Saturday, July 17, 2021

The Mystery Explained

From the beginning of Donald Trump's rise, I have been mystified by his supporters. They struck me as rubes, easy marks for a con man. In an excerpt from his new book -- published by The Washington Post -- Michael Bender offers some insight into Trumpers:

The deafening roars and vigorous choruses from the capacity crowd at the 20,000-seat Amway Arena showed that Trump’s supporters were excited to watch a rerun. They’d stood in line for hours or camped overnight — enduring stifling humidity interrupted only by brief bursts of hard, heavy rain — to ensure a spot inside. Now I was rattled. I had let the rallies, which formed the core of one of the most steadfast political movements in modern American history and reordered the Republican Party, turn stale and rote. Why was Trump’s performance still so fresh and resonant for an entire arena of fellow Americans? I spent the next year and a half embedded with a group of Trump’s most hardcore rallygoers — known as the “Front Row Joes” — to try to understand what I’d overlooked.

Hillary Clinton called the Front Row Joes "the deplorables." It was an unfortunate term. But it was also accurate:

They were mostly older White men and women who lived paycheck to paycheck with plenty of time on their hands — retired or close to it, estranged from their families or otherwise without children — and Trump had, in a surprising way, made their lives richer. The president himself almost always spent the night in his own bed and kept few close friends. But his rallies gave the Joes a reason to travel the country, staying at one another’s homes, sharing hotel rooms and carpooling. Two had married — and later divorced — by Trump’s second year in office.

In Trump, they’d found someone whose endless thirst for a fight encouraged them to speak up for themselves, not just in politics but also in relationships and at work. His rallies turned arenas into modern-day tent revivals, where the preacher and the parishioners engaged in an adrenaline-fueled psychic cleansing brought on by chanting and cheering with 15,000 other like-minded loyalists. Saundra Kiczenski, a 56-year-old from Michigan, compared the energy at a Trump rally to the feelings she had as a teenager in 1980 watching the “Miracle on Ice” — when the U.S. Olympic hockey team unexpectedly beat the Soviet Union.

“The whole place is erupting, everyone is screaming, and your heart is beating like, just, oh my God,” Kiczenski told me. “It’s like nothing I’ve experienced in my lifetime.”

Like aging groupies at a rock concert, they were there for the performance. And that's what Trump gave them -- even as he despised them:

Their devotion wasn’t reciprocated. Trump was careless with his supporters’ innocence, as he turned coronavirus tests into political scorecards and painted civil rights protests as a breeding ground for antifa. His last campaign-style event as president, the “Save America” rally on Jan. 6 in Washington, helped fuel a deadly riot at the Capitol that has resulted in the arrests of more than 500 Americans. But the former president still drew thousands to a rural fairground about an hour outside Cleveland last month and to another in central Florida. And the question from June 2019 about what keeps bringing his fans back remains a pressing one for the country — and an urgent one for the Republican Party.

Like Lonesome Rhodes in the film, "A Face in the Crowd," Trump hates his supporters. Unfortunately, unlike the rubes in the film, they refuse to see who he is.



Lorne said...

At the film's end, the true face of Lonesome Rhodes is revealed to the public, and that face destroys his career. I'm not so sure that would happen were Trump caught in such a revealing moment, Owen. He would simply dismiss it as 'fake news,' and his followers would lap the lie up.

Owen Gray said...

I perhaps misrepresented the situation with Trump, Lorne. Perhaps it's not a case of not being able to see who he is as simply refusing to see who he is.

Anonymous said...

Putting a fascist into the Oval Office has been a long-term project of the Republican party and their billionaire backers. So many of their tactics, including the use of rallies, propaganda and demonization of the press, minorities and science, harken back to an earlier time when industrialists installed a fascist as Germany's leader. These manipulative tactics worked then on one of the best-educated societies, and they work now on a society that's been heavily conditioned by advertising and religion to shun critical thinking.

The GOP has tasted success and is laying the groundwork at the state level to install a fascist trifecta in the Oval Office, the House and the Senate. The Front Row Joes won't be following Trump next time - he's too old and in obvious decline. But he's a useful placeholder until the party unveils the next guy, maybe another TV celebrity like Sean Hannity or Tucker Carlson. Given the unwillingness of the Dems to counter this threat, our best hope is that Covid kills off enough Trumpers to overcome Republican gerrymandering and voter suppression.


Northern PoV said...

Imo, trying to 'understand' the tRump phenomenon is a diversion. We all watched the Rethuglicans (for ex. Ted Cruz) asserting non-existent 'principles' in the 2016 primary while trying to stop tRump.

After that failed, nothing has really surprised me. (Except that the North Korean situation was stabilized via mutual-ego-manipulation!)

Milquetoast Dems don't fight. They are too busy trying to understand the tRump phenomenon to realize that it is the inevitable outcome of a process that Reagan/Thatcher birthed and they enabled. Empiricism in America and many other realms is effectively dead.

What if the 'civil war' (see Mound's post) was not pending but already happening? It is not so much territorial by state, but rather territorial by neighborhood. Already the rich have gated communities.

