by Berry Friesen (January 8, 2016)
The Donald Trump phenomenon cannot be understood in conventional right-left terms. He has often taken progressive positions and even now, as the Republican front-runner, does not follow conservative talking points. Much has already been written to this effect; here and here are a couple of examples.
Trump is better understood as an opportunistic populist, quickly shifting policy positions as he rides the energy of supporters frustrated by life in the heart of the US-led empire.
Establishment Republicans loathe Trump. Columnist George Will has said a Trump nomination would destroy the Republican Party.
As he dropped out of the race for the Republican nomination, Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal is reported to have described Trump this way: “He is an egomaniac, he’s a narcissist, he’s not a conservative, he’s not a liberal, he believes in himself. He’s not reflective of a coherent ideology, he’s for himself.”
Yet Trump attracts support from all across the political spectrum. I’ll look at some of the data below.
But let’s start with five statements that represent the emotional responses at the heart of the Trump phenomenon. Using 0, 1 or 2, test your alignment with Trump’s candidacy by indicating the strength of your agreement with each statement.*
A. The USA is an exceptional nation that is the source of much good in the world; it deserves to receive the rewards related to its global leadership and dominance.
B. The USA needs leaders who speak directly and candidly; it is ill-served by officials unable to break free of the hypocrisy, pretense and self-dealing of Washington insiders.
C. Muslims are a threat to the peace and security of the USA, especially if they live here in the US.
D. Personally, I admire people who apply themselves and succeed financially, especially the rare few who put themselves at risk in public life by standing up for the values Americans hold dear.
E. Most people in my social circle have about the same inflation-adjusted income today as they did in 1989. But simply holding our own—not sliding backwards—takes more effort than it used to.
If your score is 9-10, you likely are a Trump supporter. If your score is 7-8, you likely feel some attraction to Trump’s candidacy. It has nothing to do with thinking “right” or “left.” Instead, it is about wanting a leader as bold and brazen as America is in the world, someone who eschews politically correct speech and knows how to use America’s imperial power to improve life for Americans.
What’s the point? First, you and I will have opportunities this year to engage potential Trump supporters. We’ll do that most successfully (i.e., dissuade them from voting for Trump) if our conversation avoids caricature and conveys understanding. Second, by paying careful attention to Trump's supporters, we're likely to gain insight into what kind of world the empire is giving us.
My previous post noted Trump’s emphasis on competence, meaning an ability to translate US power into a larger share of the plunder of war. In future posts, I’ll discuss in greater depth the other four statements noted above (B – E).
In the remainder of this post, let’s briefly consider what the polls reveal about Trump’s supporters.
An ABC/Washington Post poll from last summer found Trump’s supporters leaned to the left of the typical Republican. He received 27 percent support from moderate to liberal voters, 24 percent from somewhat conservative voters and 17 percent support from very conservative voters. And he had more support among Independents than Republicans (25 percent vs. 22 percent).
Trump received four times as much support among those with no college degree (32 percent) as among college graduates (8 percent).
A very high percentage of Trump supporters (77 percent) believe “the values of Islam are at odds with American values and way of life,”according to a Public Religion Research Institute poll. This compares to 72 percent of other Republicans holding that view and 43 percent of Democrats.
A New York Times poll from late last year confirms Trump supporters tend to have modest incomes (less than $50,000 annually) and be less educated. He is particularly attractive to people who are registered Democrats but tend to vote Republican if they vote. Trump supporters are concentrated in the southern and the mid-Atlantic states.
Incongruous as it may seem, Trump is a billionaire with a big following among people who don’t count for much in today’s USA.
Trump supporters are often disparaged as racists because of their support for expelling undocumented people and keeping out refugees. Yet a more-than-tiny share of working class blacks and Hispanics are likely to consider Trump in the hope he can improve the economy.
Pundit Paul Gottfried puts it this way: “Those afflicted with stagnating or declining incomes have no interest in competing with cheap foreign labor and feel particularly impacted by crimes associated with illegals. As one of (Trump’s) reluctant admirers points out in the Post: ‘He’s a huckster. He’s a loudmouth New Yorker. People don’t like people like that.’ But on the positive side, continued the speaker from Rappahannock County, Virginia, ’He just seems like the guy who can take on the people who Trump supporters think have been screwing with them for so long’.”
* My score is 5 (0, 2, 0, 2, 1).