by Thea Halo
One has to wonder how a well educated, somewhat privileged, employed human being comes to hang on every word of a known serial liar and instigator of public mistrust such as Donald Trump. It is far from true that Trump’s supporters are all a bunch of semi-literate low lives and ‘Deplorables,’ although the storming of the Capital Building seems to prove those are certainly his loudest and most violent supporters. Many of Trump’s supporters are warm, caring individuals, at least to family and friends. Many are also professionals, even educators. So the question is: How did this alliance with Trump come about? And how has it taken such a strong hold on people who should know better and who should be more discerning, such as people who claim to believe in God and family… people, who in other instances, may be ruled by reason?
This question is not for the wealthy who champion Donald Trump. Most believe the stock market is in his hands, and tax breaks for the rich are guaranteed. We know why they believe. And we are not addressing the Republican Congress members who feel they must acquiesce to Trump’s every demand in order to protect their own hides, secure his base for future runs as president, or perhaps secure jobs for their wives.1 And it’s not for those who are more interested in Trump’s policies in other countries, than they are in his policies and failures here in the US. Very little will shake them free. The question is for the general public, including women, who seem to believe in Trump, even when his words and deeds are clearly against their own interests.
The line: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”2 comes to mind. Although that’s certainly a catchy line, it doesn’t really explain the phenomena, except perhaps for the mob who stormed the Capital Building to stop the certification of Joseph Biden as our next president. In the case of that mob, it seems clear that it is both malice and stupidity that drives them. How could they possibly have believed they could win that one?
When Trump shouts “Make America Great Again!” What exactly is he claiming we are lacking now, that we had in the past? Has Trump ever explained that? Has anyone of his supporters asked him to explain what they were lacking, or what they are hoping he’ll accomplish, other than building walls to keep out desperate migrants searching for safety and a decent life, and banning Muslims from entering the US? Has anyone of his supporters asked Trump how our lives are now better than they were four years ago when he first took office?
Rather than simply claiming stupidity on the part of Trump’s supporters, or even ignorance, the phenomenon leaves one feeling rather sad, as it points to such a deep disappointment in our government and/or in our world, that millions of Americans, many of whom have relatively secure lives, throw reason to the wind and simply believe in Trump’s slogans without proof of meaning or a demonstration of delivery. It makes one wonder if personal disappointment in their own lives—without knowing how to remedy that disappointment—allows millions of people to grasp at any straw that this Straw Man throws their way…anything that will make them feel less alone…that someone is on their side… someone who they believe “tells it as it is,” even if what he tells them, and his dereliction of duty, has led to devastation.
For instance, Kayleigh McEnany, President Trump’s White House press secretary addressing the pandemic in September 2020 announced: “President Trump had the facts about the coronavirus as early as February . If he had not taken bold and swift action, those facts could have spread like wildfire.”3
So how does that square with telling it as it is? By September 2020, the death toll had already topped 200,000, and was averaging 700 deaths a day in the US.4 The number of Covid 19 cases in the US is now over 21,865,591 with 370,073 dead as of January 7, 2021, so asking what President Trump did for Americans or how he tells it as it is, are rather tricky questions. His supporters seem unwilling to ask those questions. Those were fathers, mothers, grandparents, husbands, wives, children, brothers, sisters, and grandchildren who died. They are not just numbers.
Keeping the facts from the American people was not just a dereliction of duty, it was criminal negligence on Trump’s part. If a parent had committed a similar act of withholding aid for his or her child, and the child died or became critically ill, the parent would surely be arrested and charged with endangerment at the very least, or negligent homicide and/or manslaughter.
Yet Trump’s fans seem to ignore anything that demonstrates he is not worthy of their support. It’s as if they are under some sort of spell. How do otherwise intelligent people become so hypnotized by a lying misogynist such as Donald Trump? How empty must one’s life be to hitch one’s star to this dying comet?
Trump—a man who is three times married and twice divorced, brags about grabbing women by the p**sy, and is responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans, is their man to represent ‘God and family’. And this is said by his supporters without a wink or any sense of irony.
We now have President Donald Trump on tape trying to pressure “Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a fellow Republican, to recalculate the state’s tally of presidential election votes to overturn President-elect Joe Biden’s win.”5 In fact, Trump was pressuring Raffensperger to rig the election in his favor by pulling more Trump votes out of thin air. Thankfully, Raffensperger demonstrated that he is an honorable man and refused. And yet, some still stand by their kingpin.
To make matters even more dramatic and insane, Donald Trump instigated a run on the Capital Building by his deranged supporters, resulting not only in a panicked Congress, but the death of four of Trump’s supporters and a Capital policeman. Molotov cocktails and pipe bombs were even found. And yet eight Republican senators and 139 Republican Representatives who intended to question the legitimacy of Biden’s win, still challenged the results of the election.6 One has to seriously question whether they are fit for office.
