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Bob Woodward and the Nihilism of “LOL Nothing Matters” Republicans

Real people are dying. Real people are hurting. And all of this matters.
September 10, 2020
Bob Woodward and the Nihilism of “LOL Nothing Matters” Republicans
The tympanum above the central door of the National Cathedral in Washington, DC on June 20, 2017 shows "Ex Nihilo", a sculpture by Frederick Hart, depicting the birth of mankind. Superimposed over a rendering of the coronavirus. (Photo by Eva HAMBACH / AFP / Shutterstock)

It was getting late on a balmy Charleston January night and we were all a few beers deep. Earlier in the evening we had learned that Jon Huntsman, the candidate we’d been working for over the past 9 months was ending his campaign for the presidency, despite being under the false impression that we had a “ticket to ride” out of New Hampshire.

As the announcement trickled out into the media, the takes about our failure started to pour in on Twitter dot com. And so one of my campaign besties, Jake Suski, began quote tweeting them with “#NobodyCares.” The rest of us followed suit. It was a cheeky outlet for our pent up frustration following a long slog of a campaign and a wry commentary on the silliness of the Twitter bubble. How election junkies obsessed over tweets and trivia—and even entire campaigns—that most regular folks paid no mind to.

In one sense we were onto something that night. In the years that followed, the Acela bubble became thicker, the disconnect between the chattering class and the normie class continued to grow, and it all culminated with . . . well you know what it culminated with.

But there was also a danger in this mindset that at the time I don’t think any of us considered, because we were just poking some fun at reporters and weren’t nihilistic monsters.

In the Age of Trump, a whole bunch of people on the right have taken the “nobody cares” pose and built it into an all-encompassing worldview. Instead of teasing political elites about how #nobodycares what they think, these lightworkers inside Conservative Inc. decided that if political elites cared about something then by definition it didn’t matter. At all.

The result was LOL Nothing Matters Republicanism. A worldview where actions don’t have consequences, truth is no different than lies, and the act of offending the sensibilities of the political class is an end unto itself.

This is the mindset that infected the Republican operative class and commentariat at every level, abnegating them of responsibility for anything, at all. It has perpetuated a mass delusion in which the president of the United States exists in a reality that is divorced from the world they inhabit, because they have already decided that nothing he does matters. Why? Because the political elites care about it.

Nothing is strong enough to shake these people free of their delusion. And so on a day when it was revealed that the president of the United States was purposefully and criminally negligent in downplaying the severity of a virus that has killed almost 200,000 of our fellow Americans (so far), this is what they came up with:

Yes, that’s right.

Republicans—and ostensibly “pro-life” Trump apologists—would have you believe that nobody cares about the words and actions of the country’s elected president which resulted in mass death of their fellow citizens.

For these nihilists, the Gospel of Nothing Mattering is so deep-seated that they have made it both an irrefutable political reality and a moral imperative.

It’s important to say, out loud, that they are wrong.

Bob Woodward’s revelations matter.

They will matter to the outcome of this election. And they will certainly matter in rendering an empirical judgment on Donald Trump’s presidency.

First, the political.

The notion that regular people “don’t care” about what Donald Trump says and does and that nobody, anywhere, changes their opinion on him and that “the needle never moves; no one is ever budged” is, to use a technical data analytics term, horse hockey.

It is rooted in a false 2016 mythology in which Americans decided that LOL Nothing Matters, and overwhelmingly voted in the Great King Donald because they didn’t believe the smears of the Evil Fake News Media.

In reality, Trump lost the popular vote—despite getting a last-minute assist from Jim Comey—and then won the presidency in an Electoral College fluke.

Polling for this cycle shows that Americans are highly engaged and very much do care about their president’s words and actions (wild!) and this engagement is driving changes in political behavior for some of them.

Between 6 percent and 10 percent of Trump 2016 voters have switched to Biden while between 4 percent and 5 percent of Clinton voters have switched in the other direction. So if we just use that combined percentage—somewhere between 10 percent and 15 percent—we’re talking about some 6 million to 9 million voters who are telling pollsters, right now, that they have changed their mind.

That’s a lot of people. Especially when the last election was decided by about 70,000 votes.

And if you don’t believe “the polls”—you can hear from about 700 of them yourself, right here.

There’s more. While this race has been historically stable, we’ve also seen Trump lose altitude among voters over the past six months, mostly due to his response to the George Floyd protests and the pandemic.

Clearly, some people care. It’s just math.

Which brings us back to Bob Woodward.

Given that we have seen in the data that Trump’s COVID response has cost him supporters, it’s not exactly a stretch to conclude that wall-to-wall news coverage about a recording that reveals that he knew the virus was way worse than he said publicly might further impact some people’s perception of him!

This truth is so obvious it’s hard to believe anyone actually doubts it.

Anyone who does doubt it—and I mean really, sincerely, doubts it and isn’t just play acting on Twitter because it’s part of their brand—has been broken by politics and the internet.

But maybe we’ve all been broken by politics and the internet, because we shouldn’t even be talking about the political impacts of this.

We should be talking about the insane fact that there is a recording of the president saying how dangerous this pandemic was at the same time he was lying to the American public and telling them not to worry about it because it was going to disappear “like a miracle.”

In any normal time, a revelation like this would trigger the president’s resignation, not because of the politics, but because of the moral outrage.

Woodward’s interviews with President Trump make as plain as day that our president is a congenital liar who is overmatched by the job, incapable of understanding reality, and utterly indifferent to the suffering his failures have caused.

Woodward’s interviews with Trump’s advisors reveal that the president’s own top men found him to be “dangerous,” “unfit,” compromised by Putin, “rudderless,” and possessing an attention span that is a “minus number.”

Given all that, it’s no wonder the president’s fans have resorted to nihilism and self-delusion.

What else do they have?

It should go without saying but apparently it cannot:

If ever there was a time when something mattered in our politics, it would be at a moment when the leader of the free world is a dangerous and unfit liar who is adrift amidst a historic crisis. This is a time for caring. A time when things matter. A time when you can measure the real world impact in body bags.

Times like these don’t call for ironic distance or smug dismissiveness.

People are experiencing pain in earnest, they are uncertain about the future in earnest, they are worried about the madman at the helm in earnest.

And in November those who recognize how much people care are likely to triumph.

Tim Miller

Tim Miller is The Bulwark’s writer-at-large and the author of the best-selling book Why We Did It: A Travelogue from the Republican Road to Hell. He was previously political director for Republican Voters Against Trump and communications director for Jeb Bush 2016.