Stumped by Trump
“Three scientists won this year’s Nobel Prize in physics Tuesday for advancing our understanding of black holes, the all-consuming monsters that lurk in the darkest parts of the universe,” Time reported on October 6.
Time explained, “Black holes are perhaps the most mysterious and powerful objects in astronomy … Nothing, not even light, can escape their incredible gravity.”
Which brings me to President Trump, the all-consuming black hole of American politics.
The newest Nobel laureates, physicists Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez, devoted their entire careers seeking to better understand the universe. I’ve devoted my entire career to the Washington political universe and yet I’m nowhere close to understanding the mysterious power of Trump.
The ancient Greek philosopher Diogenes legendarily wandered the streets of Athens with a lantern. During daylight. Asked why, he quipped: He was looking for an honest man. (Comedy was different in 300 BC but maybe not so much.)
For the last four years, I’ve been looking for someone to honestly explain to me, cogently and compellingly, with evidence and explanations not eye-rolling rhetoric, in ways that can penetrate my thick skull, why in the name of God do my fellow Americans love Trump no matter how terrible he is. As if he’s their misunderstood meth-addict criminal teen.
I need to know why, in spite of everything ridiculous, despicable and destructive Trump says and does, day after day, even during a 100-year global pandemic, and sucking at being president like an all-consuming black hole, he may well be reelected.
A few explanations, whether I agree with them or not, help:
New York Times columnist Charles Blow:
To “his people,” Trump is a folk hero.
“The president’s devoted supporters have turned him into a legend of sorts. The rules don’t apply to the folk hero,” Blow wrote. “People don’t measure them by the same tape. Behavior that people would never condone in their personal lives, they relish in the folk hero.”
FYI, in history, many national folk heroes became Socialist dictators who, with support of their base, blithely slaughtered people who dared to question them.
Psychology Today contributor, cognitive neuroscientist Dr. Bobby Azarian, affiliated with the conservative George Mason University in Virginia:
· Practicality trumps morality.
· The brain’s attention system is more strongly engaged by Trump, given his knack for TV entertainment.
· America’s obsession with entertainment and celebrities.
· Simply to be rebellious or to introduce chaos into the political system, raising a middle finger to Washington.
· The fear factor: conservatives are more sensitive to threat.
· Terror Management Theory — made afraid, people will more strongly defend those who share their worldviews and national or ethnic identity and act out more aggressively towards those who do not.
· The Dunning-Kruger Effect: Humans often overestimate their political expertise. “Some who support Donald Trump are under-informed or misinformed about the issues at hand,” Dr. Azarian sniffs.
Dunning-Kruger explains why talking to many Trump fans is frustrating. They can’t discuss let along dig into the simplest kitchen-table policy issues that affect them with much knowledge or specificity.
For instance: How to guarantee healthcare coverage for preexisting conditions without either expanding the risk pool — thus the ACA “individual mandate” linchpin, now repealed to take down the whole system — or jacking up the cost. They simply declare Trump is great and trust whatever he says, and/or deflect to how the Democrats are Socialists.
SurveyMonkey once asked Republicans why they support him so much (consistently at 80–90 percent approval, even 94 percent in September, per Gallup). The college-educated cited reducing regulations first and foremost. The non-collegiate mostly recited Trump slogans about “making America great again” and “putting America first.”
My takeaway: Comfortable Republicans who support Trump don’t really care much about traditional American values like honesty, decency and integrity the GOP used to yawp about. They hate government so their politics often are purely transactional.
Bottom line, it’s about the bottom line: Money. As for poor Republicans, bless their hearts, they’re easily manipulated.
A Republican friend in Florida:
Biden is demented. With his weak mind, the progressives will control him. He’ll appoint AOC to a major position. I hate how Trump acts and what he says, but I’ll stick with the devil I know.
College-educated, thoughtful, “progressive” friends:
Trump is racist. His base is racist. And misogynist, xenophobic, homophobic, white nationalist, Fascist, backwards, stupid and hateful like Trump is. It’s as simple as that. I don’t personally know any Trump supporters and really don’t want to.
A veteran Washington GOP political operative, colleague and friend who despises Trump:
It’s not political. It’s cultural. Trump has managed to do what no politician in our lifetime has been able to: He became president by representing people who feel left behind. They support Trump even more when educated people call them stupid.
Thoughtful friend, tennis partner and experienced, informed and sensible Democrat:
Maybe democracy doesn’t work after all.
Yeah but (I wish I’d responded at the time but unfortunately, a la l’esprit de l’escalier, I didn’t think of it until later), didn’t Winston Churchill say that American democracy is the worst system of government except for all the others?
Then it dawned on me: quoting Churchill and using the French term for “staircase wit” makes me what Trump supporters hate — an elitist smarty-pants who disdains the hoi polloi — and why Trump might win reelection. So maybe I’m the one who’s stupid.
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer.