The Emptiness of Trump’s Promises of Tolerance

They didn’t — and this was something that struck me, too, at the handful of Trump rallies and similar events I attended before and after the election. The abiding atmosphere, encouraged by Trump himself, was always us versus them, and eruptions of collective rage — toward protesters, reporters, Hillary Clinton in absentia — that would have been hard to imagine in pre-Trump American politics were routine. But among the Trump supporters themselves, within the safety of the self-defined “us,” there was palpable loosening of the strictures that have traditionally attended sexuality and gender in Republican politics, a genuine-seeming acceptance of difference in the midst of a political movement that had been, from the beginning, a hurricane of polarized identity. It was something that my liberal friends never quite seemed to believe when I described it to them — and that disbelief, I think, was part of the point.

Ever since Republican politics absorbed the substance and style of talk radio, they have contained a tension between advancing actual conservative ideas and instinctively embracing anything that seems likely to antagonize liberal sensibilities — categories that overlap substantially but not completely. During George W. Bush’s first term, there was the brief vogue among conservative intellectuals for “ ‘South Park’ Republicans”: a term, coined by the iconoclastic conservative journalist and “South Park” superfan Andrew Sullivan, to describe people like Sullivan himself, who were socially liberal but “believe we need a hard-ass foreign policy and are extremely skeptical of political correctness.” It was an intriguing sort of identity jujitsu, making a case for a more pluralistic Republicanism as a mischievous rebellion against liberals’ own rigidly enforced pluralism.

The conservative journalist Brian C. Anderson ran with this idea, publishing an influential article in 2003 (and later a book) on the subject arguing that a young cohort of “South Park” Republicans would emerge from a culture war that the left, through its overreaching sanctimony, was already busily losing for itself. Anderson argued that “conservative critics should pay closer attention to what ‘South Park’ so irreverently jeers at and mocks. As the show’s co-creator, 32-year-old Matt Stone, sums it up: ‘I hate conservatives, but I really [expletive] hate liberals.’ ”

The great rightward youth realignment has not, in four…

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