That’s My View

Peter Blaikie

Peter Blaikie

From the moment he walked down the escalator in Trump Tower, with Melania by his side, it seemed inconceivable to me that the Americans would be so self-destructive as to elect Donald J. Trump as their president. That sense of disbelief has only grown exponentially over time, perhaps reaching its peak at the Presidential Debate on September 29, 2020, when Trump’s performance was cosmically awful. He is a man without a single redeeming quality. He is a proud philanderer. He is a pathological liar. He is a remarkably ignorant and rancorous bully. In the words of the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, “Rancour is an outpouring of a feeling of insecurity”. Even many of his strongest supporters will acknowledge these defects.

In 2016, enough American voters disagreed with my sense of Trump’s failings to permit him to reach the Oval Office, notwithstanding his loss of the popular vote. These voters think my view, which is that of a majority of Americans, is profoundly incorrect; thus, they have maintained his level of approval in the range of 40 to 42% during his presidency.

Who are these Trump voters? I have attempted, principally to satisfy my own curiosity, to identify them and explain to myself their reasons for supporting Trump. A number of things seem fairly obvious. Trump voters are not a homogeneous group; far from it. Trump voters do not support him, in each case, for a single reason. As a result, many Trump voters will fall into more than one of the following categories. However, it is my view that these groupings identify the principal explanations for the support of different groups.

“Trump’s claim that he has the endorsement of all the major

organizations representing law enforcement bodies

is a very rare occasion of his stumbling on the truth.”

The Uber-Rich
It is clear why the overwhelming majority of America’s billionaires and other uber-rich support Trump. They have been the principal (some would say the only) beneficiaries of his presidency. Using perhaps the only remaining arrow in the traditional Republican quiver, Trump’s trillion dollar tax cuts were directed almost exclusively at this group. Since, in many cases, their greed seems unlimited, and the Trump “gift” not merited by effort or enterprise, it is not surprising that he has earned most of this group’s support. The theory behind such enormous and directed tax cuts, based on a generally debunked economic model developed by Arthur Laffer, is that they would spur significant economic growth. In fact, and notwithstanding Trump’s promises of super growth during the 2016 campaign, the performance of the American economy during the pre-Covid-19 era of Trump’s presidency, regardless of which economic indicators are used, was almost identical to that during Barack Obama’s second term.

Corporate Executives
Not only are most executives of major American corporations among the uber-rich, but they also benefited indirectly from the fact that the Trump tax cuts dramatically lowered corporate tax rates and, at the same time, left the vast majority of the available tax expenditures (“loopholes and boondoggles” in the minds of many) intact. The result, notwithstanding the effects of the pandemic, has been to leave major corporations swimming in cash and able to buy back their shares, frequently to the benefit of their executives.

Alligators in the Swamp
In 2016, Trump promised to drain the Washington Swamp. In fact, as almost every political commentator has demonstrated since the last election, there are more alligators than ever lurking in the swamp. Among the alligators, the members of the Trump family may well occupy a privileged place. In the next of concentric rings, one might find Trump’s long-time cronies and munificent donors, whose rewards include senior government positions. In yet another ring, one finds the corporate lobbyists who, to all appearances, are more active than ever before. It is difficult to imagine any of these groups actually voting against the current president.

Christian Evangelicals

Trump Voters

In a strange twist, many Evangelical Christians support Trump, despite his personal foibles
Photo: YES Market Media, Shutterstock

Many people, and I include myself, despair of the support Trump receives from those who are described as Christian Evangelicals. Given Trump’s personal history and current behaviour, it would seem the most blatant hypocrisy for any devout Christian to be a supporter. The explanation appears to be that this group of Americans tends to be strongly pro-life and, as a direct consequence, is deeply interested in who sits on the nation’s courts, most especially the Supreme Court. They have cheered the two Trump appointments to the Supreme Court, namely Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. They have also applauded Trump’s appointment of some 250 conservative judges to the various levels within the federal judicial system. Most recently, they have hailed the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett, an exceedingly conservative jurist in the mould of Antonin Scalia, to be the ninth member of the Court. Since the Republicans control the Senate, which must “advise and consent” to these nominations, Judge Barrett will soon sit on the Supreme Court, putting at least the Affordable Care Act and Roe v. Wade, at risk.

