The Trump Phenomenon

Alan Zendell, June 22, 2017

There’s been a lot written about the Trump phenomenon, but it still boggles the imagination in many ways. Look at the various subgroups that make up his base of support, and you’ll invariably come away scratching your head. No single piece of it makes sense; as a whole, it defies logic.

Take the group typically described as white, non-college-educated working class men. Trump claims to be their white knight riding in on a stallion handing out jobs, jobs, jobs. Really? If you grew up in New York as a Trump contemporary, as I did, you’ve known for decades that that is the worst possible description of him. His only pre-occupation has been making money, and his record with respect to working people, including his own employees, has always been abysmal. Did he suddenly wake up one morning and decide to be a better person?

I understand why unemployed coal miners and rust belt factory workers initially found his bombast attractive. It didn’t matter that it made no sense – that’s never been a prerequisite for populist movements. Trump could erase every environmental protection regulation ever written, and there still would be only a handful of new coal mining jobs. Coal is the past, an inefficient fuel source that will never compete with natural gas, wind, and solar in future economies. Yet, even now, coal country is behind him as strongly as ever.

And all those factory jobs? Withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership threw a wrench into decades of progress in free trade, but has it resulted in new factories or thousands of laid-off workers being recalled? If it had, you’d see Trump tweeting about them daily.

We could ask the same questions about women. In his own words and highly visible actions, Trump’s treatment of women is and always has been disrespectful and repugnant. His failed marriages, his attitude toward women as playthings to be bought or rented for a night, were clearly on display all through his campaign. I kept asking myself why any self-respecting woman would ever vote for him. I still don’t know.

It’s been clear from the start that Trump’s greatest talent is his gut feel for human nature. He understands its darkest aspects, and he has throughout his life. He used it from the first day of his campaign and continues to use it today. He knows that angry, frustrated people are susceptible to scapegoating. He understands that blaming someone else for our problems has always been a salve for failure and envy. He also understands tribalism. When things are tough people tend to band together with others like them. It’s ugly, but it’s a part of what makes us human.

Thus, resentment of those more successful than we are, latent bigotries that we may not even know we possess, xenophobia, the wrath of an angry preacher – all these things create a witches’ brew in which all the failed hopes of millions of people come together. That’s how revolutions have always started. It’s why Nikolai Lenin and Fidel Castro and Adolf Hitler were able to overthrow the established order. And it’s why fictional heroes like Robin Hood and Zorro have captured our imaginations for centuries. They represent hope for the downtrodden.

But wait. Donald Trump is no Robin Hood. He doesn’t take from the rich and give to the poor. He doesn’t duel with the cruel land barons so average people can live better. He never has and he never will. His proposed budget does exactly the opposite, and the health care plan he supports will make life for the poorest quartile of Americans worse than ever. Women’s health options will be trashed, and the prospects for the unemployed won’t get any brighter.

So why does his base still blindly support him? He doesn’t build resorts and hotels for the working class and they don’t play on his golf courses. Yet, his childish trantrums still ignite cheering crowds. Why, when this spoiled rich boy screams, “Everyone’s out to get me,” does his base continue to rally to his cause? He’s not like them, and he doesn’t care about them. It’s all about narcissism and his lust for greater wealth and power.

Other world leaders see him as a dangerous, inexperienced novice. He’s a little boy playing with loaded guns, a reckless child kicking down other kids’ sand castles. And our adversaries lick their chops, like professional poker players welcoming a new rube with pockets full of money into their game.

When Richard Nixon surrounded himself with sycophants and yes men (there were no women of significance in his inner circle) what began as a scandal evolved into a crisis that threatened our survival as a nation. Back then I thought we were living through the most dangerous period since the Civil War, but this is worse. Trump confuses dissent with disloyalty, and loyalty is the only currency that matters to him except dollars. People have to wake up and see where our country is headed.

From where I sit the view isn’t pretty.

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