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Why are Biden’s Critics So Dumb?

This past week Americans let out a long exhale as our longest war came to an end. We are “officially” out of Afghanistan after twenty years. The decision to pull our troops out produced a lot of pieces about the merits of the enterprise itself; the bungled withdrawal plan of the Biden administration; and whether or not we should have even left at all.

In so-called “normal times,” these are the sort of discussions you’d expect to see, since it is what has happened after virtually every American foreign policy adventure in the past 150 years. We send our troops off to war and column inches get filled. But in the past few years, social media has emerged as a place where a huge chunk of Americans now get their news. And if you’ve been on social media since January, you’ve come across Trump supporters poking fun at Biden voters by using a common refrain: “Afghanistan is a disaster, but at least there aren’t any mean tweets!” It’s obviously gaslighting, since it paints the Trump administration as a beacon of competence that was maybe just a little rough around the edges. It’s the sort of argument that appeals to Trump supporters and pretty much no one else, since most of us can remember the unrelenting chaos of the Trump White House.

This chaos began only a week into Trump’s administration.

Ground zero for this sentiment is Donald Trump, Jr., and his various social media accounts, which shouldn’t be all that surprising. With the Trump Foundation officially shut down because it was stealing from charities, Donny likely has a lot of free time on his hands.

His Instagram account is a goldmine of misinformation, which is similarly what Trump supporters actually loved about the Meant Tweets™ (more on that later). On his page right now are posts suggesting:

• Biden is responsible for the Taliban using a Black Hawk helicopter to hang someone.
• We left hundreds of fully operational helicopters, Humvees, and other military vehicles in Afghanistan.
• Biden checked his watch during the dignified transfer of the 13 fallen service members.
• We even left military dogs in Afghanistan!

None of these claims are true. In fact, almost all of them are easily debunked:

• The Taliban cannot fly Black Hawk helicopters, because doing so takes years of training. So, what was with the guy hanging from the helicopter? He was alive and being flown around by a former member of the Afghan army because they were trying to hang a flag on top of a building. Seriously. (It didn’t work.)
• The vast majority of our equipment in Afghanistan is either decommissioned or was brought somewhere else. Most of the estimates floating around the Internet put the value of materials at around $88 billion, but that’s everything we ever provided to the Afghan army, and most of it was moved or was rendered inoperative. There was even a video of the Taliban finding a bunch of “Chinooks,” when in reality they were decommissioned helicopters used by the State Department. There are fun reports from Afghanistan that detail how the Taliban was “upset” that most of the equipment they found was unusable.
• A reporter who was there said Biden adjusted the rosary he wears for his son Beau, and even so, the “watch check” happened after the ceremony had concluded. Also, Trump refused to attend dignified transfers for years and sent his vice president instead.
We got the pups out. The dogs in question were from an animal rescue based in Kabul.

That’s a small sampling of issues related just to Afghanistan, but the outrage-porn grift seemingly never ends. Fredo hones in on the central crux of his point by pining for the Mean Tweets:

Never mind the fact that the latest inflation numbers show that it was transitory, just like economists (and the Biden administration) predicted. Never mind that the Biden administration has kept most of Trump’s border policies in place (and, surprise, people are still showing up at the border). Never mind that the president can’t control gas prices. The inconvenient facts aren’t really the point, he just wants to tell himself that all we cared about were the Mean Tweets.

In reality, it’s the Trump supporters who cared the most about the tweets. The best example of this is their ignorance of the Afghanistan withdrawal, which was facilitated by the Trump administration. Only two months ago, Trump was bragging about his plan to withdraw from Afghanistan, as well as his ability to hamstring the Biden administration. He said, “21 years is enough,” and endorsed a full withdrawal.

In a statement he made in April, Trump said drawing down the troops to 2,500 members was “important,” and said it was a “wonderful and positive” thing to leave Afghanistan.

Trump also said he pulled “much of our billions of dollars of equipment out,” which makes me wonder why his son is tweeting that we left billions of dollars of equipment behind. Is Trump, Jr. just losing his mind, or does he not talk to his dad? (Don’t answer.)

It doesn’t actually matter that Trump organized the withdrawal by cutting a deal with the Taliban, which his administration bragged about. They even said that the Taliban would join the U.S. in the fight against terrorism, and were reportedly trying to get the Taliban’s members to Camp David for a final photoshoot on 9/11. Although that didn’t pan out, Mike Pompeo was able to pose with Abdul Ghani Baradar, the leader of the Taliban’s “peace negotiation team.” All of this has been conveniently forgotten since Afghanistan has emerged as an opportunity to dunk on Biden, which is much more important than any sort of consistency.

Trump supporters seem to be arguing that we could have avoided the disaster in Afghanistan that he fully planned to carry out if we had only been grown up enough to accept the Mean Tweets that came along with his policies. But this argument says more about Trump supporters than it does about anyone else. In reality, they loved the tweets because they were essentially doing what Jr.’s Instagram is doing right now: Owning the libs, facts be damned. It’s actually not all that dissimilar from a refrain that was used throughout Trump’s presidency; whenever liberals would express anger at one of Trump’s policies and a factual, substantive response couldn’t be expressed, you’d get a reminder that Trump was, “Still your President.” The point was to anger someone, not defend Trump.

