Insecurity-in-Chief

Trump brags about being the "most admired" and provides yet another example of poor understanding of data.

Photo via the White House

So, late every year we find out a couple of largely unimportant titles. One is Time’s Person of the Year (which is a solely subjective choice designed to get attention for the magazine) and Gallups’s poll of the “Most Admired Man and Woman“).

This year, Gallup has revealed that the sitting US President, one Donald J. Trump (you may have heard of him) is the most admired man (for those keeping score at home, Michelle Obama was the most admired woman).

Heady stuff, to be sure!

In the 2020 poll, Trump came in first with 18% (Barack Obama was second with 15%, Biden third with 6%, and Fauci fourth at 5%).

This is, apparently, a sign that Trump really won the election! Just ask him!

Several thoughts occur, although the most overwhelming one is that it never fully ceases to amaze what a remarkably insecure and narcissistic president we have (the same way a dead skunk’s stench never ceases to offend, even if it is not surprising how bad it smells). The second thought is how absurd it is to think that this survey has anything to do with electoral outcomes.

Other thoughts include the fact that this is yet another example of both innumeracy (both by Trump and others I have seen mention this poll over the last couple of days) and lack of understanding of the basic mechanics of public opinion.

On the general math issue, if 18% think you are the most admirable, 82% think you aren’t. So, hooray, you?

In regards to the polling, two sub-points. First, an open-ended question like this means you are going to get so many answers that by definition the “winner” is still only going be a small plurality. Second, a question like “What man that you have heard or read about, living today in any part of the world, do you admire most?” is going to largely result in a name-recognition result.

As the Gallup write-up notes:

The incumbent president is usually top of mind when Gallup asks Americans to name, without prompting, which man living anywhere in the world they admire most. In the 74 times Gallup has asked the open-ended most admired man question since 1946, the incumbent president has topped the list 60 times.

And, guess what, three of the fourteen times that a president did not top the list were 2017, 2018, and 2019 when Barack Obama topped Donald Trump (although in 17 and 19 he bested Trump on tiebreakers if I understand the reporting0. Indeed, Obama topped the list 12 years running. I am sure Trump didn’t notice that fact at all.

The whole list from 1946 to 2019 can be found here.

Trump’s inability to win up and until now is a function of his lack of popularity, which we have seen measured his entire presidency. As Gallup notes:

When the sitting president is not the top choice, it is usually because he is unpopular politically. That was the case in 2017 and 2018 when Trump had 36% and 40% approval ratings, respectively, and finished second to Obama as most admired man.

Even this year, he tops the list because Republican respondents mostly named Trump while Democratic respondents split their preferences:

Even though Trump is similarly unpopular now — 39% approve of his performance — his dominant performance among Republicans, contrasted with Democrats splitting their choices among multiple public figures, pushes him to the top of the 2020 most admired man list.

Specifically: “Forty-eight percent of Republicans name Trump this year, with no other public figure receiving more than 2% of Republicans’ votes.” And “Obama is the top choice among Democrats, at 32%, but that is down from 41% last year. President-elect Joe Biden (13%) is also commonly named by Democrats.”

Trump is the singular Republican at the moment, since he is a losing incumbent (no new leaders in the party have yet to have a chance to emerge in a way that would resonant with the general population).

Ultimately, the poll is mostly an end-of-the-year filler story during a time period when news organizations are mostly taking time off. It doesn’t mean a whole lot more than a poll of “powerful person most people have heard of and like better than other powerful people” as well as measuring the fact that admiration of this type is highly fragmented.

But, what is the pinned tweet on Trump’s Twitter feed?

I am not sure which is more nauseating, the sycophancy on display, or the fact that POTUS is eating it up.

Meanwhile, the aforementioned Time Magazine Person of the Year was a combo:

(And let me be clear: this doesn’t mean much either, and if I had been choosing, I probably would have gone with Fauci).

Guess what isn’t pinned at the top of either of their Twitter feeds? Biden has nothing pinned and Harris has a tweet about getting the coronavirus vaccine.

