Skip to comments.Millions of ordinary Americans support Donald Trump. Here's why
Posted on 07/04/2016 10:00:24 PM PDT by vannrox
Let us now address the greatest American mystery at the moment: what motivates the supporters of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump?
I call it a mystery because the working-class white people who make up the bulk of Trumps fan base show up in amazing numbers for the candidate, filling stadiums and airport hangars, but their views, by and large, do not appear in our prestige newspapers. On their opinion pages, these publications take care to represent demographic categories of nearly every kind, but blue-collar is one they persistently overlook. The views of working-class people are so foreign to that universe that when New York Times columnist Nick Kristof wanted to engage a Trump supporter last week, he made one up, along with this imaginary persons responses to his questions.
When members of the professional class wish to understand the working-class Other, they traditionally consult experts on the subject. And when these authorities are asked to explain the Trump movement, they always seem to zero in on one main accusation: bigotry. Only racism, they tell us, is capable of powering a movement like Trumps, which is blowing through the inherited structure of the Republican party like a tornado through a cluster of McMansions.
Trump himself provides rather excellent evidence for this finding. The man is an insult clown who has systematically gone down the list of American ethnic groups and offended them each in turn. He wants to deport millions upon millions of undocumented immigrants. He wants to bar Muslims from visiting the United States. He admires various foreign strongmen and dictators, and has even retweeted a quote from Mussolini. This gold-plated buffoon has in turn drawn the enthusiastic endorsement of leading racists from across the spectrum of intolerance, a gorgeous mosaic of haters, each of them quivering excitedly at the prospect of getting a real, honest-to-god bigot in the White House.
All this stuff is so insane, so wildly outrageous, that the commentariat has deemed it to be the entirety of the Trump campaign. Trump appears to be a racist, so racism must be what motivates his armies of followers. And so, on Saturday, New York Times columnist Timothy Egan blamed none other than the people for Trumps racism: Donald Trumps supporters know exactly what he stands for: hatred of immigrants, racial superiority, a sneering disregard of the basic civility that binds a society.
Stories marveling at the stupidity of Trump voters are published nearly every day. Articles that accuse Trumps followers of being bigots have appeared by the hundreds, if not the thousands. Conservatives have written them; liberals have written them; impartial professionals have written them. The headline of a recent Huffington Post column announced, bluntly, that Trump Won Super Tuesday Because America is Racist. A New York Times reporter proved that Trumps followers were bigots by coordinating a map of Trump support with a map of racist Google searches. Everyone knows it: Trumps followers passions are nothing more than the ignorant blurtings of the white American id, driven to madness by the presence of a black man in the White House. The Trump movement is a one-note phenomenon, a vast surge of race-hate. Its partisans are not only incomprehensible, they are not really worth comprehending.
Or so were told. Last week, I decided to watch several hours of Trump speeches for myself. I saw the man ramble and boast and threaten and even seem to gloat when protesters were ejected from the arenas in which he spoke. I was disgusted by these things, as I have been disgusted by Trump for 20 years. But I also noticed something surprising. In each of the speeches I watched, Trump spent a good part of his time talking about an entirely legitimate issue, one that could even be called leftwing.
Yes, Donald Trump talked about trade. In fact, to judge by how much time he spent talking about it, trade may be his single biggest concern not white supremacy. Not even his plan to build a wall along the Mexican border, the issue that first won him political fame. He did it again during the debate on 3 March: asked about his political excommunication by Mitt Romney, he chose to pivot and talk about trade.
It seems to obsess him: the destructive free-trade deals our leaders have made, the many companies that have moved their production facilities to other lands, the phone calls he will make to those companies CEOs in order to threaten them with steep tariffs unless they move back to the US.
Trump embellished this vision with another favorite leftwing idea: under his leadership, the government would start competitive bidding in the drug industry. (We dont competitively bid! he marveled another true fact, a legendary boondoggle brought to you by the George W Bush administration.) Trump extended the critique to the military-industrial complex, describing how the government is forced to buy lousy but expensive airplanes thanks to the power of industry lobbyists.
Related: Trump: the great orange-haired Unintended Consequence | Marilynne Robinson
Thus did he hint at his curious selling proposition: because he is personally so wealthy, a fact about which he loves to boast, Trump himself is unaffected by business lobbyists and donations. And because he is free from the corrupting power of modern campaign finance, famous deal-maker Trump can make deals on our behalf that are good instead of bad. The chance that he will actually do so, of course, is small. He appears to be a hypocrite on this issue as well as so many other things. But at least Trump is saying this stuff.
All this surprised me because, for all the articles about Trump I had read in recent months, I didnt recall trade coming up very often. Trump is supposed to be on a one-note crusade for whiteness. Could it be that all this trade stuff is a key to understanding the Trump phenomenon?
