Understanding Trump Supporters
I want to begin by stating that not all Trump supporters are deplorables. Hillary Clinton put the number at half, but I think that’s too high. I’d say that racists, bigots, and xenophobes only make up about a third, which roughly matched his approval rating before he bombed Syria. That leaves about 22 million non-deplorables who voted for him. I know some of these people, and in every other respect they appear reasonably sane. Many of them voted twice for Obama, and some of them were even Bernie Sanders supporters before he got screwed by the Democratic Party and the media. How can we account for this?
First, we should look for similarities. Barack Obama burst onto the scene with his speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention. He seemed different than the political establishment, and in 2008 campaigned that way. He promised hope and change, remember? And then didn’t deliver; it was more of the usual. Bill Clinton was much the same in 1992, coming out of nowhere, promising change. Read the “New Covenant” speech as he gave as he accepted the nomination. They both governed as moderate Republicans, the political establishment. Bernie Sanders came out of nowhere, and promised change, drew huge and enthusiastic crowds, and was shut out of media coverage and party support. Ironically, he was the one candidate who could have delivered change. All these people campaigned as the outsider choice. And so did Donald Trump. So when Bernie was no longer available, they went for the other outsider.
What’s all this change stuff? Americans may be lethally ignorant, but even they can tell when they’re getting screwed in the ass (there’s a recurring pain and soreness back there). Since the Reagan years, they’ve been working harder and harder, and getting less and less; less pay, less benefits, less health coverage. After being lied to by establishment politicians, they went again for the outsider. The alternative was Hillary; pure establishment, and one of the most polarizing figures in modern political history. She was a lousy candidate and ran a terrible campaign. She should have been able to beat a chump like Trump with one pantsuit leg tied behind her back. But the electorate was in a foul mood, and they went for the wild card, the Joker. They were Charlie Brown running up to kick the football, and Lucy jerked it away, and down went on his ass, again. And that’s where America is now, flat on her ass. It’s tempting for progressives to look down on these people. I mean, how could anyone in their right mind possibly vote for such a train wreck? One pundit used the metaphor of Trump being the electorate’s Molotov cocktail.
Arlie Russell Hochshild is a professor emeriti in sociology at UC Berkeley. She thought she could only get to understand the minds of Middle America by meeting and talking to them. After five years in Louisiana (“I wanted the reddest state I could find,” she said), in something like 60 conversations with 40 people, she ended up writing a book: Strangers inTheir Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right. She talks about a “deep story,” meaning as-if-were-true, these people tell themselves, in the form of a metaphor. They’ve worked hard all their life, did all the right things, obeyed the rules, and now they’re standing in a long line. The line leads to the horizon, which is the American Dream. But other people keep cutting in line; women taking what were formerly men’s jobs, minorities getting advantages from the government in the form of affirmative action, immigrants coming from South of the border taking way jobs. And the President seems to be waving them in. Hey, how did he get from being raised by a single mother to Columbia Law School? He must have cut into the line himself. And he seems to be on the side of the “other” line cutters.
This is a powerful narrative. Did I mention these are mostly white people? I would have thought it was obvious. They are fed up with political correctness: “You can’t even say Merry Christmas any more,” they’ll say. They don’t like the idea of having to take government handouts like food stamps and unemployment. They want honest work for honest pay. Hochshild makes lots of good points I think we can all identify with. I grew up in a small town in Wyoming. That’s as red a state as it gets, too. Sure, there were some racists and some jackasses, too. Most of them didn’t have a college education, and many didn’t keep up with current news or politics that didn’t affect them. But they were honest, hard-working people you could be proud to have as neighbors.
Matt Taibbi is an excellent political writer for The Rolling Stone. I’ve been reading him for years, and just finished his latest book: Insane Clown President, about the Trump Campaign. He writes about how Democrats, traditional supporters of the working class, abandoned them for the banksters. With the weakening of the unions and their funding, they turned to Wall Street. They began courting the professional class; teachers, doctors, attorneys, and the like. In doing so, from once being the party of Allentown, PA, or Camden, NJ, they became the party of Martha’s Vineyard. Democrats are largely responsible for Trump being elected. Bernie was the people’s candidate with the most progressive agenda. If the party had gotten behind him, it would have been a wave election, and we would easily have regained the Senate, if not the House. But no, they went for Hillary — after all, it was her turn, she was somehow entitled to the nomination.
Look up an electoral map of the last election, or most any of them. The blue states are in the Northeast and along the Pacific coast. With but few exceptions, everything in the middle is red. These people see themselves referred to by the media as “flyover states.” They’re mocked, ridiculed, and laughed at. No wonder they see the media as elites, part of the establishment, and they are correct. Everyone you see on the mass media, whether it’s CNN, ABC, or even Fox, are all millionaires. The status quo is just fine with them; it keeps them well-fed and happy. They don’t care any more about Middle America than the politicians. Through all his divisive, hate-filled campaign, Trump did get one thing right — the system is rigged, and it’s rigged against poor and working people. And that’s why so many otherwise intelligent people voted for this con man. It was out of desperation. Maybe this time, they thought, or made themselves think. You want proof the system is rigged? Bernie Sanders is not President of the United States right now. Americans are figuring out that the media is part of the rigged system.
It’s not just a matter of left and right, either. Many Middle Americans bristle at city folks. Look again at that electoral map. Nearly all the blue areas are in the large concentrations of big cities on the coasts. There’s resentment of city people by those in rural areas, who believe they’ve been ignored; by the government, by politicians, and by the media, all of whom are big city dwellers who are out of touch with the “real” people. So during the election we heard people saying, “We don’t have a voice anymore, and Donald Trump is giving us a voice.” And that feeling was so strong that millions of voters were willing, even if reluctantly, to ignore this man’s bigotry, racism, and his treatment of women. That’s how we got stuck with a lying, temperamental child in the Oval Office. Now let us hope that the price of our collective stupidity doesn’t end up getting us all killed.