I think it’s important to analyze why Trump has the mass of followers he has, and I’ve thought a lot about it. If we understand it, maybe we find a way to treat it. Even if we don’t, we can learn from it for the future. I’d much rather be talking about the good things that other candidates are saying and doing, but I’m afraid pretending Trump doesn’t exist isn’t a viable option anymore.
I have to say, before I get into this list, that some of these reasons resonate deeply with me. That may be part of the answer to reaching people caught up in the Trump phenomenon. In a lot of cases, I agree with their fears and worries. I just in no way see Trump as a reasonable, sane, viable answer to any of them.
I recently called out Trump supporters who were offended at being called Low Information Voters, reminding them that when some of them did that to people caught up in the Obama phenomenon, it didn’t do much to peel away their support from the president. Essentially, what I’m doing here is trying to remind people who think like me that the tactic is still a losing one, even when applied to Trump Supporters. Calling people stupid for the way they respond to very real concerns makes them think that you’re minimizing them as well as the things they care about. And they certainly won’t listen to you, robbing you of the opportunity to reason them around to your way of thinking. If that’s what you want. I mean, for some there is an attraction to just yelling their politics (see Trump supporters). But that’s not me.
And I’m forever saying this: I can do the math. I think we need as many people pulling together in the end as we can get. Maybe you don’t start with the hardest cases first, but rather Trump’s soft support. But I don’t think we can take the presidency without a good many of the people who are sitting in his column right now. And I’m tired of just complaining about it.
So what is motivating the Trump supporters? I think it’s a combination of these things: Fear, Anger, Ignorance and Expedience. While this isn’t an exhaustive list, it gives us a lot of points where we can find agreement with them and start conversations that are badly needed.
Fear of Left Policies – the very real damage they do, and the way they’ve been rammed down the throats of all of us
Fear of the Decline of the Rule of Law – when the king is the law, rather than the law being the king, justice becomes arbitrary and fairness is lost entirely (see also: cronies)
Fear of Changing Culture – the change in core values here – such as Bill Clinton getting away with his scandals, Hillary getting away with hers, the decline of the family – everything from the crudeness and coarseness of the culture to the radical shift in views on what constitutes marriage
Fear of People Who Are Different – there’s some of this, too, as segments of conservatism contain within it people who don’t mix well (or often) with folks who aren’t like themselves. This covers everything from ‘bubble’ conservatives who just don’t get out much, to white supremacists who embed themselves in the movement
Anger at Media Malpractice – witnessing media bias and unable to punish them for it, finding it nearly impossible to hold them accountable for it, unwisely replacing that with unquestioning allegiance to ‘friendly’ media
Anger at GOP Leadership – when the guys you hire to fight your battles won’t fight, you get pissed, obviously, and you find it hard to see them rehired over and over
Anger at Obama Foreign Policy – we feel less safe, and less respected in the world, and we owe some pretty nasty Communists a lot of money – it’s entirely possible our country could be made to look the other way in future aggressions overseas (it’s really already happening with Russia)
Anger at the Decline of the Middle Class – only the rich are treading water or gaining ground in this economy, the rest of us are all sinking, either a little at a time or sliding fast underwater
Anger at a Failed Economic ‘Recovery’ – it doesn’t matter how many ‘recovery summers’ you have, the labor participation rate is down, poverty assistance and unemployment benefits are up, and we knew this would happen
Anger at the Voters Who Got Us Here – those of us who saw where this would lead often want to smack the people who did this to us
Ignorance of Economics – the people on our side who tend to have realistic economic understanding seem to lean more libertarian, and view Trump’s record as a businessman skeptically. Scratch most Trump supporters and you tend to find some level of economic ignorance underneath, a simplistic desire for the idea of ‘fixing things’ and not much else
Ignorance of Liberty – the idea that if Obama did a thing, Trump can do the same thing ‘for our side’ is appalling, but is found quite a bit among his supporters. Ditto for the idea that you can overturn and reinterpret laws you don’t like to serve your ends, or use statist tactics to achieve them. For these people, it’s more about revenge and payback than freeing America from control freaks