Look: I have no illusions that Biden and Harris aren’t both egotists who think highly of themselves. No one pursues a position of leadership without some amount of ego. Moreover, no one seeks to be President of the United States without having a huge ego. But I am looking forward to having a president who isn’t a raging narcissist who spends more time talking about things like who is Gallup’s most admired than he has talking about the bombing in Nashville (or, for that matter, about promoting vaccinations).

Trump’s feed currently is mostly about crazy electoral fraud stuff. The closest he comes to promoting vaccinations is as follows:

And

So, you know, real profiles in leadership.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2020, COVID-19, Donald Trump, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Owen says:

    A number of years ago (probably 20) I remember reading about a concerted effort to swing the vote on one of these popularity lists to have Kamal Atatürk voted Man of the 20th Century. I hope Senator Ron Johnson calls for hearings to make sure this 2020 vote wasn’t stolen by nefarious Turkish actors (maybe this is what Flynn was getting paid for)!

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  2. Franklin says:

    I think the poll is very useful for suggesting the minimum percentage of the population that definitely belongs to a cult.

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  3. Long Time Listener says:

    “So, hooray, you?”

    Hahahaha!!

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  4. reid says:

    I will never understand how so many people look at Trump’s direct quotes and don’t think, “this guy is a moron and a lunatic”.

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  5. Sleeping Dog says:

    …if 18% think you are the most admirable, 72% think you aren’t.

    Before we move on to math, we need some remedial arithmetic.:)

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  6. @Sleeping Dog: Dammit. Or basic typing.

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  7. Michael Cain says:

    How far back does the most admired thing go? I could imagine Dwight Eisenhower getting a majority at some point near the end of the war.

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  8. @Michael Cain: The link above goes back to 1946–which is near the dawn of modern polling.

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  9. Kathy says:

    @reid:

    The natural answer is that morons and lunatics have enough intelligence and sanity to recognize one of their own, but not enough to know that’s a bad thing.

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  10. CSK says:

    @reid:
    If you look at some of the pro-Trump sites, you’ll see it’s much worse than them simply not thinking he’s a moron and a lunatic. They purport to believe he’s the greatest president we’ve ever had, with an intellect to rival Einstein’s. And don’t dare to tell them anything different.

    You see, when someone says something critical about Trump, they take it personally. They’ve merged their identities with his, just as they did with Sarah Palin. An attack on Trump is an attack of them.

    Conversely, if Trump is brilliant and successful, they’re brilliant and successful.

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  11. Jay L Gischer says:

    I really don’t have a crystal ball, but this whole thing – particularly with Trump supporters more than with Trump – feels like a person who is having a problem of their own making, and it’s becoming apparent to them that they need to change, but they are still resisting. “I’m fine, I’m FINE!”, they protest.

    Working class white people are a mess in this country. We have done very little to take care of them, and they are a muddle of addiction, bad jobs, bad relationships, and poor health. One of the political teams has been successful in scapegoating and blaming their problems on blacks, liberals, Chinese, etc, etc. But they are still miserable and failing. For a while, this just makes them scream louder, “I’M FINE!!! I ADMIRE TRUMP!!! HE’S THE BEST!!!!”

    That’s how this feels to me. This just doesn’t seem sustainable, though I don’t really know what will happen when they hit bottom. It’s never pretty.

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  12. CSK says:

    @Jay L Gischer:
    I think they believe that only Trump can save them and the country. Biden and Harris (and anyone else, for that matter, Democrat or Republican) will turn it into a third world communist hellhole.

    Only Trump stands between them and the abyss.

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  13. Kathy says:

    @CSK:

    [..]with an intellect to rival Einstein’s.

    Oh, well, that one is absolutely true.

    Einstein’s IQ today is a solid zero. Trump’s almost reaches that high.

