I have developed a theory that many Trump supporters have far more doubt than they’re admitting to, but that one of the obstacles to abandoning him is finding a way to understand their support for him in the first place. Think about it: Once you start to acknowledge the validity of the overwhelming amount of evidence that he is a corrupt, incoherent, incompetent narcissist who has no idea what he’s doing, it is hard not to acknowledge that he has been this person all along. Recognizing that he never deserved your vote in the first place involves feeling the intense shame of someone who has been grifted. Most people just double down on their original choice.
I propose that a great many of his voters aren’t really sure why they voted for him, and need to find a narrative that explains it without reducing them to the ugly stereotype of the ignorant deplorable. Those people certainly exist — whether they are a plurality or majority of his base is a matter of debate. But if you’re like me, these past four years you have come across a distressing number of perfectly intelligent people, some well-educated, some incredibly kind in the their daily lives, who somehow fell under the spell of Yamigula. After the umpteempth Facebook thread tangle you’ve probably given up reasoning with them — you may have already unfriended them or blocked them on Twitter.
But for those of you somehow willing to give it one last try, let me share something I wrote to a friend to use in an ongoing debate she has with a guy renovating her house. I’m hoping it provides an explanation for his choice her handyman can live with.
I think that you grew up with certain unconscious assumptions in your view of the world. That it meant something that you were a Christian, born here, white, male and a native English speaker. It didn’t mean that you were superior to anyone else, but somehow you experienced these traits as accomplishments instead of accidents of birth. And then as you grew older, a lot of your assumptions about how reality would treat you just because you were these things did not come true, at the same time that you could see Black, Latino, and immigrants who had much more difficult circumstances to overcome achieve far more in society, including, most remarkably, Barack Obama. And on a certain level, you resented them for it. Their success felt like a reproach.
When the great recession hit, you suffered the loss of a rosy economic future, and even though Obama stabilized the situation, the damage was done. The ground beneath your feet that always felt firm was not permanently shaky. Then Trump came along, and though you could see that he was basically the loudmouth at the bar you’d never be friends with, on some deep level you couldn’t articulate, his simple solutions to complicated problems soothed you. Build a wall, bring back jobs, blame China, Make America Great Again. The message he was really sending was that those accidents of birth would feel like accomplishments again. In your mind, women like Hillary Clinton had been scolding men like you for years for having politically incorrect thoughts that you were suddenly hearing out of the mouth of Trump, and the constant drumbeat of misinformation you heard about her on Fox and talk radio eliminated her as a choice you felt you could make. (You used to examine their positions on the issues, but somehow in 2016, the fact that Clinton was extending the very same policies as Obama was something you didn’t even consider.)
Because Trump was making you and all of your friends feel proud to be a white male American again. That’s why you voted for him and why you are ready to pull the lever again.
I’m waiting to hear back from my friend, but would love to get a bigger sample size. You’ve tried everything else, why not this?