Let’s Talk About the People
(VANCOUVER ISLAND) I am trying to avoid writing entire columns on Donald Trump for a number of reasons. One is that I, like any other political writer or TV or Internet pundit, have to shoulder some responsibility for helping create the Trump phenomenon by providing him with billions of dollars of free publicity. Another is that there is very little left to say about the Republican presidential candidate; what hasn’t been said by left-leaning, centrist, and even moderate right-leaning commentators? I have never written the words “fascist”, “bigot”, “racist”, “misogynist”, or a host of other offensive descriptive nouns as frequently as I have since Trump descended on his escalator to announce his intention to vie for the presidency of the United States. But the overriding reason I want to avoid writing specifically about Donald Trump is that I literally feel nauseated when I am forced to watch him in his public address mode. What needs to be examined, given the media’s saturation with Trump, is the people who will vote for him or Hillary Clinton (or cast a protest vote) this November.
Donald Trump is one man; it is the voters who have made him into the threat to the nation and the world that he has become. He is a threat now because it is still possible that he will be elected. If he were to be elected, we go to DEFCON 1. He will represent an imminent existential threat to the nation and the world.
So who are those people who want to see that scenario play out? Why can they not grasp the deadly seriousness of their support for a dangerously unstable and clearly mentally unbalanced candidate?
For one thing, I suspect that, the polls notwithstanding, as things stand with three months to go until the election, Donald Trump is going to be soundly trounced. I also suspect that congressional and senatorial seat losses will be primarily those currently held by candidates who have failed to distance themselves from Trump. Republican incumbents who have denounced him or somehow stayed above the fray will be relatively safe, while his ardent supporters will face serious challenges; only the GOP’s gerrymandering will save some of them.
This may turn out to be wishful thinking. I may end up feeling like Grover Norquist and other Republican stalwarts who were gobsmacked by Obama’s re-election in 2008, and I reserve the right to flip flop on this right up until the polls close on the 8th of November. Nevertheless, my reasoning has more to do with my unscientific reading of the American people than the empirical data collected by scientific and ever more accurate public opinion data gathering methods.
Because Trump’s campaign relies on the free publicity he is able to garner by his over-the-top pronouncements, his palpable bigotry, his embracing of violent rhetoric, and his willingness to offend, he finds himself having to outdo himself each news cycle to stay in the headlines. Mexicans, women, African Americans, the disabled, veterans, Muslims; all these groups and more have been subjected to his hateful rhetoric; he is systematically alienating one demographic after another. While there are undoubtedly some outliers in each of his targeted groups who will, bizarrely, vote for him, he has narrowed his appeal down to his hardcore base: white second generation or more WASP males with lower levels of education. That block, which used to be sufficient to elect a Republican candidate in past years is simply no longer big enough on its own to elect a president.
There is, of course, another group upon which he can rely on come election day. That is the very wealthy and those who thrive as a result of the corporate control of the United States. Trump’s recent speech in which he outlined his economic plans made it clear that he has no intention of departing from party orthodoxy in this realm. He intends to push the old trickle down policies that devastated the middle class when last tried. He intends to reduce the taxation and regulation of corporations, he plans to reduce or eliminate social programs at the same time as he reduces taxes on the wealthy; nothing new here, just more screwing the working classes and further enriching the top few. The problem is that the top one percent are just that; one percent.
That demographic simply doesn’t wield enough votes to make a big difference; it is those whom they are able to influence that could be a significant voting block. Nevertheless, traditionally, the wealthy and the corporations have been able to persuade millions upon millions of working and poor Americans to vote against their own interests. As John Steinbeck wrote: “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” The have always bought into the myth of the American dream; since before the nation was formed in 1776, Americans have always believed that hard work, thrift, and diligence would be repaid with success and wealth. There may even have been a time when that was true; in 2016, however, it is painfully obvious that those who actually did achieve massive wealth have entered the castle, pulled up the drawbridge behind them, and locked, loaded, and prepared to repel intruders.
The Trump campaign has made that eminently clear. Until his unveiling of the latest soak the poor and reward the rich economic platform, the Republican nominee had offered the voters nothing but encouragement for their darkest impulses.
He fired up people who never even think about economic policy but are angry at every ethnic, racial, or social minority they know of, and are ecstatic at finding someone who validates their suspicions. He convinces them that those people are standing between them and what they feel entitled to. He also persuades the less knowledgeable, the truly ignorant, that: A) the problem is those groups, and, B) he alone has a solution.
It has long been part of the rhetoric of the right that Democrats, if elected, would institute draconian and widespread restrictions on their civil rights. They would come for their guns, they would persecute Christians, they would create “death panels” as part of their socialised medical plan. But even the less dazzling intellects among the stalwart Trump supporters must have noticed that despite two terms in office, the Democratic president has never even proposed that sort of legislation and certainly hasn’t used his executive powers to make any such order. There has been not a single attempt, much less a successful assault on their civil rights. The black helicopters never flew, the rednecks still have their guns, and Christian churches still outnumber synagogues, temples, and mosques. But, if any of them take even a cursory glance at news that doesn’t come from Fox, they will see that the Democratic administration has been responsible for an improved economy, steady job creation, and insulating them from the economic disaster they inherited.
So, it is my belief that before November 8, a critical mass of Republican voters will see through the hypocrisy of promising them whatever vile and repugnant social legislation they support, while asking them to vote for economic policy that is directly and clearly intended to take from them and give to corporations and superwealthy individuals. At some point they will see that they have been sold a bill of goods. They will see that they have been persuaded by a variety of Orwellian doublespeak. They like Trump “because he tells it like it is”. The truth is that, more than any other political candidate in US history, he tells it exactly like it isn’t. His lies are becoming public knowledge. They cheer Trump when he tells them that Hillary Clinton is “unhinged”; they are beginning to see the truth – Trump is clearly mentally unfit for any public office.
Now, Trump is likely not to see this reversal of his political fortunes happening. He lives in a bubble of sycophants and yes-men and the occasional yes-woman, all of whom seem to tell him exactly what he wants to hear. He simply takes in information that feeds his ego and disregards the rest. He gets his quotidian fix at rallies where the hard, small kernel of utterly faithful, the deluded and delusional fanatics respond with hysterical chanting at his prompts, cheer his every personal insult, approve ecstatically of his dogwhistle threats of violence, and salivate in a Pavlovian manner at his racial taunts.
What I believe is happening, though, is that he managed to woo a vast number of people to his side during the primaries, but he reached a saturation point some time just before the convention. As he found his numbers leveling off, he ratcheted up the vulgar, hateful bigotry that had served him so well. The problem was that he was now starting to alienate those supporters who had thought he might simply be a breath of fresh air in Washington; they were seeing that he was dangerously unfit for the presidency and that a hypothetical Trump administration would be a terrifying and chaotic reality.
His hardcore band of enablers and codependent crazies will keep him going, but the American people are better than he believes they are. They are not as stupid as he is counting on, and when push comes to shove, they are not as hate-filled and vicious as he needs them to be to vote for him.