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  14. Jay L Gischer says:

    @CSK: Well, that’s either some form of protest – which means it isn’t really meant literally, kind of like your 10-year-old saying, “I hate you!” when you insist they clean their room before going out with friends.

    Or it’s a genuine phobia, a heightened fear of something. Usually that something carries some risk, it’s just way out of proportion emotionally.

    If a patient has anxiety disorder, they tend to feed in a lot of energy to these phobias (I’m not a mental health professional, but I do have a lot of practical experience with people like this.) If they don’t, the phobia is maintained by pumping in energy from the outside – which is what right wing media and propagandists have been doing. I expect some of these to splinter off – to just walk away, realizing that none of it has been of much value to them in improving their life.

    Again, though, I don’t have a crystal ball. I’m just trying to suss out the emotional landscape.

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  15. CSK says:

    @Jay L Gischer:
    Whatever the pathology involved–I’m not equipped to say–the Trump-worshipers do seem to feel that he’s the only hope they have. It’s the same feeling they expressed toward Sarah Palin. I remember reading a comment by one of her fans saying that he was seriously thinking of moving himself, his wife, and their kids to Wasilla because they’d all be safer in her presence. I’m sure he now feels the same about Trump.

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  16. Kylopod says:

    The incumbent president is usually top of mind when Gallup asks Americans to name, without prompting, which man living anywhere in the world they admire most.

    Yes, and the most admired person of 1992 was indeed George H.W. Bush–despite his having even lower approval ratings than Trump and suffering a bigger electoral defeat.

    (I checked 1980 to see if it was Carter, but in that case it was the Pope. Carter did, however, win this honor in 1979.)

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  17. JohnSF says:

    @Jay L Gischer:
    @CSK:
    I’ve taken to calling it the “True Nation” mentality:

    There is a True Nation, who adhere to the inheritance of the True Nation (circularity alert!)
    We are the Party of the True Nation;
    Our leader embodies the will of the True Nation
    Therefore the True Nation votes for him/us;
    Therefore anyone who does not is not part of the True Nation;
    Therefore they are *boo word* and have no rights and their votes don’t count.
    And anything we do is justified by the necessity of defeating the enemies of the True Nation.

    At best Rousseau’s General Will bastardised, at worst stepping up to fascism and asking for a dance.
    Perilous.

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  18. JohnMcC says:

    @JohnSF: Gosh, that would be called ‘the leadership principle’ if the R-party had embraced fascism. But of course it can’t be that. After all, it sounds so much worse when you say ‘fuhrerprinzip’.

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  19. An Interested Party says:

    Working class white people are a mess in this country. We have done very little to take care of them, and they are a muddle of addiction, bad jobs, bad relationships, and poor health.

    Yes, it’s not good when so many white people are experiencing the conditions that have plagued so many black people (as well as other ethnic minorities) for such a long time…one of the most evil things ever to have happened in this country is how the wealthy have convinced working class white people that it is the fault of the government, black people, illegal immigrants, foreigners, etc. for their precarious lot in life, rather than the true culprits–those pushing this propaganda themselves…it worked well during the antebellum/Civil War period when so many poor whites fought and died so the wealthy planters could continue to enslave other human beings and it is working well now…

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  20. ImProPer says:

    Factoring in the rabid compulsion Trump’s crowd has for acting in lockstep to promote his excellence, I would view him as the biggest loser in this poll. The drop off in the faithful has to be huge, to only add up to 16% in the poll.

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  21. JohnSF says:

    @JohnMcC:
    Like I say, not really fascism, but hanging out on fascism’s doorstep and swapping a beer and a smoke and thinking, “My, how virile that blond beast is…”
    Major difference is that US “dodgy right” at present continues to have a “continuity” or “restoration” flavour to it, whereas ur-fascism was much more revolutionary.
    Also, 1920’s/30’s fascisms were generally much more militarist, social-darwinist, zero sum expansionist, based on organised street fighting cadres, disciplined, coherent and actually led.