There is a certain irony in the notion that judicial appointments constitute a major achievement of the Trump presidency. In fact, the results have occurred almost without his participation. The vast majority of the appointments have come from lists prepared by the conservative Federalist Society, and the process before the Senate has been guided exclusively by its Svengali, Senator Mitch McConnell.

While the foregoing may appear to be a digression, it is not. The link is that, for these Americans, their votes are determined exclusively by candidates’ positions on the pro-life/pro-choice issue. Nothing else matters to them and, as a result, they delight in the appointment of right-wing judges.

The Question of Israel
Although a large majority of American Jews tend to be Democrats, there is a significant constituency for whom the views and actions of the president relating to the State of Israel are of great importance. While it would no doubt be incorrect to suggest that, for these voters, this is a single issue litmus test, President Trump’s actions as regards Israel have had a powerful impact.

Second Amendment Wingnuts
It is almost political suicide to argue against the scope of the Second Amendment, although, in a nervous and gentle way, some Democrats will suggest limitations. There is a substantial group of voters who will never abandon Trump because of his inflexibility on the question of guns. However, I would be prepared to wager that a large majority of Second Amendment cultists could not quote the provision, with the exception of the final words, namely, “the right to bear arms shall not be infringed”.

Trump Voters

Many Second Amendment supporters don’t know the
amendment’s full text – as it relates being part of
“a well-regulated militia”.
Photo: Jeffery Edwards, Shutterstock

These voters demand, in the most absolute way, the right to carry their AK-47s, AR-15s and other wartime battlefield weapons. They ignore the fact that the Second Amendment was based on the idea of a “well-regulated Militia”, which no longer exists. They ignore the fact that in the 1700s America was primarily an agricultural society, in which weapons were simply part of the daily struggle for survival. They ignore the fact that the Second Amendment was based on two principal ideas, namely, that political leaders stood opposed to the idea of a standing, professional army and that they also feared (rightly, as it turned out) a British invasion.

While not rising to the level of the pro-life litmus test, there are certainly many Republican voters for whom unlimited Second Amendment rights are sacrosanct.

White Supremacists, Racists and Bigots
The thugs who marched through Charlottesville, North Carolina, some months ago screaming “The Jews will not replace us”, and who presumably were part of Trump’s “good people on both sides”, will be loyal to him forever. So will the Proud Boys, very recently told by the President to “Stand back and stand by”, a not very subtle hint that he approves their activities. The armed, weapons-carrying men who drove through Portland, Oregon in their massive pick-up trucks are almost certainly Trump supporters.

No white supremacist, racist or bigot will ever admit to being one. However many or few they may be, they will be overwhelmingly for Trump on November 3. It is impossible to imagine any of these Americans voting for the Joe Biden/Kamala Harris ticket.

American Firsters
The notion of America First is not new to the country’s politics. In some respects, its wave-like history will be familiar to Quebecers as similar to the ebbs and flows of the independence movement.

Although there are certainly America Firsters among the Democrats running for office, there are major differences in degree, if not in kind, between the thinking of those supporting the Republicans and their opponents. Democrats do not believe in making statements or taking actions which will alienate America’s allies. Democrats are generally more supportive of international institutions, treaties and agreements. They appear to be far less willing to bow and scrape before foreign dictators and autocrats, for example, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Kim Jong Un, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Jair Bolsonaro and others.

The Biden/Harris ticket has made it clear that, in power, the Democrats would return the United States to the Paris Climate Accord, would seek to restore, but renegotiate the Iran Deal, imperfect as many believe it to be, and would join the Trans-Pacific Partnership, thereby counter-balancing China’s influence in the Far East.