For the general public, perhaps support for Trump is as simple as needing to belong to something greater than oneself, even if that means belonging to one of the most destructive forces in our nation’s history. Considering the fact that the ultra conservative Tea Party within the Republican Party was launched in February 2009—one month after Barack Hussein Obama became president— and officially died on July 22, 2019, three years after President Obama left office, one has to wonder if the cult of Trump is the fear that one day another BLACK MAN might occupy the WHITE HOUSE if they’re not careful.7 Although most will probably swear it is not about race or religion—and perhaps for some it is not—Trump rose to political prominence using Obama’s birth place as a rallying cry claiming: “(Obama) doesn’t have a certificate. He may have one, but there’s something on that, maybe religion, maybe it says he is a Muslim. I don’t know. Maybe he doesn’t want that.”8 Anti Obama incidents after his election usually revolved around his race.9
Obama was not Trump’s opponent in the presidential race at the time. In fact, Obama’s two terms as president were ending, so such speculation about his birth was both unnecessary and gratuitous. It appeared to many as just another dog whistle, which led some to believe that the subtext of Trump’s slogan to Make America Great Again, was Make America White Again.
The Black Lives Matter campaign only seemed to add to the fear. At Trump’s despicable anti election rally, shirts with slogans such “Auschwitz, Work Brings Freedom,” with a skull and bones worn by a Trump supporter, smacks of antisemitism and hate. At a pro-Trump rally earlier in the week, Illinois Rep. Mary Miller made the contentious remark that ‘Hitler was right on one thing.’10
Many claim they are for Trump because he kept his campaign promises. Some promises were kept, while others were left dangling.11 The Tea Partiers had professed to be against higher taxes and Universal Health Care. Apparently to some, Universal Health Care means Socialism or even Communism. Donald Trump “decried socialism as the destroyer of societies,”12 and made it his mission to dismantle Obamacare, and any other initiative President Obama accomplished while in office. The question is, why would citizens want to deprive fellow citizens of health care? The Republican Party professes to be against a high government deficit. Yet the NY Times reported on January 2, 2021:
“Over the past four years, President Trump and his allies in Congress have all but obliterated the Republican Party’s self-professed commitment to less spending and smaller deficits, pushing policies that have bloated the federal budget deficit to record levels. Even before the pandemic ravaged the economy, the deficit — the gap between what the United States spends and what it receives in taxes and other revenue — had ballooned, driven by a $1.5 trillion tax cut and more generous government spending.”13
And although “President Trump pledged to eliminate the national debt within eight years, … it has actually increased” during his four year term. “The U.S. is $3 trillion more in debt than it was when Mr. Trump entered the White House. In nearly three years, it rose 15% — from $19.9 trillion to $22.9 trillion, according to the latest numbers from the Treasury Department.”14
As to the deficit, Forbes reported:
“During Obama’s last three years the total deficits were $1.5 trillion vs. Trump’s $2.4 trillion. These periods were after the Great Recession and before the pandemic impact. In the Federal government’s fiscal 2020 year that is ending in three days, President Trump will have overseen a deficit exceeding $3 trillion. This will be after a year where it almost topped $1 trillion in fiscal 2019 when the economy was at least healthy.”15
The National Review’s, Brian Riedl writes of Monday’s deal: “The decade-long shredding of these hard-fought budget constraints mirrors the shredding of Republican credibility on fiscal responsibility.”16 That article was written in July 2019, before the Covid pandemic.
In fact, if we look at the deficit history of the last 40 years, it appears that the Democrats, not the Republicans are more fiscally responsible, even with their more liberal policies.
“Reagan took the deficit from $70 billion to $175 billion. Bush 41 took it to $300 billion. Clinton got it to zero. Bush 43 took it from zero to $1.2 trillion. Obama halved it to $600 billion. Trump got it back to a trillion.”17
The blind support Donald Trump enjoys, seems to have little to do with facts and reason. Yes, he did appoint super conservative judges to the Supreme Court who may reverse abortion laws. However, perhaps a profound loneliness or fear, and a search for meaning in a world that has left many feeling disconnected, or threatened by a changing country that demands more diversity and inclusion, is at least part of the key to Trump’s popularity for some. Even while connecting us remotely by technology in ways never before dreamed of, it seems clear that many feel unheard or left out in a country that elected a Black man as president and now demands citizens and police acknowledge that Black Lives Matter, which, for some, may appear to jeopardize the notion of White privilege to run the show.