    It’s difficult to have a fuhrerprinzip if your candidate fuhrer is too fat, stupid and lazy to organize anything beyond cheating at golf and grifting off his followers.

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  22. Kylopod says:

    @ImProPer:

    Factoring in the rabid compulsion Trump’s crowd has for acting in lockstep to promote his excellence, I would view him as the biggest loser in this poll. The drop off in the faithful has to be huge, to only add up to 16% in the poll.

    I have long believed that the Cult of Trump was always overstated. What we’re seeing with this poll is in fact the inner core of the cult. These are the people who worship him. The rest of the ~40% who have consistently given him positive approval are just ordinary, run-of-the-mill Republicans. The reason it’s been hard to tell the two apart is because they’ve had common incentives up to now, and consume much of the same media. But I suspect the non-cult GOP will have an easier time moving on after he leaves office. He wasn’t their god so much as their vehicle.

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  23. EddieInCA says:

    @Jay L Gischer:

    Working class white people are a mess in this country. We have done very little to take care of them, and they are a muddle of addiction, bad jobs, bad relationships, and poor health.

    Boo. Freaking. Hoo.

    When African Americans and Latinos in the 80’s were in the midst of a crack epidemic, the white working class said “It’s because they’re shiftless and lazy, don’t educate themselves, and have too many babies out of wedlock.” There were no calls for compassion, for teaching, for grace.

    When gay men were suffering from AIDS in the late 80’s, early 90’s, the white working class said “Stupid faggots deserve it.” And many gay men were killed by white working class men.

    So now the white working class has an opioid crisis, have lost many of their jobs, and are stuck in bad relationships, and I’m supposed to give a shit. You’re a better man than me, because I say Eff them. When they show some grace to poor black or brown people, I’ll show them some grace back.

    Not until then.

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  24. An Interested Party says:

    Oh, look at who Insecurity-in-Chief’s latest lickspittle, er, booster is…it is incredible what some people who have presidential aspirations will do…not that this will help this fake populist get anywhere near the White House…

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  25. JohnSF says:

    @Kylopod:
    That chimes with my feeling that within the Republicans, there is a hardcore of Trumpists and a less committed element.
    IIRC a few surveys indicated about 20% of self-defined Republican supporters could be fairly described as white supremacists or “sympathetic to”; and that around half of self identified “strongly supporting Trump” were inclined to pretty extreme racist/nationalist views.

    The problem is, if you guesstimate about a quarter of Republican supporters are hardcore Trumpian, that’s still more than enough to worry the GOP establishment:
    – it’s probably enough of the “enthusiastic” base to mount a lot of potentially successful primary challenges
    – it’s also quite possibly enough if the are inclined to “sit out” to hand victory to their Dem. opponents

    IMHO the Republican “establishment” would be far better off medium/long term to bite the bullet, declare war on Trump, accept a period of electoral losses, but gain the benefit of driving his supporters away from a “primarying” position.
    But try convincing a Republican pol. trying to keep their job in the next few years.

    Memo to Republicans: “Do not call up what you cannot put down.”

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  26. JohnSF says:

    @EddieInCA:
    Emotionally understandable.
    Politically, you might as well saw your own head off.

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  27. JohnSF says:

    @An Interested Party:

    …not that this will help this fake populist get anywhere near the White House…

    Not if Senator Mitch McSnapping Turtle has anything to do with if, I suspect.

    Were I an ambitious Senator, it would be a fine choice between enraging McConnell and pandering to the Trumpies.
    I’d say a sensible reptile would keep his head down.
    *shrugs*

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  28. Kathy says:

    @JohnSF:

    Imitation, flattery, blah, blah, blah.

    Now this (swamp) creature can spend the next four years complaining that Mitch is treating him unfairly, just like the Crushed Orange does.

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  29. An Interested Party says:

    Were I an ambitious Senator, it would be a fine choice between enraging McConnell and pandering to the Trumpies.

