Donald Trump deserves a lot of credit. He put his finger on the pulse of America and gave voice to ordinary people. He knew that Americans felt more removed from their political representatives and weaker on the world stage than ever before.
Like his critics alleged, it truly was an anger, and a visceral anger in many cases. He used that justified anger to win the 2016 election and win 10 million more votes in 2020. The MAGA movement brought together a coalition of voters around economic populism, anti-globalist nationalism, and a strong whiff of anti-elitism.
Trump won in 2016 because of his promise to be tough on China (which he was), build a wall and curtail illegal immigration (which he did), keep the Clinton cabal from selling out our country (which he did), and bring manufacturing jobs back to America (which he did--though unraveling NAFTA, etc. will take years). 2019 was a high-water mark for America economically, though deficit spending continued with no one desiring to apply the brakes.
It is true that Trump was a victim of a pandemic in 2020. Only the virus, it seems, could derail an easy re-election. In retrospect, however, it is fair to judge Trump on his handling of pandemic. For example, the data and reputation of Anthony Fauci was available from a score of DC insiders (and now everyone, thanks to RJK, Jr.). And yet, Trump elevated Fauci to a prominent a role which crowded out reasonable voices away from the “vax only” hegemony.
The issues Trump ran on in a pre-Covid world were, and are, important. MAGA is still concerned about the rise of China, immigration, and the loss of manufacturing, currency, and political sovereignty. And add to that list election integrity since 2020.
The MAGA Movement Grows Up
But while MAGA may have been a little clueless about the depth of the problems Trump ran on in 2016, the movement is fully awake now. Their eyes have been opened. The scales have fallen. The naïveté and blind faith that someone else will “fix things” is over. Millions of Trump voters are engaged, and they are consuming alternate media (AKA, the truth) like candy. They are in the fight and they are on the cutting edge of political, social, and moral trends.
MAGA is growing up. In a word, MAGA is evolving.
A lot of that evolution centers on the response to Covid. What we think about Covid in January 2022 is far different from what we though in January, 2020. I think my own feelings about the mRNA shot were, and are, pretty normal. I have never been particularly concerned about Covid. But as others were and were in some danger from Covid, I was glad the process of creating a vaccine was fast-tracked.
I remember something about Milton Friedman lamenting the slow pace of the FDA approving drugs when people were in real need (the world and the FDA has changed since Friedman’s day, however). I thought the reason that drugs were slow in getting to market was bureaucratic red tape and Trump--ever the businessman!--would cut through it. Great!
What I didn’t really think about is that the reason it often takes 5 years for a drug to get to market is because of the testing that new drugs (should) require. How does the new medication react to other common medications for blood pressure, headaches, auto-immune disorders, organ transplants, etc.? What are the long-term side effects?
Those are basic questions we do not have the answer to thanks to the “warp speed” approval process. But by definition, drug safety cannot be fast-tracked. Side effects cannot be guessed or computer-modeled. That isn’t how biology works. So I, like the rest of MAGA, started to re-think the vaccine.
But the best (or is it the worst?) part was still to come. Strings began to be attached to receiving the shot. Traveling privileges. Serving your country in the military. Eating in restaurants or attending public events. Going to college. Keeping your job.
And then came the boosters. For those who still held out hope that the vaccine was everything Trump promised it would be, the boosters were a definite sign that they would not get us to herd immunity or end the pandemic. Rather, we would all end up on a never-ending parade of boosters. We felt betrayed. How did this not come up during the clinical trials? Oh, right. Because it was warp sped along.
So many of Trump’s most ardent supporters were moving to the “they’ll have to tie me down to put that thing into my body” camp. An endless array of boosters for an experimental medicine that was not a traditional vaccine and that now seems to have all kinds of side affects and strings attached? Not only no, but hell no. Now, MAGA (and others) can see where this is headed. Can he?
MAGA, Trump, and the Covid Narrative
It’s time to re-think the entire Covid narrative, champion freedom and choice, and defend those who do not want to take the shot. That is the common sense approach that most of MAGA has taken, precisely because they are awake and have become informed and look at the powers-that-be with skeptical eyes.
But Trump refuses to be critical of the vaccine program. He is not evolving. He is defending a drug made for a disease that no longer exists (the Alpha strain of Covid). He is defending a process that gave Big Pharma everything it wanted. He is defending a drug cabal that is making untold billions and has “captured” the medical establishment.
He is ignoring the stories of adverse effects. He is refusing to connect the dots between the shot and the political power it wields. He stubbornly insists that Operation Warp Speed is one of his greatest achievements, or heck, one of anyone’s greatest achievements.
Indeed, those of us who were Never Trumpers somewhere around mid-2016 claimed these were precisely the reasons Trump could not be supported: his ego did not allow for self-reflection and honest evaluation. Stubbornness can be an asset in leadership, but refusing to change can be an even more damning liability. You have to know when to defend a position and when to pivot.
Trump’s defense of Operation Warp Speed now looks foolish. Claiming these vaccines are a result of his efforts also looks foolish. (The mRNA technology that undergirds them has been around for years.)
As one who survived Covid without a vaccine and thus has natural immunity, to not give voice to the millions who have also gotten Covid and survived is a loss for science and s historical understanding of pandemics. As adverse reactions to the shot pile up, not acknowledging the mistake of rushing the process actually connects Trump with the very people his movement no longer trusts and, actually, hates.
There will never be a shortage of ambitious cads who have a narrow window during which they can run for the presidency. Trump may be way ahead of the field in December, 2021. But two years is a long time. He now needs to catch up to the movement he started, the movement that has evolved and now has a mind of its own.
He will either be willing to take a step back and serve the movement, or the movement could very well move on without him. Trump had better learn that lesson and learn it, as he might say, massively and quickly.
Photo Credit: Secure America Now