I know at this point in the proceedings that articles on the fascinating pathology of the "economically anxious middle-aged white Trump voter" are passé but this one by WaPo's Stephanie McCrummen stood out, as she talked to Melanie Austin of Pennsylvania and her boyfriend, Kevin Lisovich.
The first time she had seen him, at a rally in June, she was just beginning to realize how many people saw the world the way she did, that she was one among millions. At the time, her hips were still sore from a series of injections intended to calm her. She had gotten them in February, during a difficult time in her life, when she had been involuntarily hospitalized for several weeks after what she called a “rant,” a series of online postings that included one saying that Obama should be hanged and the White House fumigated and burned to the ground. On her discharge papers, in a box labeled “medical problem,” a doctor had typed “homicidal ideation.”
Melanie thought the whole thing was outrageous. She wasn’t a person with homicidal ideation. She was anxious, sure. Enraged, definitely. But certainly not homicidal, and certainly not in need of a hospital stay.
“It never crossed my mind that I’m losing it,” she said several months after her release, and a big reason for this conviction was the rise of Donald Trump, who had talked about so many of the things she had come to believe — from Obama being a founder of the terrorist group ISIS, to Hillary Clinton being a co-founder, to the idea that U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia may have been murdered in a White House plot involving a prostitute and a pillow.
“They say they found a pillow on his face, which is a pretty unusual place to find a pillow,” Trump had told the talk-radio host Michael Savage, who was using his show to explain the scenario to his 5 million weekly listeners, who then spread it on Facebook, where it wound up in Melanie’s feed.
To Melanie, this was the glory of the 2016 presidential election. The truth about so many things was finally being accepted, from the highest levels of the Republican Party on down to the grass roots of America, where so many people like her didn’t care what some fact-checker said, much less that one day Trump would suggest that Obama wasn’t born in America, and on another say maybe he was.
More and more, she was meeting people who felt the same as she did, joining what amounted to a parallel world of beliefs that the Trump campaign had not so much created as harnessed and swept into the presidential election. As Melanie saw it, what she had posted about Obama was no different from what a New Hampshire state legislator and Trump campaign adviser had said about Hillary Clinton, that she “should be put in the firing line and shot for treason.”
“If it’s time to lock me up, it’s time to lock up the world,” Melanie remembered thinking when she had heard that.
And so when she was released from the hospital with instructions to “maintain a healthy lifestyle,” she did what seemed to her not only healthy but also patriotic. She began campaigning for Trump.
“Trumpslide 2016!” she posted on Facebook a few days after she got home in March.
“Lets build a winning team and GREAT UNITED STATES OF AMERICA!! #Vote for #Donald #Trump for #President!” she posted in May. “#STOPHILARYCLINTON #STOPBERNIESANDERS #SHUTUPMITTROMNEY.”
In June, Melanie heard that Trump was holding a rally in an airplane hangar near Pittsburgh, so off she and Kevin went. On a blazing Saturday afternoon, her red “Make America Great Again” hat bobbed amid the thousands streaming past hawkers selling “Trump that Bitch” T-shirts and “Bomb the Shit Out of ISIS” buttons and a man handing out pamphlets about the apocalypse.
There are millions of people out there like Melanie Austin, and they are sure as hell going to vote. They've guzzled the FOX News, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Infowars Kool-Aid for the last 20 years and they see Trump as their ticket back to the glory days.
This is the heart of the modern GOP. They're not going gently into that good night and they will continue to have outsized control over our politics for decades. And if we're not careful they're going to win it all in 2016.