The saying goes, “Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you.”
Likewise, just because President Trump’s supporters take criticism of their guy personally doesn’t mean they aren’t actually being attacked.
A CBS News/YouGov.com poll finds that 85 percent of Trump’s strongest supporters interpret criticism of him by the media or political establishment as attacks on them. Only 15 percent feel as if the criticism is limited to Trump.
“They’re taking this very personally, which is striking to me,” CBS' elections and surveys director Anthony Salvanto told “Face the Nation” host John Dickerson.
But what’s striking to me is that this tidbit came as news to Salvanto. It’s always a bad sign when a journalist is the last one to figure out what’s going on.
Why shouldn’t Trump’s diehard supporters think they’ve been slandered, ridiculed and disparaged when they’ve been – well, slandered, ridiculed and disparaged. In the two years since Trump got into politics, his supporters have been labeled hateful, reckless, racist, gullible, dimwitted and worse.
Trump didn’t divide America. This country was split long before the real estate mogul began a second career as a politician. He merely exploited those fault lines for his own benefit.
And one of the deeper divisions isn’t based on race, gender or class but on elitism and feelings of superiority. It’s not just that half of America can’t stand the other half. It’s that each side looks down on the other.
Years ago, there was a sketch on “Saturday Night Live” of a game show aimed at “regular guys.” The show was called: “You Think You’re Better Than Me?”
Guess what, America? Many of your fellow citizens do, in fact, think they’re better than you. A lot better.
It’s a bipartisan condition. Conservatives think they’re better than you because they work harder, give more to charity, display more patriotism, and go to church more often. Liberals think they’re better than you because they’re more compassionate, care more about civil liberties, speak out more often against racism and homophobia, and worry more about climate change.
Those who went to college and live in big cities like to think they’re more intelligent and more sophisticated. Those who’ve spent more years in the workforce and live in small towns like to believe they have stronger values and often possess better social skills.
This country no longer feels like the “United” States of America. It’s more like 325 million people who live in the same space and, now and then, bump up against each other while doing their own thing. And, it seems, an increasing number of them disdain, dislike and dismiss those whom they disagree with.
When I suggested in a recent column that many people had tuned out the media because they found them to be shrill and petty in their criticism of Trump, a reader responded that the media shouldn’t let up on, for instance, the question of whether Russia colluded with the Trump campaign just because some Americans are “too intellectually lazy” to follow the tale.
On social media, it’s also common to hear scoffing from embittered liberals who insist that – in light of the various Trump scandals – those who harped on Hillary Clinton’s emails should feel pretty silly.
Most of the time, the elitists don’t even know how vulgar they sound when they put down someone else.
Consider the case of Chris Falcinelli, who recently contributed a piece to the media-focused news site Mediaite. He actually bragged that he “came up with the notion that Donald Trump is the ‘Dumb Person’s Idea of A Smart Person.’”
Impressive. You have to wonder how much brain power that required.
“Trump is the dumbest version of smart, and the most hideous form of rich, and the weakest, most transparently pathetic kind of strong,” Falcinelli wrote. “But in the same way that Scrapple is a meat, and Milli Vanilli was a musical act, and the Cleveland Browns are a football team, Trump is smart and rich and strong. At least if you are dumb.”
Someone should tell this genius that, when you’re trying to influence public opinion, it isn’t smart to insult the public.
So yeah, Trump voters. Your instincts were spot on. This isn’t just about your candidate. This is about you.
Ruben Navarrette can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.