There is something that I have found particularly odd in this election season and there have been many things that have been odd. There have been consistent media reports of interviews with supporters of Republican nominee Donald Trump that indicate that many of them do not take seriously his various pronouncements. Trump supporters have been reported making comments—after being confronted with Trump’s declarations, such as his call to build wall on the border with Mexico and his suggestion to block Muslims from entering the USA — that they do not believe that Trump really means this, nevertheless, they will vote for him.
What does one make of people discounting the assertions of a candidate, particularly provocative assertions I might add, and yet supporting him? Do these supporters think that this is a large-scale reality show?
Here is my theory. Trump supporters are divided into two overlapping—and overwhelmingly White—groups. There are the right-wing irrationalists who are ideologically committed to backing virtually each and every word of their candidate. They see Trump as the champion of their revenge-seeking politics, hoping to “Make America White Again.” The second group is made up of people who are scared to death and want to shake things up, yet shake things up in a particular way. They don’t want a woman to be elected President and they don’t want what they perceive to be ‘more of the same.’ They are scared of the changing demographics of the United States; they’re scared about their economic precariousness; they’re scared about a world that they cannot understand, let alone control. Trump represents the equivalent of rolling the dice and hoping that they don’t come up “snake eyes.”
This second group is living in a world of self-deception. There is no reason for anyone to disbelieve Trump. At a minimum his rhetoric is inflammatory and erratic. If these supporters do not believe that Trump will actually do what he suggests that he will do, what do they think that he will do? It appears that they do not care, as long as it is different from what these supporters are currently experiencing.
Actually, I do not believe that this supposed lack of concern with what Trump will do (if elected) is innocent and frivolous. Trump is asserting a nightmare. There is nothing hopeful, inclusive, democratic or just in what he is arguing. Nothing that he is arguing is neutral, bi-partisan or post-partisan. His arguments all flow from his basic notion that White America is allegedly suffering at the hands of minorities, liberals, the rest of the world, etc.
To put it another way, these supporters don’t just want to shake things up. They want to shake things up in a manner that they believe gives them a leg up on the rest of the world.
It is not just the candidate who is dangerous; the movement backing him is even more frightening.