campaign finance.

The documents obtained by ProPublica were prepared by the State Policy Network, which helps conservative think tanks in 50 states supply legislators with research friendly to their causes, and the Conservative Action Project (CAP), a Washington policy group founded by Edwin Meese, a Reagan-era attorney general.

Dark money is the term for funds that flow into politics from nonprofit groups, which can accept donations of any size but, unlike political action committees, are not required by federal law to reveal the identities of their donors. The anonymity has been upheld by courts that cite as precedent a 1958 Supreme Court ruling that the state of Alabama could not demand that the NAACP turn over a list of its members.

[Read more…]

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Trump’s appeal as the antithesis of Obama

David Axelrod writes: The Republican base is infuriated by Mr. Obama’s activist view of government and progressive initiatives, from health care reform to immigration, gay rights to climate change.

Beyond specific issues, however, many Republicans view dimly the very qualities that played so well for Mr. Obama in 2008. Deliberation is seen as hesitancy; patience as weakness. His call for tolerance and passionate embrace of America’s growing diversity inflame many in the Republican base, who view with suspicion and anger the rapidly changing demographics of America. The president’s emphasis on diplomacy is viewed as appeasement.

So who among the Republicans is more the antithesis of Mr. Obama than the trash-talking, authoritarian, give-no-quarter Mr. Trump?

His bombast allows no room for nuance or complexity. He proudly extols his intolerance as an assault against “political correctness,” and he vows to bring the world to heel, from Mexico to China to Syria and Iraq.

Mr. Trump has found an audience with Americans disgruntled by the rapid, disorderly change they associate with national decline and their own uncertain prospects. Policies be damned, who better to set things right than the defiant strong man who promises by sheer force of will to make America great again?

Yes, we can? Hell, no!

Just leave it to me, Mr. Trump says. Yes, I can!

The robust condemnations Mr. Trump has received from media and political elites have only intensified the enthusiasm of his supporters, many of whom feel disdained and forgotten by the very same people who regularly mock and chide their man for his boorishness. To his base, he’s a truth-teller, thumbing his nose at conventional politicians, whether they are liberal or conservative. Rebukes from fact checkers and purveyors of civil discourse? They’re just so much establishment claptrap.

Relentlessly edgy, confrontational and contemptuous of the niceties of governance and policy making, Mr. Trump is the perfect counterpoint to a president whose preternatural cool and deliberate nature drive his critics mad. [Continue reading…]

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Republican elites surrender to Trump

Dana Milbank writes: Late Thursday night, National Review, the storied conservative magazine founded by William F. Buckley, published an issue denouncing Donald Trump.

“Trump is a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones,” the editors wrote. “Donald Trump is a menace to American conservatism who would take the work of generations and trample it underfoot in behalf of a populism as heedless and crude as the Donald himself.”

The Republican National Committee reacted swiftly — immediately revoking the permission it had given National Review to host a Republican presidential debate next month. “Tonight, a top official with the RNC called me to say that National Review was being disinvited,” the magazine’s publisher wrote online. “The reason: Our ‘Against Trump’ editorial.”

That soft flapping sound you hear is the Grand Old Party waving the flag of surrender to Trump. Party elites — what’s left of the now-derided “establishment” — are acquiescing to the once inconceivable: that a xenophobic and bigoted showman is now the face of the Republican Party and of American conservatism.

In recent days, influential Republicans including Bob Dole, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus, Rupert Murdoch and, as my Post colleagues reported, Rudy Giuliani and Rep. Peter King (N.Y.) have made noises about being able to stomach Trump. Republican donors are trying to insinuate themselves in the billionaire’s orbit. Trump himself said Thursday: “I have received so many phone calls from people that you would call ‘establishment,’ from people — generally speaking, conservatives, Republicans — that want to come onto our team.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial page had long criticized Trump’s candidacy, publishing an editorial in July arguing that the conservative media who applaud Trump “are hurting the cause.” The editors opined: “If Donald Trump becomes the voice of conservatives, conservatism will implode along with him.”

A week ago, the Journal reversed course. “Mr. Trump is a better politician than we ever imagined, and he is becoming a better candidate,” the editorialists wrote, speculating that “he might possibly be able to appeal to a larger set of voters than he has so far.” [Continue reading…]

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How to create a better politics

I didn’t watch President Obama’s State of the Union speech on Tuesday, but news reports alerted me to this passage:

A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. This is a big country, with different regions and attitudes and interests. That’s one of our strengths, too. Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.

But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens. It doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice, or that our political opponents are unpatriotic. Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise; or when even basic facts are contested, and we listen only to those who agree with us. Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get attention. Most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some narrow interest.

It’s easy to view politics as a marketplace in which trading is taking place as competing constituencies haggle over power. From that perspective, the only question is which group best represents your interests and if no such group exists, politics then becomes a dull spectator sport. Such a marketplace is inevitably dominated by the loudest voices.

Even if that characterization is reasonably accurate, it is likely to have a constricting effect.

Politics seen as jostling power groups, makes those groups into somewhat static entities and it saps a spirit of inquiry.

If the activity of asking and answering questions — an activity that needs to be driven by curiosity — seems pointless, it gets replaced by a much less constructive exercise: the solidification of opinion through affiliation.

In other words, politics is reduced to the question of who you want to stand with and who you stand against.

