One hundred days in, why do most of his voters still love Trump? It might not be what you think.
A recent poll showed 96% of Trump supporters have no regrets about their votes. As always, it is still a minority of Americans. But after all of the miss-steps, and outright lies of the first 100 days, that leaves many other Americans mystified. Is there anything progressives can do to chip away at his seemingly solid base?
Politics is more like a love affair with the voters than an exercise in convincing some economic theorist’s “rational decision maker” to make calculations about the benefits and negatives of a candidate or leader. People don’t tote up all of the ways a candidate will benefit them or hurt them on lists and weigh the calculation, any more than a lover makes a list of the pros and cons of the subject of his or her affection.
There are some very biological reasons why people fall into “lust.” But falling in love is different.
You don’t fall in love with someone because you have such a high opinion of all his or her personal qualities, or their skills or their brilliant mind or their body. When you fall in love, it is more than anything else because you feel good about yourself in the presence of the other person. It is because your lover makes you feel special, empowered – because he or she pays attention – to you.
The same is true in politics. People become committed to leaders who make them feel good about themselves – who make them feel strong and respected – empowered and cared about.
It’s not about their policy agenda, or their great abilities, or their political skill. All of these might contribute to the feeling we have about our relationship with them, but the feeling itself is the central matter at issue.
People become committed to leaders who make them feel good about themselves – who make them feel strong and respected…
Just like in a love affair, we want to feel that the leader is unconditionally on our side; that he or she really likes us for who we are; that the leader respects us – believes that we’re important, that we matter. We want to feel that the other person empowers us to be more than we would otherwise be.
Competence matters, but it matters in exactly the same way it does in a personal relationship. We want to believe not only that the leader is unconditionally on our side, but that we can trust him or her to have the competency to take care of us – to keep us safe – to actually find a way to be there for us when we need her.
Inspiration functions exactly the same way.
When we say that a leader inspires us, we mean something very specific. The feeling of inspiration has two components. First, the leader makes us feel that we are part of a cause that is bigger than ourselves. But second, he or she also makes us believe that each of us, personally, can play a significant role in achieving that larger goal or mission. In other words, we are not inspired by someone because of his or her qualities. We are inspired because of how he or she makes us feel about ourselves. We are not inspired because we think that the leader is “important,” but because the leader gives us a sense that we are important. The inspirational leader gives us meaning.
Donald Trump courted his base. Before Donald Trump, many of his base voters felt they had been left behind by the global economy – ignored and cast aside by political leaders. Some felt they had been ridiculed as bumpkins or rednecks.
Donald Trump didn’t just make them feel that he cared. He made them feel that they mattered. He gave them a sense of empowerment. Some of it was good old fashion racism. But it was more than that. At his rallies he made his base voters feel good about themselves. He gave them a sense of agency.
Of course, Donald Trump was a great con man. He didn’t really love ordinary working people. He was not unconditionally on their side. He could not be trusted to keep them safe. It’s not too big a stretch to say that he showered his attentions on them, he seduced them, he married them – for their money.
He may come home at night with flowers. He may look them in their eyes and whisper sweet nothings into their ears. But every day he goes out and gallivants around with his true lovers: the billionaires who – like himself – want to con them out of their already shrinking assets.
Donald Trump didn’t just make them feel that he cared. He made them feel that they mattered.
His base voters should have remembered what all of their mothers had told them: don’t marry someone you want to reform. He cheated on them from the first day – the same way he cheated years earlier on the students he defrauded at Trump University.
He proposes eliminating health insurance coverage from 24 million Americans – many of whom voted to support him – so he can give $600 billion in tax breaks to himself and the billionaire elite.
He proposes cutting taxes for big corporations and the wealthy – because he says, it will create jobs for you, “my love.” Of course there is no empirical evidence whatsoever that cutting taxes for the rich creates new jobs, or new tax revenue. In fact, we tried trickle-down economics during the Bush years and it ended producing stagnation and ultimately the Great Recession that cost 8 million jobs. Tax cuts for big corporations and the wealthy have always had only one result: they make the rich, richer – every time.
Trump rails about companies that outsource jobs abroad. But all the while his firm has outsourced the production of clothing and furniture and even steel.
When Donald Trump wants to socialize, he doesn’t go to a VFW hall or the corner tavern – he goes to his exclusive private club at Mar-a-Lago.
When Donald Trump selects decision-makers for his cabinet or to staff his White House, he doesn’t turn to those who work to advance the interests of workers or organizes unions that allow ordinary people to bargain together with the boss for better wages and working conditions. He turns to his true loves – millionaires and billionaires.
So why are all of those ordinary voters who fell in love with Trump sticking with him?
For the same reason lovers of all stripes ignore the fatal flaws in the subject of their affections for a long time before they decide to break it off. They are invested. He still comes home and tells them – with enormous sincerity – just how much he loves them – how much they matter.
You can’t really tell someone that his or her spouse is a complete jerk. People have to find out for themselves.
And before long, many Trump supporters – especially those who supported Barack Obama in 2008 or 2012 – will inevitably begin to have second thoughts.
Their ardor will cool. And even if they don’t completely abandon him, they’ll become disillusioned. In fact, many won’t be chomping at the bit to go out to vote for GOP members of Congress who supported his program in 2018.
And in 2018, Democrats and progressives will have something else going for them. All of the vast majority of Americans who never fell in love with Trump will be fired up like never before.
But what about those working-class Trump supporters? What can we do to speed the process of disillusionment along? How can we help them see Trump’s true colors sooner rather than later?
Three things are key:
- We can continuously point out the contradictions between his ardent testimony about how much he cares about ordinary people and his actual actions and policies.
- We can offer bold, compelling initiatives that actually do address the interests of ordinary people: more taxes on the rich, not less; a public option that guarantees an affordable health care alternative to all Americans who need it; stronger unions to negotiate higher wages and better working conditions for ordinary workers; breaking up the biggest banks – rather than eliminating the restrictions that are intended to prevent their excesses from once again sinking the economy; a real bold public infrastructure program to create jobs and create value for us all, rather than subsidies for companies who build private infrastructure for themselves.
- Most importantly, we must respect and pay attention to the needs and interests of all ordinary Americans – not just the big campaign donors and the coastal elites. Respect is the key. We have to show them everyday that we will do battle for miners’ pensions; that we insist that our society spends as much educating the kids of rural and urban parents as we do educating the kids of families in upscale suburbs; that we are completely devoted to the idea that everyone should have a job that allows them to really contribute to our society and to build an economically secure future for their family – everyone.
If we do those things, we can be confident that by 2018 a portion of those Trump supporters will be “former” Trump supporters – and for many others, the heat of Trump passion will have faded into the cold morning light.
And for some – hell hath no fury like a voter scorned.