I’m rubber, you’re glue…
(VANCOUVER ISLAND) One of the more bewildering aspects of the incomprehensible Trump phenomenon is the way that he seems to suffer no political damage as the result of his own blunders, any one of which would spell the end of a candidacy, or even a career, for any other politician. Trump is routinely caught lying through his teeth about virtually anything he chooses to talk about; his bare-faced lies are publicly exposed and held up to public scrutiny. A normal person would be embarrassed and would immediately start damage control; there would be an assumption that the misstatement would cost votes that would need to be wooed back into the fold. Trump, on the other hand, not only disdains walking his falsehoods back when exposed, he usually doubles down and simply repeats the lie or even expands upon it. Alternatively, Trump simply denies having uttered the offending words even when there is video proof of his telling the lie.
But it’s not just lies. Trump also blurts out what’s on his rather disturbed mind and says and does things that are so irredeemably ignorant, so crude, and so profoundly offensive that anyone else would be shunned as a social pariah. Can any of us imagine the uproar if, say, Obama had mocked a handicapped journalist by imitating his impaired speech and movement? If Hillary Clinton had expressed scorn for a war hero and former prisoner of war because he had been captured? If Bernie Sanders had made up a story for the people of California that the drought they’re experiencing is phony and that water is being dumped in the sea rather than distributed to farmers and the city of San Diego? If any other public figure had claimed to have collected 6 million dollars for and donated 1 million dollars of his or her own money to veterans and then had it exposed weeks later that the million hadn’t been donated at all, and the rest was languishing that person’s bank account? The list of what for anyone else would be gaffes is virtually endless; every time Trump opens his mouth, something that would be utterly unacceptable from any other adult comes pouring out. And yet Trump apparently only increases his following, both in numbers and in fervour.
Why does nothing stick? Why can respected journalists, highly regarded academics, and revered public figures of all sorts point out Trump’s flagrant racism without, in any perceptible way, negatively affecting Trump’s numbers? Why can business people, law enforcement experts, and economists show how ridiculous Trump’s grandiose promises of walls and mass deportations are and simply watch Trump repeat the idiotic memes he created?
The simple answer is this: Trump’s racism isn’t seen by his supporters as a disqualifying character trait. On the contrary; they flock to him and, once there, show a pathological loyalty precisely because he’s a racist. They’re not concerned that the rounding up of 11 million undocumented refugees is a farcical idea for logistical, constitutional, and moral reasons simply because they know Trump lies all the time; what they care about is that a Trump presidency would usher in a new era of white supremacy with top down bigotry as part of the new order. They don’t see Trump’s adherence to every National Enquirer scare headline and conspiracy theory as being disqualifying because they themselves suspect that the government is engaged in a conspiracy to put down white, poorly educated, working class men; why else would they and everyone like them be at such an historically low point? They even believe demonstrably false claims such as Trump’s repeated assertion that veterans get inferior health care and other services compared with illegal immigrants. They choose to believe that sort of nonsense because it reinforces their self image as long suffering victims while “others” are getting benefits that are rightly theirs.
So asking how Trump survives his own gaffes is to make an error of assumption: those aren’t gaffes at all when Trump utters them; they are siren songs to his base.
Connected to the confusing reaction of hardcore Trump supporters with respect to their embracing the very worst Trump can do or say, is their devotion to political and social policy that is clearly not in their own best interests. As noted, Trump’s base is a demographic that, within their own lifetimes, has seen their lives deteriorate from solid middle class, middle income, tax-paying citizens to the marginalised working poor. Thanks to Republican doctrine which has caused the near disappearance of the middle class; has sponsored the ever increasing gulf between the vastly wealthy and the poor; and has concentrated enormous wealth in the hands of a few oligarchs while the actual working class can barely survive; the poorly educated, white men to whom Trump appeals are far worse off today than they were a generation ago. Nevertheless, that same demographic is vocal, even strident in its support for less tax on the wealthy. They are against raising the minimum wage. They are vocal in their demands for further benefit cuts to the middle class and the poor, the elimination or refusal to fund job-creating infrastructure projects, and even the repeal of Obamacare, which is, in many cases, the only way they could afford health care for their families.
This is perhaps partly attributable to the inclination that John Steinbeck noted of seeing themselves as actually being among those oligarchs but for some temporary circumstances which will at some point reverse themselves. Against all evidence, that demographic still holds to the long since debunked belief in the American Dream, that one day soon they will amass great wealth and therefore legislation that only benefits the wealthy is a proactive vote in their own best interests. That’s perhaps why they lap up Donald Trump’s lie about being a self-made man and having built his empire by dint of hard work, brains, and audacity…oh and “a small loan of a million dollars” from his dad. That he actually inherited some 40 million dollars from his enormously wealthy father is well known, but doesn’t fit into their fantasy world. The fantasy that Trump feeds by behaving like an ignorant, loudmouthed, braggart is that they are just like Trump except for that matter of temporarily elusive prosperity. He talks like them, he says things that they haven’t been permitted to say because of “political correctness”, he shares and encourages their bigotry and anti-intellectualism; he is like them and he celebrates their (and his) stupidity. He encourages them to embrace and share his lack of knowledge, his delusions of superiority, and his trademark staggering ignorance. The fit feels good; they are just like him. The only difference is that they haven’t yet made their pile. And once they, with Trump at the helm, get rid of those illegals, ban Muslims, deregulate pretty much everything, and turn themselves loose without all those restrictions, the sky’s the limit. Soon they too will be flying around in their own private jets and soaking in solid gold hot tubs with supermodels.
But more than anything, it has become apparent as this political clown show rolls on, that what really holds Trump’s followers’ attention is his contempt for anyone who doesn’t sing his praises or is in any way “different”. Trump is vociferous in lashing out at any and all dissenters; his followers love him for being an unabashed bully and they admire his thin skin as it shows a willingness to fight back. Even, apparently, to greet simple dissent with violence. The mean-spirited contempt for others, the embracing of hostility, and the violence that is always simmering just below the surface matches his supporters’ tendency to want to harm or even kill those with whom they can’t identify.
Trump’s faithful, the true believers, have bought into the biggest Trump lie of all. They willfully and deliberately choose to believe that Donald Trump is one of them and on their side. They have persuaded themselves, despite all the evidence to the contrary, that Donald Trump actually gives a rat’s ass about anyone or anything other than Donald Trump.