At a campaign rally in January, 2016, in reference to the blind loyalty of his followers, Trump said, “I could go out on 5th Avenue and shoot someone and I would not lose any votes.” The media (even Fox News) scoffed at his exaggeration, but it turns out that Trump was not that far off. After a tempestuous campaign, an erratic transition period and two months of an administration that could best be compared to bareback bull riding, Trump followers are, if anything, even more hypnotic in their support for him. Even when Trump makes things up from the vapors of his own peripatetic mind, his followers accept them as gospel.
Before we go further, let me acknowledge that I voted for Trump. I did so out of the belief that the establishment status quo was in need of some uncomfortable disruption and Trump was the only “disrupter” in the field of candidates. What I did not vote for was what Trump’s alter ego, Steve Bannon, described as the “deconstruction” of the pillars and institutions of the American government. You make a sick patient better by curing him, not killing him.
Even the most casual observer can see that the early days of the Trump administration have been a full-frontal assault on the fundamental institutions of government – the judicial, legislative and executive branches. At the same time, there has been a concerted effort to consolidate the levers and power of government within the walls of the White House (via Executive Order); much like role model Putin has done in the Kremlin. This attitude was vividly postulated by the wannabe Nazi Youth Leader Steve Miller, the White House advisor and Bannon buddy, who said in a television interview, “that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”
And now of course, there is the broken promise to “replace and repeal” Obamacare. After seven years of repeated blood-promises by Republican Congressional leaders and multiple campaign pledges by Trump that if elected, Obamacare would be immediately “repealed and replaced,” that has not happened. After a cartoonish effort failed to fulfill the promise, we are now told, “Obamacare is the law of the land for the foreseeable future.” A lot of excuses have been offered up to explain the failure of the Republican AHC plan, but the bottom line is that this is a failure of leadership and inability to “make a deal.” Leadership and deal making starts at the top.
Then there is the blinding sandstorm of the “Trump-Russian affair.” There may be nothing to the suspected improper contacts – and maybe even collusion – between the Trump campaign and elements of the Russian government, but the circumstantial evidence that has emerged, combined with Watergate-like actions to obfuscate this activity, raises high suspicion. When was the last time so many American officials had so many behind the scenes contact with so many Russian officials?
Under normal circumstances this type of stumbling, bumbling, incoherent start to leadership, would spell doom for any leader at any level, let alone one who is president of the United States, but these are not normal times. The reality is that while Trump’s already low approval rating has declined further, his popularity among the vast majority of those who voted for him is even higher. Indeed, Trump backers want to believe that all of these issues are nothing but a wide conspiracy launched by those in the “deep government” that is intended to besmirch Trump and his agenda.
So what is it that blinds Trump’s die-hard followers to any of his foibles, fabrications and failures? The reality is that Trump followers have “special needs” and he is the only one who has promised to respond to them.
The Lost Generation
The core backers of Trump are part of what could be called the “lost generation.” For virtually their entire lives they have experienced a steady erosion of what has been generically referred to as the “American Dream.” The ideal of the American Dream was that everyone had an equal opportunity to achieve success and financial security through hard work, determination and individual initiative.
From the perspective of the Trump voter they have seen and felt the impact of the American Dream being dismantled step by step. They have seen “globalization” siphon jobs overseas; jobs being lost to immigrants (legal and illegal), their own wages have stagnated or even declined. They have witnessed vast amounts of wealth concentrated in the hands of the few and have suffered from the destruction of the great American middle-class. Not only has the core Trump supporter felt the loss of opportunity, but, even more important, they feel powerless and voiceless against a government that seems designed to work against them and the elite wealthy who do not care about them. Is it any wonder they are frustrated and distrustful of the establishment?
Then along comes Trump
Give Donald Trump credit. Of the 20-plus individuals who ran for president in 2016, Trump was the only one to recognize, understand, enumerate and connect with the frustration, pain and special needs of millions of Americans. He not only promised to give these individuals a voice, but that he would, “Make America Great Again.” That was a “code phrase” signaling that he would take the country back to the way things were when the American Dream was alive and well. It was, for these people, an irresistible clarion call.
This was like someone who had never been loved, being told that someone loved them. When someone is starved for love and believes they have found it, little else matters. The one being offered love is willing to blindly ignore any flaws, foibles, fabrications or even the insincerity of the one offering love. This is the case with the die-hard Trump supports.
Unapologetic Trump supporters do not care if he is impulsive, off-the-cuff, an admitted misogynist or one who plays fast and loose with facts and the truth. Trump’s core supporters couldn’t care less if Russia attempted to influence the election or if members of his staff (most likely with his knowledge) colluded with the Russians to fix the election. Even when Trump blames the Democrats for blocking the repeal of Obamacare – even though they had no power to do so – his followers believe him. The bottom line is that Trump has promised those who are frustrated and disenfranchised from the establishment that he will make right the wrongs they have suffered; and that is all they care about. And you really can’t blame them.
If Love is Lost
This is all well and good. It is easy to empathize with those who have been left behind by a rapidly changing economy and world order. One can understand why they would gravitate to the promises of Trump. But what if he ultimately fails to deliver? In the end, even more serious problems and frustrations could arise if, for whatever reason, Trump is unable to deliver on the promises he has made to “Make America Great Again.”