    It’s not so much that choice as it is putting GOP senators on the spot and forcing them to endorse Trumpian conspiracy theories or reality, the latter of which might cause them to get the Thune treatment

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  30. Kathy says:

    El Cheeto Loco is returning early from his vacation (wow, watching “the shows” all day and Twittering while consuming hamberdrs must be tougher than I thought!) to focus (or pretend to*) on the January 6 certification of the Electoral College votes in Congress.

    I think he started out knowing he was lying about having won the election, but he has come to believe his own lies. It’s a common enough phenomenon.

    *I’m sure he can obsess. I’ve seen no evidence he’s capable of mental focus.

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  31. Michael Reynolds says:

    @JohnSF: @EddieInCA:

    Emotionally understandable.
    Politically, you might as well saw your own head off.

    I’d agree with you, @JohnSF, if I thought there was really a path to winning those people over. But I think to entice those people into the lifeboat we’d have to toss some other people out.

    And TBH, I don’t want them. They’ve hurt this country. They’ve degraded the presidency, our government generally, our nation. They’ve attacked democracy and supported a traitor. So fuck ’em. They can go right ahead and OD. Fuck every last one of them.

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  32. JohnSF says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    But if you look at the voting analysis, Biden got about 1/3 of the white male working class vote IIRC.
    And if you split “working class” between “pretty well off” and “struggling” WWC votes for Biden are higher still; especially outside the South/Bible Belt.
    I don’t have figures but I’d be willing to bet that among poorer non-evangelical, non-southern WWC (especially female) Dems are competing strongly.
    Write off that demographic in states like New York, New Jersey, Illinois, etc you aren’t looking good.
    Especially if you consider that it seems Biden rather outperformed his party.
    Sure, the racist/nationalist/religous crazies aren’t winnable (and who the f@<k'd want em?).
    But I'd estimate a good half of the WWC demographic can be won, depending on local circumstances.

    Win over those you can, ethically, win. Crush the others.
    And I mean crush, politically.
    Use the power of state spending.
    Re-balance the courts.
    Pursue voting equity by all possible means, legislative, executive and judicial.

    Speaking as a centrist who has voted Conservative (at times, but also Labour and Liberal) I cannot see how any patriotic American can now continue to support the Republican Party.

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  33. Flat Earth Luddite says:

    I cannot see how any patriotic American can now continue to support the Republican Party

    Flippantly. I’d suggest drugs. But I’ve done a boatload, and I’m no closer to supporting Stump than I was supporting Nixon in 68. But as the old saying has it,
    “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”

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  34. JohnSF says:

    @Flat Earth Luddite:

    Three things are infinite, the universe and human stupidy, and… eh? What? Whatever. Pass that bong this way, guy. Got any more of them pills?”

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  35. ImProPer says:

    @Kylopod:

    ” The rest of the ~40% who have consistently given him positive approval are just ordinary, run-of-the-mill Republicans. The reason it’s been hard to tell the two apart is because they’ve had common incentives up to now, and consume much of the same media. But I suspect the non-cult GOP will have an easier time moving on after he leaves office.

    I Think the non-cult GOP, jumped ship, and voted blue, which was definitely needed to send Trump packing. I don’t think many will go back, and might stick around. In the future the political challenges are going to be more nuanced and a broad coalition will be needed, and its looking like it will a 1 party affair.

    “He wasn’t their god so much as their vehicle.”

    It was surprising how many stuck with him after ACB got confirmed. The GOP is a small tent of a very small man’s party now.

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  36. An Interested Party says:

    The GOP is a small tent of a very small man’s party now.

    And yet they still control the Senate, 27 governorships, and a majority of statehouses…that’s a problem…

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  37. @Kylopod:

    I have long believed that the Cult of Trump was always overstated. What we’re seeing with this poll is in fact the inner core of the cult. These are the people who worship him.

    Indeed, if the idea of the Cult is supposed to be that all/almost Republicans are culties then the number should be higher (as noted in the post, 48% of Rs chose Trump, which is both a lot but also not that many if the Cult thesis was accurate).