In the Republican response to Obama’s speech, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley said:

Some people think that you have to be the loudest voice in the room to make a difference. That is just not true. Often, the best thing we can do is turn down the volume. When the sound is quieter, you can actually hear what someone else is saying. And that can make a world of difference.

It would be easy to dismiss these appeals from Obama and Haley to reduce the level of rancor in politics as simply calls for a cosmetic change — as though politics can be reformed by making it more pleasant. But I don’t think these calls for a tone change should be trivialized.

The dynamic at issue is driven by the cycle of attention-seeking and attention-giving.

Donald Trump’s success has had less to do with either his financial independence or his alignment with a large segment of the population, than it has with his skill in co-opting the services of the mass media.

He took reality TV to the next level (cliche intended) by turning a presidential campaign into a form of mass entertainment. Trump supporters commonly say that a significant part of his appeal is that they find him entertaining. The tedium of politics has been turned into a raucous circus with Trump as ringmaster.

He couldn’t have done this without the help of a media which salivates at each and every opportunity to boost ratings and make more money.

Ultimately, this is an issue of American values. If creating wealth is the axis around which American life turns, then the media will inevitably function like every other branch of commerce.

The health of any society, however, requires a balance between self-interest and collective interests.

If government, the legal system, the media, education, medicine, and the arts, are controlled by commerce then we all end up as the slaves of profit.

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America divided

John Brockman asked contributors to The Edge: what do you consider the most interesting recent scientific news? Jonathan Haidt responded: If you were on a selection committee tasked with choosing someone to hire (or to admit to your university, or to receive a prize in your field), and it came down to two candidates who were equally qualified on objective measures, which candidate would you be most likely to choose?

__A) The one who shared your race
__B) The one who shared your gender
__C) The one who shared your religion
__D) The one who shared your political party or ideology

The correct answer, for most Americans, is now D. It is surely good news that prejudice based on race, gender, and religion are way down in recent decades. But it is very bad news—for America, for the world, and for science—that cross-partisan hostility is way up.

My nomination for “news that will stay news” is a paper by political scientists Shanto Iyengar and Sean Westwood, titled “Fear and Loathing Across Party Lines: New Evidence on Group Polarization.” Iyengar and Westwood report four studies (all using nationally representative samples) in which they gave Americans various ways to reveal both cross-partisan and cross-racial prejudice, and in all cases cross-partisan prejudice was larger.

First they used a measure of implicit attitudes (the Implicit Association Test), which measures how quickly and easily people can pair words that are emotionally good versus bad with words and images associated with Blacks vs. Whites. They also ran a new version of the test that swapped in words and images related to Republicans vs. Democrats, instead of Blacks vs. Whites. The effect sizes for cross-partisan implicit attitudes were much larger than cross-race. If we focus just on White participants who identified with a party, the cross-partisan effect was about 50 percent larger than the cross-race effect. When Americans look at each other or try to listen to each other, their automatic associations are more negative for people from the “other side” than they are for people of a different race. [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump and the politics of disgust

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Alexander Hurst writes: In 2012, a team of academics from Europe and the U.S. — Yoel Inbar, David Pizarro, Ravi Iyer, and Jonathan Haidt — published a paper titled “Disgust Sensitivity, Political Conservatism, and Voting,” looking at the role disgust plays in political orientation. The researchers posited three different types of disgust: interpersonal disgust (i.e., the feeling produced by drinking from the same cup as someone else); core disgust (the response to maggots, vomit, dirty toilets, etc.); and animal-reminder disgust (how we react to corpses, blood, anything that evokes our animal nature).

Disgust, they write, “serves to discourage us from ingesting noxious or dangerous substances,” but also plays a role in moral and social judgments. Those who feel more disgusted by unpleasant images, smells, or tastes judge more harshly that which violates their subjective moral code.

The team had respondents position themselves on a political scale from conservative to liberal. The respondents then stated how strongly they agreed or disagreed with statements like “I never let any part of my body touch the toilet seat in a public washroom,” and rated other hypotheticals according to the level of disgust they generated. Even when controlling for age, education, geography, and religious belief, individuals with higher “disgust sensitivity” were found to be more likely to tolerate wealth inequality, view homosexuality negatively, and place more belief in authoritarian leaders and systems.

Most strikingly, interpersonal disgust was an important predictor of anti-immigrant attitudes.

Trump, of course, is a well-known, admitted germaphobe. “One of the curses of American society is the simple act of shaking hands,” he wrote in The Art of the Deal. “I happen to be a clean hands freak. I feel much better after I thoroughly wash my hands, which I do as much as possible.”

Trump even described shaking hands as “barbaric” in an interview with Dateline in 1999, saying, “They have medical reports all the time. Shaking hands, you catch colds, you catch the flu, you catch it, you catch all sorts of things. Who knows what you don’t catch?”

Beyond the aversion to hand-shaking, Trump used to pre-test his dates for AIDS, and reportedly avoids pushing elevator buttons.

The connection between modern xenophobia, disgust sensitivity, and the strength of Trump’s campaign is fairly easy to make. As Inbar, Pizarro, Iyer, and Haidt point out, “Disgust evolved not just to protect individuals form oral contamination by potential foods, but also from the possibility of contamination by contact with unfamiliar individuals or groups.” And after all, Trump’s success has come not from presenting voters with detailed policy proposals, but from connecting with them on a gut level. [Continue reading…]

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