The Psychological Enigma of the Trump Voter

“You can’t promote principled anti-corruption action without pissing off corrupt people.” George P. Kent, Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs, U. S. Department of State

There are certain things even the most Spirited of Reasoners have trouble understanding. This week’s topic is one of those: the passionate nature of Donald Trump’s political support.

Since the Thanksgiving holidays are approaching, let’s begin our analysis by removing a few items from the dining room table.

  1. The fervor of Trump’s support cannot be explained by a hatred of Hillary Clinton. One cannot think back to the 2016 presidential campaign without recalling that infamous chant, “Lock Her Up!” The trouble with using that explanation for Trump’s current popularity is that Hillary is no longer in the picture. While winning the popular vote, she lost the 2016 election in the Electoral College and has expressed no desire to enter the 2020 campaign. Here’s an analogy: Suppose your favorite sports team has just defeated its most hated rival in the annual grudge match. Having watched the game, do you (a) celebrate with passion, perhaps hurling taunts at your friends and enemies who rooted for the other team? Or do you (b) continue to express nothing but anger, pointing to bad referee calls that occurred during the game, even though those calls didn’t change the fact that your team won? While Spirited Reasoners comprehend the excesses of immature fans who choose option (a), the passion of Trump supporters seems to flow from option (b). Go figure.
  2. Nor can it be explained by a desire to “drain the swamp.” Sticking with that football analogy, let’s suppose Trump supporters, having seen their guy win the presidency, maintain their enthusiasm because they want to see certain corrupt officials go to jail. Instead, Spirited Reasoners have lost count of the number of Trump appointees and associates who have been indicted, gone to jail, or quit their jobs prematurely. If, for example, the Clintons, the Bidens, or any other Democrats were worthy of investigation (or otherwise being “drained”), why was nothing done during the crucial 2017-18 time frame when Republicans controlled the White House, the Senate, and the House of Representatives?
  3. Nor can it be explained by any noteworthy international accomplishments. Has North Korea stopped launching test missiles? Has Russia abandoned the Ukraine? Is the United States “great again” in the Middle East after abandoning our closest allies and allowing Russia to assume our peacekeeper role in Syria? Did China knuckle under to Trump’s tariffs, or was it our American farmers who were the main victims of that strategy?

The one legislative accomplishment Trump supporters can point to is a tax cut that pumped massive stimulus money into our wealthiest individuals and corporations while substantially increasing the federal deficit. This strategy has worked to inflate the Stock Market bubble to levels we have never seen. However, Spirited Reasoners know that bull markets never last forever. The only question is whether the market will decide to tank sooner (during this administration’s term) or later (perhaps tainting the administration of the next president.)

What troubles some of us is a very different explanation: that the passion of Trump supporters, like those of Weimar Germans in the 1920s, might be fueled by a collective sense of inferiority and insecurity. “America is becoming weak,” they scream. “People kneel for the national anthem. People ignore our laws and flood across our borders. Then they claim welfare paid for by hard working Americans. Democrats have kicked God out of our schools and now they want to take away our guns!”

How sad that so many Americans could fall for those lines!

Spirited Reasoners know that America is wealthy and strong. That’s why most Americans don’t give a hoot if a few people want to kneel for the national anthem. The allowance of that type of dissent is evidence of an amazing level of strength—like the football lineman who’s so big and strong he knows he doesn’t need to throw a punch at every pipsqueak who wants to pick a fight. One of the most effective ways strong people respond to adolescent behavior is to ignore it.

Spirited Reasoners know that weaker people seek desperately to come across our borders precisely because we are so wealthy and strong. They know that welfare is a tiny drop of the federal budget (75% of which consists of military spending, Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, none of which goes to illegal immigrants). They know Americans are free to worship God at any private religious institution of their choice, and they know the phrase “well-regulated” is in the first line of the Second Amendment.

What Spirited Reasoners still have trouble figuring out is how Trump supporters remain so passionately in favor of a man who so has so clearly demonstrated his willingness to do the bidding of Vladimir Putin.