Thursday, July 20, 2023

July 20, 2023
The Trump enigma

All of the accounts of the decline of the Republican Party and the rise of Trump, enlightening as they are, have left me still wondering how so many people could have supported Trump.  That many still do, even after his post-election behavior and indictment is still more puzzling.

Chris Christie recently offered this description: Trump is “a petulant child when someone disagrees with him.”[25]  His reference was to Trump’s tendency to vilify former aides and supporters, for example saying that his White House chief of staff John Kelly “pretended to be a ‘tough guy,’ but was actually weak and ineffective, born with a VERY small ‘brain’.”[26]  Trump also attacked Bill Barr as a “ ‘disgruntled former employee’ & lazy Attorney General who was weak & totally ineffective,” and a “Gutless Pig.”[27] Barr responded, in terms similar to Christie’s: “[Trump is] like a 9-year old, a defiant 9-year-old kid who’s always pushing the glass towards the edge of the table, defying his parents from stopping him from doing it.” Barr  added that “our country can’t be a therapy session for a troubled man like this.”[28]

Why do people follow someone like that?  There are the insurrectionists, who seem to see Trump as an autocratic leader, but they are (I hope) a small fraction of his followers.  There are many unhappy, resentful people who are uninformed politically and willing to believe that the system is rigged against them —  that no one is on their side[29] — who therefore will follow a demagogue, but the question remains: why would they see Trump as their champion?   According to one pollster, “the fighting back, I found, is what attracts [Trump] to Republican primary voters.”  Again, referring to the contest for the GOP nomination, Trump  has “the edge, because it looks like he’s this tough guy, and the other Republican candidates just don’t have what it takes.”[30]  

It is true that he strikes the pose of a brawler, one who will fight for all those unhappy people but does he really help them?  In no small part it’s simply that he has been willing to play to their fears and resentments, and has some skill in doing so.  The fact that he is, or at least once was, an outsider may appeal to their sense that government is the enemy.

A recent variation on the theme is that he is in legal trouble because he is protecting the people.  His campaign website proclaims: “They’re not after me, they’re after you … I’m just standing in their way!”[31]   In a recent speech he charged: “Every time the radical-left Democrats, Marxist [sic],  communists and fascists indict me, I consider it a great badge of courage. I’m being indicted for you, and I believe the you is  more than 200 million people that love our country.”[32]

One description, if not quite an explanation, is this: “Fervent enthusiasm for Trump has never been about logic, however often Trump and his allies try to backstop his assertions with hastily constructed rhetoric. Trumpism is an emotional movement and that fireproofs it against things like” Barr’s comment  that the documents indictment ‘came about because of reckless conduct of the president.’ ”[33]  It seems that some follow Trump, without in any way admiring him, simply because he has become the symbol of opposition to the liberal establishment they imagine is ruining the country.

The remaining question is why there are so many unhappy, resentful, suspicious, gullible people, so many potential Trump followers.  Explanations usually focus on race, on white fears of loss of status and control.  That is an element, but it doesn’t strike me as an full explanation.  Another reason almost certainly is fear and resentment of cultural change, a belief that society is falling apart. The “woke”nonsense is designed to play on those feelings.

Whatever the explanation, unrest among many ordinary Americans is a political fact, and Democrats must concentrate on persuading voters that they, and the government, are on the people’s side, working for their benefit, making their lives better, along with demonstrating that the Republicans, for all their pretense, are not.  
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26. remarks/
28. 5386
29. One writer refers to it as a sense of abandonment:                                                                           
32. utm_campaign=wp_politics_am&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&wpisrc=nl_politics
33. See footnote 3.
Posts © 2011-2012 by Gerald G. Day