Trade is an issue that polarizes Americans by socio-economic status. To the professional class, which encompasses the vast majority of our media figures, economists, Washington officials and Democratic powerbrokers, what they call free trade is something so obviously good and noble it doesnt require explanation or inquiry or even thought. Republican and Democratic leaders alike agree on this, and no amount of facts can move them from their Econ 101 dream.
To the remaining 80 or 90% of America, trade means something very different. Theres a video going around on the internet these days that shows a room full of workers at a Carrier air conditioning plant in Indiana being told by an officer of the company that the factory is being moved to Monterrey, Mexico, and that theyre all going to lose their jobs.
As I watched it, I thought of all the arguments over trade that weve had in this country since the early 1990s, all the sweet words from our economists about the scientifically proven benevolence of free trade, all the ways in which our newspapers mock people who say that treaties like the North American Free Trade Agreement allow companies to move jobs to Mexico.
Well, here is a video of a company moving its jobs to Mexico, courtesy of Nafta. This is what it looks like. The Carrier executive talks in that familiar and highly professional HR language about the need to stay competitive and the extremely price-sensitive marketplace. A worker shouts Fuck you! at the executive. The executive asks people to please be quiet so he can share his information. His information about all of them losing their jobs.
Now, I have no special reason to doubt the suspicion that Donald Trump is a racist. Either he is one, or (as the comedian John Oliver puts it) he is pretending to be one, which amounts to the same thing.
But there is another way to interpret the Trump phenomenon. A map of his support may coordinate with racist Google searches, but it coordinates even better with deindustrialization and despair, with the zones of economic misery that 30 years of Washingtons free-market consensus have brought the rest of America.
It is worth noting that Trump is making a point of assailing that Indiana air conditioning company from the video in his speeches. What this suggests is that hes telling a tale as much about economic outrage as it is tale of racism on the march. Many of Trumps followers are bigots, no doubt, but many more are probably excited by the prospect of a president who seems to mean it when he denounces our trade agreements and promises to bring the hammer down on the CEO that fired you and wrecked your town, unlike Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Here is the most salient supporting fact: when people talk to white, working-class Trump supporters, instead of simply imagining what they might say, they find that what most concerns these people is the economy and their place in it. I am referring to a study just published by Working America, a political-action auxiliary of the AFL-CIO, which interviewed some 1,600 white working-class voters in the suburbs of Cleveland and Pittsburgh in December and January.
Support for Donald Trump, the group found, ran strong among these people, even among self-identified Democrats, but not because they are all pining for a racist in the White House. Their favorite aspect of Trump was his attitude, the blunt and forthright way he talks. As far as issues are concerned, immigration placed third among the matters such voters care about, far behind their number one concern: good jobs / the economy.
People are much more frightened than they are bigoted, is how the findings were described to me by Karen Nussbaum, the executive director of Working America. The survey confirmed what we heard all the time: people are fed up, people are hurting, they are very distressed about the fact that their kids dont have a future and that there still hasnt been a recovery from the recession, that every family still suffers from it in one way or another.
Tom Lewandowski, the president of the Northeast Indiana Central Labor Council in Fort Wayne, puts it even more bluntly when I asked him about working-class Trump fans. These people arent racist, not any more than anybody else is, he says of Trump supporters he knows. When Trump talks about trade, we think about the Clinton administration, first with Nafta and then with [Permanent Normal Trade Relations] China, and here in Northeast Indiana, we hemorrhaged jobs.
They look at that, and heres Trump talking about trade, in a ham-handed way, but at least hes representing emotionally. Weve had all the political establishment standing behind every trade deal, and we endorsed some of these people, and then weve had to fight them to get them to represent us.
Now, let us stop and smell the perversity. Left parties the world over were founded to advance the fortunes of working people. But our left party in America one of our two monopoly parties chose long ago to turn its back on these peoples concerns, making itself instead into the tribune of the enlightened professional class, a creative class that makes innovative things like derivative securities and smartphone apps. The working people that the party used to care about, Democrats figured, had nowhere else to go, in the famous Clinton-era expression. The party just didnt need to listen to them any longer.
What Lewandowski and Nussbaum are saying, then, should be obvious to anyone whos dipped a toe outside the prosperous enclaves on the two coasts. Ill-considered trade deals and generous bank bailouts and guaranteed profits for insurance companies but no recovery for average people, ever these policies have taken their toll. As Trump says, we have rebuilt China and yet our country is falling apart. Our infrastructure is falling apart Our airports are, like, Third World.
Trumps words articulate the populist backlash against liberalism that has been building slowly for decades and may very well occupy the White House itself, whereupon the entire world will be required to take seriously its demented ideas.
Yet still we cannot bring ourselves to look the thing in the eyes. We cannot admit that we liberals bear some of the blame for its emergence, for the frustration of the working-class millions, for their blighted cities and their downward spiraling lives. So much easier to scold them for their twisted racist souls, to close our eyes to the obvious reality of which Trumpism is just a crude and ugly expression: that neoliberalism has well and truly failed.
