Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

If you’ve been waiting for the right time to support our work—that time is now.

Our mission is simple: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.

But without the support of our readers, this model does not work and we simply won’t survive. It’s that simple.
We must meet our Mid-Year Campaign goal but we need you now.

Please, support independent journalism today.

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

Supporters and protesters of US President Donald Trump stand outside the Trump International Golf in Sterling, Virginia on November 8, 2020. (Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

Supporters and protesters of US President Donald Trump stand outside the Trump International Golf in Sterling, Virginia on November 8, 2020. (Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)

How to Combat Trumpism (Even After Trump Is Gone)

This story—that a few extreme-libertarian billionaires like the Murdoch family use media like Fox News to enrich themselves at viewers’ expense—needs to be told over and over again, in every possible venue.

Ken LevyJen Senko

One would think that four years of unprecedented incompetence, lies, cruelty, corruption, and scandals would have disillusioned even the most passionate Trump supporters. But given the election results, approximately 45% of our country continues, proudly, to support him. Most of the other 55% of Americans have concluded that Trump’s 45% consists primarily of true believers, that they are immune to facts and reason, and therefore that we will have to contend with Trumpism for many years to come. 

"Ultimately, what makes MAGA 'tick' is rage and resentment."

History suggests that this prediction is too pessimistic. When Nixon resigned in disgrace, his approval rating was 19%. Apparently, then, around 20% of the American people will stick with a Republican president no matter what. This is the bad news. The good news is that this number is only 20%; the other 25% of Trump's supporters might be open to abandoning him.

Persuasion, however, will not be easy. As too many of us have learned over the last five years, merely fact-checking Trump’s many lies or debating policy will hardly make a dent. Instead, persuasion of the more “tractable” 25% will require an alternative approach: exposing the oligarchical agenda behind right-wing propaganda—or the “entertainment wing of the Republican Party,” as Steve Schmidt refers to it.

Jen Senko, one of the co-authors of this op-ed, implements this general strategy in her documentary, The Brainwashing of My Dad (2016). After showing how Fox News and Rush Limbaugh converted her father, Frank, from a kind, loving, good-natured, non-ideological Democrat into an angry, bitter partisan, Senko explains how she and her mother converted him back. They did not challenge, belittle, or shun him. Instead, they subtly reduced his consumption of Fox News and Limbaugh and subtly increased his consumption of both the mainstream media and more progressive viewpoints. Before long, Frank overcame his unhealthy “addiction” and returned to normal.

Elizabeth R. Burchard recommends a similar strategy in her book The Cult Next Door: A True Story of a Suburban Manhattan New Age Cult (2013). Burchard had been in a cult when she met Judith Carlone, a devout Catholic. Instead of trying to immediately rehabilitate Burchard, Carlone first developed a loving friendship with her. Once they had built a solid relationship of trust, Carlone very gently exposed Burchard to the inconsistencies in her cult leader’s doctrines and to the ways in which he was exploiting her and the other cult members. Eventually, these safe, instructive conversations enabled Burchard to see the light and break free.

Likewise, Democrats need to do much more of what U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse did at the confirmation hearings for Supreme Court nominees Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett: follow the money and call out their game. Sen. Whitehouse was exposing the Republican party generally; Democratic politicians and organizations need to focus their exposés on Republican media in particular. Many, if not most, of Trump’s followers simply fail to realize that it is constantly lying to them.

Fox News, for example, uses race, religion, and gender to manipulate its viewers into voting for Republican candidates. But the reason why its owners, Rupert Murdoch and his sons, want Republican candidates to win has very little to do with race, religion, or gender. Instead, the Murdochs favor Republican candidates because they will promote policies that make the Murdochs themselves and their super-wealthy friends even wealthier: deregulation of the energy and financial sectors, confirmation of pro-corporate judges, lower taxes, and opposition to whatever will increase workers’ power—primarily labor unions, higher minimum wage, government-paid benefits, and campaign-finance reform. Of course, Fox News is never honest about this top-one-percent agenda. If they were, they would alienate far too many in their bottom-ninety-nine-percent audience.

