Port: The paradox at the heart of Trumpism

Somehow, Trump-aligned "conservatives" went full circle, from prudent skeptics of authoritarianism to its footsoldiers, Rob Port writes.

January 6 House select committee hearings
Stephen Ayres, left, who was a participant in the Jan. 6, 2021, attack, and Jason Van Tatenhove, a former spokesperson for the Oath Keepers, are sworn in Tuesday, July 12, 2022, by the House select committee during the seventh public hearing investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Demetrius Freeman / Reuters
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MINOT, N.D. — This week a man named Stewart Rhodes, who founded a group called the Oath Keepers, which was involved in the Jan. 6 2021, attack on Congress, was convicted of "seditious conspiracy" and another charge. Which seems odd to me.

Not that Mr. Rhodes has been found criminally culpable for a violent uprising, which was justice. I'm just not sure if the act he committed was sedition, which is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state."

It's fashionable among men and women of Rhodes' ilk to think of themselves as rebels. Distrust of government is the lifeblood of their cause. It's why they own guns. It's why Rhodes organized the Oath Keepers, which is essentially a militia. And yet, on Jan. 6, what Rhodes and his cronies did was use violence in support of the government. Specifically, they attempted to keep in power, by force, a president who had lost the election.

Theirs was no act against authoritarianism. Theirs was an act of authoritarianism.

And there, my friends, is the paradox at the heart of Trumpism.


Conservatism (and the Trumpkins think of themselves as conservatives) is an ideology that, among other things, believes government should be limited. Conservatives like me are skeptical of the government appropriating new powers over individuals. We believe in the Second Amendment and hold gun ownership as one of the important responsibilities of citizenship so that if things ever go sideways in government, we're prepared "to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security," as Mr. Jefferson wrote.

"When you're 5 years old, you believe in Santa because you think he's real. When you're 10 years old, you believe because you want to," Cramer said on this episode of Plain Talk.
"A bill before the Legislature in Bismarck ... would remove from the North Dakota Game and Fish Department their authority to regulate deer baiting. ... This is foolishness."
"You could hear an audible groan in the chamber," one lawmaker told me shortly afterward. "Absolutely embarrassing."
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"Some of Fargo's leaders would have us believe they're fighting gun violence. But they're not. They're wasting our time fighting over something that wasn't a problem in the first place."

But on Jan. 6, 2021, things did go sideways in Washington, D.C., but it was a bunch of violent, "conservative" Sturmabteilung trying to overturn a lawful election so that the current government, in the form of an authoritarian president, could stay in power.

Maybe what the Oath Keepers did met the legal definition of sedition, but as a practical matter what they did was something else.

Somehow, Trump-aligned "conservatives" went full circle, from prudent skeptics of authoritarianism to its footsoldiers.

Trump aficionados ask me why I write about the man so much.

This is why.

Trump has convinced not-small factions of the Republican party, and the larger conservative movement, to abandon their principles and reorganize themselves around his ambition. Trump followers value loyalty to the man more than loyalty to ideas. How else to explain the devotion of many social conservatives to a man who once paid off a porn star to keep his affair with her quiet? Or why any reasonable person would stick with him despite his endless games of footsy with some of the most horrendous bigots in modern America?

Any critique of Trump is met with howls of "what about the liberals," as if the excesses of the left were somehow an excuse for the excesses of Trumpism.


As a conservative, I am chagrined. Despondent.

The proud ideology, which I have espoused for my entire adult life, has been usurped by authoritarians who think of themselves, perversely, as the enemies of "big government."

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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