Trump supporters obviously don’t care about his Afghan policy (or really anything else he did as president), otherwise they would have said something about it when he proposed it. At the very least, they would have said something in April, when he called the coming withdrawal a “positive” thing. But they are content to ignore all of this as long as someone on the Right makes liberals feel bad. “My feelings don’t care about your facts. Trump 2024.”

***

The marked separation from reality is a feature of Trumpism, not a bug. Way back in February of 2012, Andrew Sullivan published a piece in Newsweek with a headline that was a true Tina Brown special: “Why are Obama’s Critics So Dumb?” It was a prescient piece, because it highlighted how all of the “conservative” critics of Obama’s presidency ignored reality:

You’d think, listening to the Republican debates, that Obama has raised taxes. Again, this is not true. Not only did he agree not to sunset the Bush tax cuts for his entire first term, he has aggressively lowered taxes on most Americans. A third of the stimulus was tax cuts, affecting 95 percent of taxpayers; he has cut the payroll tax, and recently had to fight to keep it cut against Republican opposition. His spending record is also far better than his predecessor’s. Under Bush, new policies on taxes and spending cost the taxpayer a total of $5.07 trillion. Under Obama’s budgets both past and projected, he will have added $1.4 trillion in two terms. Under Bush and the GOP, nondefense discretionary spending grew by twice as much as under Obama. Again: imagine Bush had been a Democrat and Obama a Republican. You could easily make the case that Obama has been far more fiscally conservative than his predecessor — except, of course, that Obama has had to govern under the worst recession since the 1930s, and Bush, after the 2001 downturn, governed in a period of moderate growth. It takes work to increase the debt in times of growth, as Bush did. It takes much more work to constrain the debt in the deep recession Bush bequeathed Obama.

You could re-fashion the piece to fit our current circumstances: “Why are Biden’s Critics So Dumb?” This question is extremely pertinent on Afghanistan, since there have been a lot of substantive, good-faith critiques of the administration’s entire strategy.

Sullivan’s piece is worth reading in full, because it highlights the inaccuracies that were being peddled by even the likes of now “respectable” Republicans like Mitt Romney. Throughout Obama’s presidency, conservatives seemed to live in an alternate universe that insulated them from the actual popularity that the president enjoyed. The problem grew somewhat larger as 2012 went on, best evidenced by the shock expressed by some conservatives that he had actually won reelection. Roughly eight years later, the problem has fully metastasized; Republicans have gone from writing fibs about Obamacare to believing that the Democrats engage in child sacrifice and drink their blood.

But QAnon and conspiracies related to the election are still only a part of the problem. While a small section of the GOP is sucked into Telegram channels where there are long discussions about how the COVID-19 vaccines change you into a werewolf, the rest of the Party is still hard-wired into an outrage loop that keeps them angry and frustrated at anything the Democrats do, even if the Democrats didn’t do it. This pushes them to places like Donny’s Instagram feed, or to Charlie Kirk’s website, since credible conservative places like Commentary or National Review — both of which have written positive pieces on vaccines and solid criticism of Biden on Afghanistan — aren’t willing to throw the inflammatory red meat to their audience. To put it simply: The segment of the GOP that is still connected to reality is fading. And the worst of it is that they don’t care; they don’t care if abortion never gets struck down or if Trump adds $4 trillion to the national debt. All they actually want is for the liberals who look down on them to suffer.

This is all coming to a head. In late August, while Afghanistan was eating up the news cycle, a Trump supporter drove to Washington, D.C., and issued a bomb threat, consuming the resources of the police department for hours before he voluntarily surrendered. Floyd Ray Roseberry was a rabid Trump supporter and threatened to detonate his (non-existent) bombs unless Biden and Kamala Harris stepped down. A few days ago, another Trump supporter said that unless the Los Angeles City Council rejected a mask-mandate, there would be a “Civil War.” These people are angry because they regularly consume media that wants them to be outraged, since outrage is addictive and it keeps them coming back for more MyPillow advertisements. But at some point, the desire for outrage becomes so potent that not even Tucker Carlson can satisfy it, and that’s when people look to act on it violently rather than spend $100 on a pillow. They won’t be satisfied until Trump (or someone else), comes back into power and starts owning the libs.

***

When Trump supporters try to use the “Mean Tweets” argument on anyone who opposed the twice-impeached former president, it’s important to remember that they don’t actually care about Trump’s policies, on Afghanistan or on anything else. All they really want is for liberals to get upset and to be outraged, so that they can get a taste of what conservatives are seemingly feeling all the time. That feeling is a result of a media ecosystem that foments outrage through disinformation, and it’s currently a problem that is too big to fail. One of the biggest stories following the election of 2020 was the steep decline in Fox’s viewership following their early Arizona call. Hoards of conservatives began tuning into places like Newsmax and OAN because those channels actively promoted “The Big Lie” that Trump actually won the election. What began as conservatives “humoring” Trump in November of 2020 is now a full-blown litmus test for being a member of the Republican Party.

This cycle is going to continue. During the Trump administration, the Mean Tweets™ were really just a distraction and something meant to rev up the GOP base. Now it’s clear that it’s all the base is clamoring for, and they won’t be satisfied until the rest of the GOP stops respecting reality and starts owning the libs.