    Also: 18% is not a number anywhere near out of whack with the historical numbers (most of Obama’s numbers in just under 20% for from 2019-2012, with some exceptions).

    A lot of the comments are doing the opposite of what I argue we should do in the post: you are reading into these numbers things that don’t belong and, above all else, taking the number too seriously. This number basically tells you who the person with the most name recognition is with a few other possible other year-specific variables thrown in.

    Are we to infer that when Obama got 30% in 2012 , that his admirers were in a cult or thought him god-like? (Granted, some conservatives made fun of the Hope and Change posters and said Dems were treating him like a messiah).

    To be clear, as I have tried to be every time this comes up: I agree that if you want to characterize MAGA-hat wearing rally-goers as behaving in a cult-like fashion, I am not going to argue, although I find that terminology imprecise. But, the overall vote for Trump and the fact that he has widespread support across the country is part of a different phenomenon influenced more by partisanship and identity politics (and the linkage thereof).

    @CSK‘s observation, “They’ve merged their identities with his, just as they did with Sarah Palin” suggests, for example, suggests that the foundational issue isn’t as much adherence to a specific leader as it is to a broader political identity that is embedded in the Republican Party.

    The short version of what I have trying to say for some time is that for most Republican voters the most important thing about Trump is that he was the Republican nominee and that they rationalize their support from there. But yes, there are some ardent fans who adore him (which was true of FDR, JFK, Reagan, and Obama to one degree or another).

    And I would caution against reading too much into comments on what amount to fan-sites. Just go read a discussion on FB or an online forum between a Cowboys’ fan and an Eagles’ fan (or, hell, intra-Cowboys chat about Dak Prescott or Eagles talk about Wentz v. Foles v. Hurts) and you will find the same kinds of nutty logic and reasoning. Ditto a Trek site talking about Discovery or whatnot. People, in general, are bad at written communication and do not feel the need to engage in nuance when expressing their opinions.

    These people are not, in the main, in a cult. They are fans of a team and behave accordingly.

    Even the rallies are a bit like going to a con.

    I am not trying, nor have I ever been, to downplay the threat that any of this poses, but, as always, am trying to understand it.

    I will say, that I find QAnon to be cult-like, so there is that, FWIW.

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  38. @JohnSF:

    I cannot see how any patriotic American can now continue to support the Republican Party

    Why did half of voters in the UK vote for Brexit?

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  39. JohnSF says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:
    My impulsive, and frankly bad tempered response (not in bad tempered in regard of you; in regard of them and our departure from the EU economic arrangements as of 24:00 today):
    Because they were bloody idiots.

    I have a lot longer and more nuanced analysis, if you want it; but that’s what I both think and feel, at base.
    Uncharitable, I know, but right now, for charity, I’m really not the retailer of choice.

    However, I would not say that it is unconscionable to support the Conservative Party.
    I will certainly never vote for them again, short of a miraculous return to the Party of pre-2016 and the purging of the ERG and the KipperCons.
    But they have not, despite playing games with Parliament that bode to turn a Parliamentary governmental system into Executive/Party one, abandoned the fundamental rules of constitutional propriety.

    That is what the Republicans are doing, or at least failing to condemn.
    I would, before November 2020 have regarded them as grievously mistaken, but not beyond the pale.
    Their reactions since November to what has been, however fatuously inept, a conspiracy to overturn the constitution of the United States, are a different matter, making the party complicit at least by default.

    I do not say, no patriotic American could have been a Republican, or voted for them.
    Or even that they can be now; a lot of ordinary decent Republican voters, and even party activists and politician, are probably rationalising their response, or lack of one, in various ways.
    Dangerous ways, in my opinion: self-delusion is a road without many happy destinations.

    That is why I believe it sensible for their opponents to try to address the concerns of at least some of their constituency.
    I say that I would find it impossible to overlook post-November Republican complicity in a fundamental breach of the norms of US civic order and to continue to support them now.
    But that’s just me.

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