Ignorance of the Political Reality – at the end of this process, the right needs to come together and work together to defeat the left, or there is no one to stand against them. The Trump supporters’ fall-back position is barring a Trump win, they’ll burn down the only viable party with which to oppose the left, which I’ve proven will not work
Ignorance of How to Build Coalitions – we all have this to a degree, but the more ardent Trump trolls online are all of the ‘my way or the highway’ variety, with no desire to persuade others to join their cause. They seem to prefer to slash at potential allies rather than create actual allies
Impatience to Fix Things – a business guy, they reason, would cut bureaucracy and ‘get things done’ and ‘fix things’ but those statements are always short on details and long on upending the system’s checks and balances, leading straight to a risk of cronyism and other ills against we have all been fighting for years
Disgust and Distrust of the System – that politics is broke in the US is almost without dispute. But that the political system that served us so long is broken is another thing entirely. You can love and support the system even as it gives you results you abhor. Changing the system is slow for a reason – to give ideas time to be examined and reexamined before we implement them. There is an urgency to fixing the things wrong with the country, but it’s a disaster to advocate doing it by gutting the system
Willingness to Adopt Obama-Style Shortcuts – again, the idea that we can use Obama tactics to undo what Obama did, even as we spent years railing against it ‘on principle’, is dangerous and only leads to hell
Having said all that, I have to add this:
I blame Levin, Hannity, Limbaugh, Beck and others like them for part of this. When you tell people over and over that the game is rigged, that the system is broken beyond repair, that the leadership is a failure, those things may all be true. But when you gin up all the anger and rage and indignation and feelings of helplessness in your audience, they naturally look to you for answers. But you’ve only served them fear and rage, and they’re addicted to it. They’re on the Rage Treadmill.
They become less likely to work within the system that they need to use to change things, and more likely to establish purity tests, and thus become more isolated and marginalized. As you solidify their extreme positions, you make them less and less able to evangelize for our shared values among people who are not in the audience and whom you never reach as a radio host. And when you don’t give them a destination, an action item, a THING THEY CAN DO about it, you drive them directly into the arms of a skilled manipulator and negotiator and media hound like Trump.
I know Beck, at least, is befuddled by this turn of events. And give him his due, I count Beck as one of the guys who has at least tried to advocate for action, at least taken his megaphone and tried to encourage people to do more than watch and yell at their televisions. But still, we’re awfully well-stocked with people who enjoy (and are making a living off of) entertainment politics, who pay no price when events turn bad for conservatives, and who have bred a segment of the population who only emotes their politics. And you cannot deny that much of the audience overlaps between the radio personalities and Trump.
Finally, I think there are a lot of reasons Trump shouldn’t even be considered for the nomination. But it isn’t enough to depend on other candidates to step up (they should) or for the RNC to change its ways (they should). Folks following Trump don’t trust the RNC – how is the RNC going to reach them to prove they’ve changed course? They don’t find enough in the other candidates to support – how are those candidates going to break through? No, relying on the candidates or the RNC or ‘somebody else’ to get this done is a highway to heartbreak. We have to do it – the people who know or encounter them – with significantly less mockery and ridicule and a lot more understanding. I know it seems pointless, but the only other option appears to be surrender.
Look again at that list above. I dare you to tell me you don’t share at least 5 of those concerns.
Each one represents an opening you can use to discuss the reasons you support another candidate. Each one is a place of agreement you can exploit to remind those supporters that you really are potential allies, that you’re concerned about the same things, that you agree about where the problems lie.
It isn’t enough to be ‘right’; you have to sell it to people. That’s actually been our problem for a long time, but so many on the right ignore that step. We’re awash in people who are content to lose as long as they can say ‘I told you so.’
I want to be right, but I also want to WIN. I know the stakes. So that’s why I am offering the outline of what I am going to do: find the points of agreement, express my identical concerns, and start asking questions that help expose that Trump is not the answer. It’s going to take time and patience, sure. But at the end of it, what I hope to find is people who have had time to reexamine their views, and who, at the very least, will recognize that I am still an ally, that I’m actually on their side. And then we can train our sights on addressing that list above. Together.