For months now I have been trying to figure out why thousands of ordinary folks would blindly follow a candidate such as Donald Trump — given all we know about his innumerable shortcomings and character flaws. I had always thought (hoped?) that my fellow citizens were smarter than that. But I no longer think it’s all about smarts. It is partly that, of course, and a course in civics and a couple of years in seminars discussing difficult books would give these people heightened critical thinking skills. That would certainly help. But, again, I don’t think it’s all about thinking or intelligence.
I have tried to put myself in the minds (such as they are) of those who adore this man. It has been a difficult and frustrating task and has cost me some health problems that I hope will pass after November 8th. But I do think I have begun to get a glimpse of the truth here. Those who follow this man do so out of a sense that he is “one of us.” That is to say, he won’t take our guns away; he doesn’t approve of abortions; he talks like us; he hates Hillary; he wants to take this country back from the smart-asses. The bluster and braggadocio, the scattergun thought-bites, the insults, the hatred, the bigotry, the racism, the man-in-the-street persona this bogus billionaire has managed to pull off seems to have struck a chord deep in the psyches of a great many people.
He’s one of the guys. He “tells it like it is,” he is anti-establishment; he hates they very same things I hate and he tells us he will fix things. Whether he does or not doesn’t really matter, because we know he will, at the very least, stir up the mud. And there is plenty of mud in Washington where the elite bastards who run this country sit on their butts and collect large paychecks for doing absolutely nothing — or at least nothing that benefits me in any way.
It is this sense of fellow-feeling, that Trump is a blue-collar guy in a $2,000.00 suit, that determines the followers to follow. It matters not where he leads. It matters not that he lies because he is speaking from the heart and attacking those we fear. It matters not what the critics say because they are all establishment types who really don’t understand the man and are out to smear him. This sense that their man is being picked on simply fans the flames of adoration: if the establishment fat-cats criticize him that simply proves his worth to these folks. It makes him a sympathetic figure. The fact that establishment Republicans are abandoning him is also a good sign, in their view, because it emphasizes the point that this man will not play by their rules. His “locker room comments” simply underline the fact that, in their minds and hearts, he doesn’t hold anything back. He may tell lies, but he is honest about his feelings and that’s what matters.
In a word, the connection between Donald Trump and his mindless minions is not about reason and logic in any way whatever — note the contradictions in their feelings about this man. It’s visceral, all about gut feelings. It is about the connection between this man and those thousands of people in this country who feel left out and ignored, who are insecure, like the Donald, and who are filled with the same confused thoughts their leader is filled with and a deep hatred of the status quo — and of others who differ from them in unimportant ways. It is easy to identify with this man for so many of them because he really is just like them. This helps us to understand why the surveys tell us his followers are devoted while Hillary’s are lukewarm: she’s very hard to identify with.
Those who are still sitting on the fence, I suspect, feel much the same way but they are also leary about his shortcomings and have doubts that keep them from giving in completely to their gut feelings. They are drawn toward him and repulsed at the same time. And the fact that they find it hard to like much about Hillary Clinton simply makes their struggle that much harder. After all she’s decidedly Establishment (with a capital E) and, moreover, she’s a woman. For many, that’s enough.
It’s hard to say, in the end, which side of the fence they will come down on, because it will depend own how strong is the pull toward someone they feel a connection with and how strong is their sense that this man is, in the end, a total fraud. For these people, too, reason and logic play a small role, if any. It will all come down in the end to how they feel about each of the candidates. That’s not the way it is supposed to be, but I suspect that is the way it is.