In principle, the Democrats supported the renegotiation of NAFTA. At least since 2016, they have agreed that the United States must adopt a more aggressive posture towards China.

Although this is speculation on my part, I rather suspect that the strongest America Firsters are descendants of the isolationists of the 1930s. However, when the United States entered the Second World War following the attack on Pearl Harbour, this same group bore arms and became Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation. I have little doubt that today’s America Firsters would do the same in a crisis. For the moment, they will vote for Trump; they proudly fly the American flag and, whenever possible, the flag of the Confederacy. They watch NASCAR races and not Formula 1.

Law and Order Enthusiasts
It is distressing that, over the past quarter-century, Americans have been losing faith in their governmental and other institutions. Support for democracy, increasingly amongst the young, has fallen significantly. In clashes between protesters using their First Amendment rights and various groups of law enforcement, the sympathies of Trump voters demonstrably lie with the officers of the law.

Not surprisingly, Trump’s claim that he has the endorsement of all the major organizations representing law enforcement bodies is a very rare occasion of his stumbling on the truth. Furthermore, Trump supporters are those who continue to shout “lock her up”, applaud his “facetious” claim to be “chosen of God”, and cheer when he bellows not just “four more years”, but a third and fourth term.

The Anti-Socialists
There is a beautiful irony in the fact that many Republicans who delight in accusing Democrats of wanting socialism in America are precisely those who benefit most from big government. While the technical definition of “socialism” usually refers to public ownership of the means of production, more generally it is understood to refer to major government activity in various spheres of life. Thus, the Scandinavian countries, to say nothing of Senator Bernie Sanders, refer to themselves as Democratic Socialists.

Under the broader concept of benefiting from the intervention of government, the most powerful socialists in the United States are the uber-rich, the hedge fund managers, the private equity capitalists and the corporate executives who benefit from every conceivable form of tax loophole and government subsidy.

To these groups must be added those who benefit from Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and various other government programs. Of course, it is not merely Trump voters who receive these forms of government assistance. However, Democrats do not attack “the hand that feeds them” at every opportunity.

The Gullible
These form the overwhelming majority of Trump voters and, in many cases, would fit into other categories as well. They are not, as Hillary Clinton foolishly called them, “deplorables”. Like the felons in Gilbert & Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance, when they are not shouting “lock her up” or “fake news”, they are as patriotic as any Democrat, work as hard or harder, beat their wives no more frequently, love their children just as much, help their neighbours whenever tragedy strikes and are, generally, good citizens.

So who are they? Frequently they are white, blue collar workers with relatively low levels of formal education. Often, they live in rural areas or smaller towns in the centre of the United States. They are inclined to fear the “other”, particularly Muslims, and also believe that their job security is threatened by immigration. Many in this group feel powerless in the face of disruptive new technologies, which they find difficult to master. A great many get almost all their “news” from Fox, and not merely from Fox, but from the fake journalists such as Sean Hannity, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, Jeanine Pirro and others of the ilk, who are nothing more than Trump propagandists. Finally, members of this group frequently feel treated with contempt by America’s establishment; in this respect, they are similar to Richard Nixon’s “silent majority”.

The psychology of members of this group of Trump voters has been brilliantly explored by J. D. Vance in Hillbilly Elegy.

In my view, the tragedy of this group of Trump voters is that they have been almost entirely exploited by the era’s greatest con man. As regards these Americans, they have been betrayed by Trump in almost every respect. The wall has not been built. The coal mines are not flourishing. Even pre-Covid, there had not been millions of new manufacturing jobs created. The Swamp has been filled by grifters.

I describe these supporters as the “gullibles” in the context of the cliché, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” Trump does not, as he pretends, care about these tens of millions of Americans. His view of them, as in the declaration of Rhett Butler to Scarlett at the end of Gone with the Wind, is “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn”.

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