TRUMP’S BASE: A SAD REFLECTION ON THE AMERICAN PSYCHE
Now that Trump has revealed himself for what he is: a delusional, anti-democratic demagogue & wanna-be dictator, I am compelled to think about how this reflects on the 70 million people who voted for him in the last election, despite his rather long list of serious shortcomings. I happen to believe that a President gets elected because he/she reflects and speaks to the deepest aspirations, fears, and pain felt by the people who voted for him.
We got exactly what we paid for with Trump. A cut-throat, self-absorbed and unscrupulous businessman and entertainer, who became a President without a moral compass or any respect for our constitution or democratic institutions. What else should we have expected? Sure he completely screwed up the government response to COVID-19, resulting in 350K deaths and counting, presided over the near complete destruction of our economy, was impeached and nearly convicted by congress for trying to extort the Ukrainians into investigating his opponent Joe Biden, and showed more compassion to the KKK and white supremacist groups than to blacks murdered by racist police. Not to mention the jackhammer he took to the norms of our democratic institutions and the non-stop compulsive lying. One would think that anyone who can add 1+1, would not want four more years of that. But 71 million Americans felt otherwise. What does this reveal about the more than 40% of eligible voters, who are walking around with their heads submerged in their asses?
Trump’s primary supporters are rural and suburban men with no more than a high school education. The vast majority of people with a college education and some ability to think critically, made the obvious choice to vote against Trump, whether or not they liked Biden. On one level, one can view Trump’s election and strong support in the general election as a failure of our educational system to teach a large swath of our population to understand and respect the key principles and institutions of our democracy. It also represents a real failure by our parents, teachers and religious leaders, to get many of us to respect and tolerate those with views other than their own, which has become a cancer which has spread from the top down to the lowest social strata. Even more important, is that most Trump voters, who aren’t millionaires, showed what I would have to consider a major lapse in their ability to think critically and distinguish fact from fantasy. This sort of ability is normally acquired by attending at least some college classes. They got caught up like deer in the headlights by the aura of success and authority generated by a charismatic billionaire businessman and media star like Trump. Because they lacked or refused to exercise basic critical thinking skills, they became much more easy to manipulate by appealing directly to their emotions and prejudices. This is precisely what Trump and the Republican Party has become so adept at doing.
There is a deep reservoir of pain and anxiety among those of us who lack a college education. While there were once good paying union manufacturing jobs in industry, which allowed them to attain a middle class lifestyle, these jobs have largely been outsourced abroad and good union wages have evaporated. The lack of opportunity has forced many unskilled or semi-skilled workers into low paying service jobs, with no prospects of attaining a middle class existence. Those that have been able to achieve middle class status, must work a lot harder than their parents did. The erosion of hope among many minimally educated adults to be able to achieve at least as good of a life as their parents had, has led to a tremendous sense of disillusion, fear and anger.
Associated with these feelings is a sense of helplessness in not being able to shape one’s own destiny. When you add in factors like the generally conservative political, religious and social views of many rural people, along with strong tendencies toward racism and anti-government sentiment, they become ripe for exploitation by cynical right wing politicians.
For a significant number of people, America has lost its greatness. The transformation of the mainstay of the U.S. economy from manufacturing to high tech services has left them behind. They feel they have been neglected and disrespected by the Democratic establishment and the “cultural elite” that run the media in the U.S. While it may be true that the Democratic Party has not sufficiently addressed the needs and pain of the working people in rural areas, it is sheer illusion that the Republican Party, which is dominated by white people of wealth, is the natural ally of the working poor in rural communities. It is a tremendous irony that the Republican party which traditionally favors management over workers and the wealthy over the middle class, has been able to convince them they are their guardian angels. In his successful campaign for the presidency, Trump made all sorts of promises to revive the manufacturing capacity of the U.S. and provide non-technical workers with good paying jobs, like in the old days. He has yet to deliver on those promises, but his support is still strong among many of these constituents for other reasons.
The key strength of the Republican political strategists has been their ability to manipulate people by using wedge social issues like gun control, abortion, the threat of “socialized” medicine, and bringing back that old time religion to public schools. Paradoxically, some voters hold these issues at a higher value than their own economic and physical well being. They have been led to fervently believe that the demonic Democrats want to take away their precious guns, recklessly kill unborn babies for sport, bring communist style “socialism” to their enclaves, and take away their right to worship as they choose. Nothing could be further from the truth, but sadly the truth no longer matters.
The success of Trump and the right wing media in convincing people that their manufactured alternate universe represents reality, even when their conspiracy claims and outright lies are easily refuted, represents nothing short of mass hypnosis, such as that seen seen in Germany during Hitler’s rise to power. Trump and his far right allies gave purpose and hope to desperately unhappy and disillusioned people, by convincing them that they are part of a small elite group that knows what is “really” happening, and that everyone else is basically ignorant or part of the false news media, the snobbish intellectual “elite” or the malevolent “deep state”. Trump has elevated the art of turning lies to “truth” by endless repetition, toward heights never before achieved by a U.S. president.
There remains a significant number of people in the U.S. for whom fact checking is one of those silly things that only members of the “intellectual elite” should be interested in. The same goes for any sort of critical thinking, which only smart-ass college boys and girls need be concerned about. Trump and his allies have truly gotten into their heads, and influenced them to suspend reality, as though they were watching a fantasy film. When that happens, there is little that they won’t believe. Sure it might sound a little wacky to some that Hillary Clinton is running a pedophile ring out of the back of some pizza parlor in N.Y. But if crazy lies are repeated often enough in the absence of controverting evidence, they have a way of becoming the “truth” to a lot of gullible people. That’s why some fool picked up a gun and tried to liberate the pizza parlor. Take Trump’s claim of widespread election fraud which resulted in a “rigged” election. Even though his lawyers haven’t been able to convince any judges that election fraud occurred on a broad scale after dozens of lawsuits, the fact that Trump keeps repeating it like a mantra is enough to get people riled up and angry that the election was stolen and that the entire democratic system is corrupt. There is little doubt that this is going to result in long term distrust of our election process by a significant percentage of the populace, which is going to be a continuing challenge to our democracy. All it took was a word from their “fearless leader” Trump, to rile up a large number of these idiots to grab a gun or a club and storm the capital. The folks involved in this weeks shameful storming of the US capitol acted like they were victims of some sort of mass hypnosis. They were convinced that they were saving our democracy from a vast but invisible left wing conspiracy. They shuffled toward the home of the U.S. congress like zombies attracted to fresh meat. We as a democratic society must do whatever is necessary to force the worst of these rabid rats and zombies back into their holes before our democracy becomes more damaged than it is.