I’ve spent the last week attempting to develop some empathy for Donald Trump’s diehard supporters.
Given what we’ve learned from the Department of Justice report about the racial bias in Baltimore Police Department, seeking the legitimate grievances of a movement that’s bent on deporting and immiserating millions feels like a luxury — a luxury I know that I can only afford because I was lucky enough to be born into a life of the sort of privileges that make empathy affordable.
But we can’t be just content to beat Trump. We have to shame him into infamy, along with all the other risible elements of the right-wing conspiracy sewer he has elevated. Doing that requires asking ourselves why adults who managed how to use Facebook all on their own would be voting for this man.
Generally, I feel bad for anyone who looks at Trump’s sad insecurities and sees strength — but a really smug, doing-things-with-one-eyebrow kind of way. However, his speech in Detroit — where he was praised like a nap-deprived child for not wandering off mid-speech, wetting himself or calling for the assassination of his opponent, though he seemed to do both the next day — I was reminded that Trump is running a scam on his supporters that will only make their desperation worse.
And increasingly it resembles the same old scam conservatives have run on for years. You know the one that floods wealth to the richest while sapping up workers’ bargaining power and starving any aspect of government that doesn’t go boom.
“If such policies were effective, we would remember George W. Bush’s presidency as one of great prosperity, instead of a period of stagnant wages for blue- and white-collar workers,” said Larry Mishel, president of the Economic Policy Institute, said.
It’s true that in general Trump’s supporters are wealthier than Hillary Clinton’s. There’s no evidence they are any more blighted by globalization or immigration than any other Americans. And, as Sean McElwee and his various collaborators have often noted, the leading indicator that seems to suggest someone is likely to support Trump is racial resentment.
So it had been easy to dismiss what E.J. Dionne calls “the real pain experienced by Trump voters,” which is echoing across much of the western world with the rise of right-wing nationalism. Aging white men feel a chronic lack of “respect” and the hard right has no qualms about playing the devil’s greatest trick.
The best scam ever run on poor white people was the idea that their financial struggles are the fault of POC & not rich white people.
— Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia) August 7, 2016
That’s Trump’s scam — but there was more to it at first.
Sure, the racism was evident from the day he launched his campaign, and even before that. But it was layered with an appeal that was easy to ignore given his reliance on out and out bigotry. Trump had figured out a glaring hole in the conservative agenda: any trace of actual concern for economic well-being for the “working class.”
Now, even the term “working class” reveals bias. Trump’s appeal is obviously to the mythical “blue collar” American who hasn’t gotten a raise in more than generation, and not to the actual broader and more correct definition that includes scores of service sector and retail employees who’ve never earned a decent wage in their lives.
For the working poor in America, the Great Recession never ended and it never even began. It’s just life.
Heroin addiction is ravaging poor communities and middle-aged white Americans are eating, drinking and drugging themselves to death in disturbing numbers. These are heart-wrenching symptoms of an epidemic of despair, a despair that has been common in minority communities for far too long.
In his 2004 book “What’s the Matter with Kansas?,” Thomas Frank accused Democrats of making the same mistake Republicans generally make now, fixating on cultural issues with no solutions to the actual economic malaise that has only gotten worse since then. By ranting about closed factories, lost jobs and closed mines, Trump at least resembled someone who knows that many of the corners of America ravaged by the Great Recession and our changing economy still exist.
But in his speech on Monday, Trump reminded everyone that his solutions look almost exactly like George W. Bush’s solutions, Mitt Romney’s solutions and Marco Rubio’s solutions — except he would make better trade “deals” and start a trade war.
What would this mean for poor workers who aren’t among the .02 percent of America that would benefit from the repeal of the estate tax?
It would mean 10 million of them would lose health insurance almost immediately. It would mean that the jobs that we did get back, if it’s possible to get them, would be low-wage jobs for unorganized workers captive to their boss’s demands. It means that economic feudalism — which traps our kids at the bottom to be ruled over Trump’s kids at the top — is inevitable.
Will telling Trump supporters this break his spell? Of course not. We can’t discount this man’s skill or his shamelessness.
On Tuesday Trump also told a crowd in North Carolina that his wife would have a press conference to discuss questions about her immigration status “in the next few weeks.”
Think about it. Trump made outsourcing and undocumented immigration the focus of his campaign. He outsources ravenously and his wife still hasn’t cleared up whether or not she came to this country legally.
It’s like he’s on stage riding a Hoverboard as he’s ranting about the dangers of Hoverboards while selling Hoverboards.
That’s why it’s hard to believe there’s any hope of breaking the grip on 30 – 35 percent of America who seems to support him no matter who he insults — even them. But by attempting to understand what drives them, we can do our best to make sure as few voters as possible get scammed along with him.
[CC image credit: Gage Skidmore | Flickr]