Thomas Frank is the author of Listen, Liberal or Whatever Happened to the Party of the People, published 15 March by Metropolitan Books
Trump may lean a bit to the psycho side, but he comes across as human good, bad, admirable, ugly, right, wrong, bright, stupid, nice and mean, sometimes smart, sometimes crazy. That’s the appeal. All the other candidates act as if well, as if they’re acting. They’re calculated and planned. That’s harder and harder to sell.
Wow, talk about backhanded compliments.
Liberals truly do scream in the light - it hurts them.
Americans, especially white Americans, are sick and tired of Obama treating them as less than citizens. His racial vengeance policies, his gay uber alles policies, and his ultra marxist hate of working Americans is getting old to a heck of a lot of people. I’ve listened to a couple Trump speeches. People like the energy. And he’s enjoying himself and gives an optimistic message. I’m not much of a fan for various reasons but by God if Hillary wins, which I think is likely from shenanigans, the country will be irreparable.
So hard to understand, when they could support that citadel of virtue and wisdom, Hillary Clinton. /s. When did people forget politicians are bufoons and crooks?
It ain’t just the lyin’ king. It’s nearly the whole cadre of elite d.c. scumbags who assume they know what’s best for us. LMTFA. If I need your help, I’ll let you know. A lot of people feel like that.
“Liberals truly do scream in the light - it hurts them”.
Every day, I read about them. Maybe they are just not very bright. They tend to cluster in groups. Cut off from real people.
I sense their glory days are over. They are in the bunker.
In November, we will see the Trump SHOCK AND AWE as he takes the country, the experts, the pundits, the talking heads, the orators, the Liberals, the Democrats and elements within the Republican party all by storm as the American people wake the heck up after these last, disastrous 8 years.
All politicians are anethema to normal people. This is news? Working people have two choices - begin to stop the bleeding (Trump) or continue down the path of special interest politics and end up in Gary, freaking Indiana (Clinton)
Liberalism: Salvation through false accusation.
I am getting so sick of condescending, racist leftists calling the very people who built the greatest country on earth. They need to be banished to the fringes of political life this election.
Cockroaches always scurry off. That’s why you’ve got to squash them quickly and at every opportunity!
Just as it was with Reagan, a substantial portion — possibly as much as half — of Trump’s support is absolutely invisible. They do not put signs on their yard (they’d just get stolen and attract vandals), they do not put bumperstickers on their car (who wants to pay for a new paint job due to key wielding fascists), they keep their mouth shut in bars, stores, and offices (who can win an argument with a leftist fanatic?) — but inside the privacy of the voting booth, they are quietly looking forward to kicking the political establishments of both parties, the MSM, and every one of the freaky flaky leftist SJW set right in the nuts.
When white working class Americans find their voice it’s considered racism. I’m getting sick of it too. I no longer care about race relations since the other side is not willing to listen, and is only being programmed to hate whites from cradle to grave. It doesn’t do any good. It won’t end peacefully.
This year for the first time in his life he is planing to vote for a Republican.
Part of it is Benghazi Hillary. As a veteran the most despicable thing you can do is abandon your people to die when you could have at least tried to save them.
But the other thing is Trump himself.
Finally someone is addressing the issues that have meaning to him and that every other politician has blown off or called him names for worrying about.
That can't possibly be true. My liberal friends tell me nobody is supporting Trump.
Hillary Clinton is a bit psycho too. A sociopath. A criminal. I don’t mind a little madness, really. It’s the anti-social ones I don’t like. The WH will be kick back central under Clinton.
>>> Just as it was with Reagan, a substantial portion possibly as much as half of Trumps support is absolutely invisible. They do not put signs on their yard (theyd just get stolen and attract vandals), they do not put bumperstickers on their car (who wants to pay for a new paint job due to key wielding fascists), they keep their mouth shut in bars, stores, and offices (who can win an argument with a leftist fanatic?) but inside the privacy of the voting booth, they are quietly looking forward to kicking the political establishments of both parties, the MSM, and every one of the freaky flaky leftist SJW set right in the nuts.
Simply to add to your screed - and it’s a valid start - it is not worth the effort to teach a pig to fly because in the end you’re both exhausted, the pig still can’t fly and you find yourself with even less time to recover rest before going back to the crappy job you nevertheless feel lucky to have at all, the job at twice the time and a third the pay of the one from which you were downsized in 2008. In theory at least, I can earn back my money that is stolen or wasted by another. Not so, my time.
So you avoid disputing the biased rumors repeated by otherwise well-meaning, enjoyable coworkers and friends, because it turns into a time suck. It takes time to argue logic because it *is* logic; not so the slings and arrows of absurdities and outright lies.
For those who have the ears to hear, let them hear.
Me, I’m going to the voting booth. Got no time to waste.
Mr radical.....thank for the clarification!
Nicely done, IMO.
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