Perhaps the real key to Trump’s support is knowing that someone as powerful as the president expresses the same anger and discontent that they feel, making it unnecessary to be precise about how Trump has or will change their lives, or the truth of his claims. It also seems beside the point that his own niece and other psychologists and psychiatrists suggested Donald Trump is mentally Ill. It is the loud and emphatic slogans of discontent, and perhaps, the catch phrases like ‘Shithole countries,’ ‘murderers and rapists,’ ‘socialists,’ that need no further explanation to make at least some of those who feel unheard, feel heard. Trump even “told China’s president that building concentration camps for millions of Uighur Muslims was ‘exactly the right thing to do’”18
Apparently, Trump need not demonstrate how he will improve the lives of his supporters, or explain why he has already massively failed them. It’s the pure emotion of the cry that seems to count. It’s “the triumph of hope over experience.”19 It’s the triumph of fear over reason. Like a cry from the wilderness. A howling. The roar of the crowd tells them others hear it too. That roar tells them they are not alone.
Thankfully, we will soon start a new chapter in our democracy with a new president and a new agenda, and perhaps this time we’ll get it right.
- Elaine Chao, Mitch McConnell’s wife, appointed Transportation Secretary by Donald Trump and assumed office on January 31, 2017. The New York Times and Politico ― said of Chao: “Several reports indicate that you have used your official position to benefit Foremost Group, a shipping company owned by your father and sisters that is headquartered in New York and operates a fleet that transports materials to and from China.” Dominique Mosbergen, Democrats Investigate Transportation Chief Elaine Chao Over ‘Troubling’ Ethics Questions, Huffpost, September 17, 2019.
- Robert J. Hanlon. Similar statements have been made by Goethe, and indeed, Robert Heinlein: In The Sorrows of Young Werther Goethe declared, “Misunderstandings and neglect occasion more mischief in the world than even malice and wickedness. At all events, the two latter are of less frequent occurrence.” In his story Logic of Empire (1941) Heinlein declares: “You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity”. He calls this the “devil theory” of sociology. His character Lazarus Long also voices a variation on the theme in the novel Time Enough for Love: “Never underestimate the power of human stupidity.”
- Andy Borowitz, Kayleigh McEnany claims no one has worked harder than Trump to Protect Americans From The Facts. The New Yorker. September 10, 2020.
- Associated Press, ‘Unfathomable’: US death toll from coronavirus hits 200,000, NewsMax. Sept. 22, 2020.
- Hayley Miller, Trump Urges Georgia Secretary Of State To ‘Find’ Votes In Recorded Phone Call, Huffpost, January 1, 2021.
- Karen Yourish, Larry Buchanan, Denise Lu, The 147 Republicans Who Voted to Overturn Election Results, The New York Times. January 7, 2021.
- Andrew Kirell, When CNBC Created the Tea Party, Daily Beast, Oct. 30, 2015, Updated Apr. 13, 2017. Rick Santelli, a Business News on-air editor of CNBC, is allegedly responsible for launching the Tea Party when he “went on a dramatic rant against President Obama’s Homeowners Affordability and Stability Plan, a stimulus package aimed at helping homeowners in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure.”
- John Hawkins, The 25 Worst Quotes from Donald Trump, Town Hall, Jan 19, 2016.
- Kimberly Mehlman-Orozco, Conservatives forget history in discrediting Trump protesters, The Hill, November 12, 2016.
- Jenna Amatulli, GOP Congresswoman Doubles Down On ‘Hitler Was Right On One Thing’ Remarks, Huffpost, January 7, 2021.
- US election 2020: Has Trump delivered on his promises? BBC News, October 15, 2020.
- Bret Samuels, Trump blasts socialism as ‘destroyer of societies’ in UN address, The Hill, September 24, 2019.
- Jeanna Smialek and Catie Edmondson, As Some Deficit Hawks Turn Dove, the New Politics of Debt Are on Display, The New York Times, January 2, 2021.
- Caroline Cournoyer, Trump promised to eliminate the national debt. It has risen by $3 trillion, CBS. October 29, 2019.
- Chuck Jones, Trump Will Create More Debt Than Obama, Forbes, September 27, 2020.
- Chris Cillizza, The day the tea party died, CNN. July 23, 2019.
- Daniel Funke The Poynter Institute’s PolitiFact, July 29, 2019. According to The Poynter Institute’s PolitiFact, these figures are only slightly off. https://www.politifact.com/factchecks/2019/jul/29/tweets/republican-presidents-democrats-contribute-deficit/
- David Choi, Sonam Sheth Trump told China’s president that building concentration camps for millions of Uighur Muslims was ‘exactly the right thing to do,’ former adviser says, MSN, Business Insider. June 17, 2020.
- Samuel Johnson in James Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson, 1791.
Thea Halo is the author of Not Even My Name; a former news correspondent for WBAI in NYC; and a former member of both the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) and the International Network of Genocide Scholars (INOGS). Ms Halo’s historical papers are published in a number of Academic books: Genocide in the Ottoman Empire; Sayfo 1915: An Anthology of Essays on the Genocide of Assyrians/Arameans during the first World War; and an upcoming anthology on the Genocide of the Pontic Greeks (during the first World War in Ottoman Turkey). You can view one of her presentations at the Boston State House @ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nzBfcE4PjTM