Owen Gray said...

There would be a Greek sense of justice if the Trumpers managed their extinction through COVID, Cap. It's not likely to happen. But contemplating it is at least entertaining.

Owen Gray said...

The wealthy know that big money buys self-defense, PoV.

John B. said...

Trump offered them a community and Hillary provided the ties that bound its members in fraternity by giving it a name.


Chomsky described the diversionary nature of the Trumpism Project in 2018:

"Trump's role is to ensure that the media and the public attention are always concentrated on him. … And while this show is going on in public, in the background the wrecking crew is working."

Owen Gray said...

Chomsky -- as always -- understands what the show is all about, John.

The Disaffected Lib said...

The GOP and its rank and file have changed markedly over the past 40 years. This may have begun with the rise of the neo-conservatives, the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) during the Clinton years. PNAC got its nose under the tent when George w. Bush chose Dick Cheney as his running mate. When they won the White House, Cheney imported the PNAC establishment into the Bush administration. Wolfowitz, Perle, Rumsfeld, Woolsey, Abrams, Bolton, Feith and Libby. They were serious and aggressive, determined to cement American hegemony for another century.

The neocons may have opened the door to the Tea Party around 2009. The GOP was out to scrounge votes and not too fussy about the hand that held the ballot. The Tea Party grew and began electing a few of its own candidates, the origins of the Freedom Caucus, a.k.a. the Treason Caucus.

They were an audience perfectly suited to become Trump's base. It was easy for the Grifter in Chief to stoke their fears and pander to their racial, social and economic sense of grievance. Trump didn't create the Gullibillies. They had been groomed for decades, arguably tracing back to Nixon and Lee Atwater.

Under Trump, however, the tail wagged the dog. Grievance voters were able to defeat moderates in the primaries and the party establishment capitulated. McConnell, Cruz, Graham and the rest got the message. Either cater to the Gullibillies or be driven out of office.

Any doubt about this is dispelled by how many congressional republicans perpetuate the Big Lie about Trump's election victory having been stolen. After the sacking of the Capitol on January 6, their condemnation of the mob lasted about one news cycle, 24 hours, before many of them turned to defend the mob.

The lasting influence of Trump on the GOP shows how tightly the Republican Party has been captured. The fable of the Emperor's Clothes is garishly made real at CPAC, Trump's latest rallies, etc.

The Russian documents recently discussed in The Guardian indicate Putin went to great lengths to throw the election to Trump not because he despised Hillary so much as the opportunity to undermine social cohesion in America by getting a lunatic in the White House.

Owen Gray said...

That old KGB agent Putin knows a useful idiot when he sees one, Mound.

Northern PoV said...

"The Russian documents recently discussed in The Guardian"

Seriously? Why blame Americans when we have those convenient Ruskies?

"𝑱𝒐𝒖𝒓𝒏𝒂𝒍𝒊𝒔𝒕𝒔 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒂𝒏𝒂𝒍𝒚𝒔𝒕𝒔 𝒂𝒓𝒆 𝒒𝒖𝒊𝒆𝒕𝒍𝒚 𝒒𝒖𝒆𝒔𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝒂𝒖𝒕𝒉𝒆𝒏𝒕𝒊𝒄𝒊𝒕𝒚 𝒐𝒇 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒅𝒐𝒄𝒖𝒎𝒆𝒏𝒕"

"In one of the few US articles addressing the Guardian's claims, Washington Post commentator Philip Blum wrote that 'it's hard not to be skeptical of the document, for a number of reasons.'

'First and foremost, it's very neat. As described by the Guardian, it reads like one of those viral Twitter threads from a guy with 4.4 million followers whose bio describes him as “resister-in-chief,"' wrote Blum.
'There's no telling why a secret government document might emerge at any particular time, but it is odd that this document, so closely related to the national discourse over the past five years, only emerged now,' Blum wrote.

'It was purportedly leaked from within the Kremlin, but that happened only now? Or it only trickled down to the media now, when so many other things emerged more quickly? It's curious,' he added."
WaPo published an analysis saying 'it's hard not to be skeptical of the document'
Esquire commentary also urged caution until more can be learned
So far no outside reporting has either verified or shot down the claims, though"

Owen Gray said...

We live in an age of misinformation, PoV. It's critical that we get our information from reliable sources.

jrkrideau said...

@ Northern PoV
"The Russian documents recently discussed in The Guardian"

Yes, there are enough holes in that story & the purported documents that it reminds me of Swiss cheese. It's credibility is not improved by the fact that Luke Harding has been known to write lies before about aspects of the Russiagate farago.

I'd rate it as about as believable as "The Steele Dossier" or "The DaVinci Code". I did see one interesting suggestion though. It might be an updated version of Graham Greene's "Our Man in Havana" in real life and has finally surfaced.

Owen Gray said...

Intrigue never dies, jrk.

Northern PoV said...

Thanks jrkrideau

The persecution of Assange relies on honey-pots and pedophiles ...

Owen Gray said...

Another example of an empty barrel making a lot of noise, PoV.