This story—that a few extreme-libertarian billionaires like the Murdoch family use media like Fox News to enrich themselves at viewers’ expense—needs to be told over and over again, in every possible venue. We need to keep helping Trump’s followers to the realization that the Murdochs and their fellow plutocrats simply do not care about them; that whenever they consume Fox News and other right-wing propaganda, extremely rich people with very different interests and values are effectively reaching into their brains, grabbing on to their emotions, and pulling them away from reality. Over time, the relentless repetition of this dark truth should help to blunt the force of all the relentlessly repeated lies and provocations that reverberate around the right-wing echo chamber.

Still, mere ubiquitous repetition of the truth will not be enough. Ultimately, what makes MAGA "tick" is rage and resentment. They are convinced, and infuriated, that Democratic politicians, academics, and the mainstream media look down on them; that they supposedly dismiss them all as ignorant, racist “deplorables”. From this hot, bubbling rage at marginalization by the "establishment" arises all of their fanatical tribalism and susceptibility to the craziest conspiracy theories. Because their faith in Trump and Trumpism derives from such raw emotions, just arguing about facts, ideology, policy, and values will not change their minds. Instead, converting them (back) into rational Americans will require not only mass education but also mass counseling.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Ken Levy

Ken Levy

Ken Levy is a professor of criminal law at Louisiana State University Law School.

Jen Senko

Jen Senko

Jen Senko is an award-winning a documentary filmmaker, author, and media-activist based in New York City. In 2021, The Brainwashing of My Dad received the prestigious People's Voice Award in Public Service & Activism from The Webby Awards. Senko's adaptation of her film into a book of the same name (published on October 5, 2021) tracks the pernicious and addictive rise of right-wing media and how this media served as a tool for libertarian billionaires to get people to vote against their own interests and gain one-party rule.

"I'm sure this will be all over the corporate media, right?"
That’s what one longtime Common Dreams reader said yesterday after the newsroom reported on new research showing how corporate price gouging surged to a nearly 70-year high in 2021. While major broadcasters, newspapers, and other outlets continue to carry water for their corporate advertisers when they report on issues like inflation, economic inequality, and the climate emergency, our independence empowers us to provide you stories and perspectives that powerful interests don’t want you to have. But this independence is only possible because of support from readers like you. You make the difference. If our support dries up, so will we. Our crucial Mid-Year Campaign is now underway and we are in emergency mode to make sure we raise the necessary funds so that every day we can bring you the stories that corporate, for-profit outlets ignore and neglect. Please, if you can, support Common Dreams today.


'We WILL Fight Back': Outrage, Resolve as Protests Erupt Against SCOTUS Abortion Ruling

Demonstrators took to the streets Friday to defiantly denounce the Supreme Court's right-wing supermajority after it rescinded a constitutional right for the first time in U.S. history.

Brett Wilkins ·

80+ US Prosecutors Vow Not to Be Part of Criminalizing Abortion Care

"Criminalizing and prosecuting individuals who seek or provide abortion care makes a mockery of justice," says a joint statement signed by 84 elected attorneys. "Prosecutors should not be part of that."

Kenny Stancil ·

Progressives Rebuke Dem Leadership as Clyburn Dismisses Death of Roe as 'Anticlimactic'

"The gap between the Democratic leadership, and younger progressives on the question of 'How Bad Is It?' is just enormous."

Julia Conley ·

In 10 Key US Senate Races, Here's How Top Candidates Responded to Roe Ruling

While Republicans unanimously welcomed the Supreme Court's rollback of half a century of reproductive rights, one Democrat said "it's just wrong that my granddaughter will have fewer freedoms than my grandmother did."

Brett Wilkins ·

Sanders Says End Filibuster to Combat 'Outrageous' Supreme Court Assault on Abortion Rights

"If Republicans can end the filibuster to install right-wing judges to overturn Roe v. Wade, Democrats can and must end the filibuster, codify Roe v. Wade, and make abortion legal and safe," said the Vermont senator.

Jake Johnson ·

Common Dreams Logo