What "Leaving Neverland" Unintentionally Reveals About Trump Voters

The HBO documentary Leaving Neverland was a staggeringly sad film. Most obviously, your heart breaks for Wade Robson, James Safechuck, and all the others who were raped as children by Michael Jackson. And you can't help but feel sorry for Robson's siblings and both his and Safechuck's wives, as well as having pity and disdain for their mothers who allowed their children to share a bed with Jackson. It's a powerful indictment of how we treat celebrities and how readily people can be brainwashed by continuous manipulation and lies.

And all I kept thinking was "How?" As in "How the hell did we allow Michael Jackson to get away with having a child companion with him all the time?" How is that not automatically, obviously wrong? Putting aside the rape and abuse, in the abstract, it's objectively wrong for a man in his 30s and then 40s to sleep alone in a room, in a bed with a child who is not his own (or at least a niece or nephew). And to this day, there are millions of people around the world who will defend Jackson, who will say that he didn't do anything wrong, who will say that we just don't understand him.

Which, in so many ways, to me, explains supporters of Donald Trump. I'm not saying that to diminish or mock the pain of Jackson's victims. No, I'm saying that the delusional thinking that went on in everyone else, from the kids' parents to Jackson's fans, is so very similar to the delusional thinking that you need to be a Trump supporter. And it was all aided and abetted by a complacent media that, yes, hounded Jackson but dropped the ball on the real story.

As with Michael Jackson, there is so much that is plain to see with Donald Trump, things that, even if you don't think they rise to criminality (like sleeping with a little boy or blatantly profiting off being president), should at the very least give a rationally-thinking person pause. But, to take it further, when even credible allegations of actual crimes are put out there, Trump voters, like Jackson fans, contort themselves to dismiss the allegations. It's all with the goal of continuing undying, irrational devotion to Trump. They tell us, in essence, "Trump didn't violate campaign laws. Trump didn't agree to help from Russians when it was offered. Trump is telling the truth and everyone else is lying." Or "Here is this convoluted plot that shows Trump is being set up. Probably by Hillary."

But there's a way that Trump voters may be worse in some ways. The families of Robson and Safechuck, especially their mothers, were incredibly close with Jackson, and they didn't believe the Michael Jackson they knew and loved was the monster described in the press and in court documents. But when Robson and Safechuck told their families, their loved ones immediately turned against Jackson, with Safechuck's mother even saying that she danced for joy when she heard Jackson was dead.

I'm going to bet that people who are harmed by the policies of the Trump administration could tell their Trump-voting families how, say, the trade war caused their farm to go bankrupt or that the undermining of the Affordable Care Act denied health insurance to them, and those families will say that none of it is Trump's fault. (Why? In the case of Trump voters, they love his racism. It's always been the racism.)

Look, this isn't a perfect analogy. What I'm saying is that someone who is masterful at manipulation can create a fervor that is frightening in its incoherence. With Trump, so many of us look at what's plainly in front of us and say, "How the hell can you not see this?" while his voters say, "How the hell can you see it?"

I get it, by the way. I loved the Jackson 5 and I loved Michael Jackson back in the Off the Wall and Thriller days. I didn't want to believe the allegations were true, but, at some point, I couldn't just shake the feeling that there was something deeply wrong with all of his behavior. Maybe I just give a damn about reality and truth more than I give a damn about clinging to a belief. But too many people would rather cling than change because it undermines what they think they understand about themselves and about the world.

That's why there are millions of fans of Michael Jackson and Donald Trump who will never back down from their defense of the monster.

(Note: Again, I've deliberately left out Robson and Safechuck. What they went through defies metaphor. And I hope they can find some peace and healing.)