What does Middle America see in Donald Trump

Maybe I’ve been living in a “NYC bubble” too long, but I still can’t figure out what Middle America sees in Donald Trump. It’s been explained to me by conservative and Republican friends, but their explanations don’t really lend any insight.

What I mean is this. I think the one thing that we can all agree on is that Trump is the personification of “big business” and overt displays of wealth. But these don’t seem to be values that Middle Americans seem to share. I would think they would be turned off by someone like Trump, as they would those “fat cats on Wall Street”.

John McCain or any of the George Bushes I understand. But the appeal of Trump to anyone outside of people who follow hedge funds and real estate development still continues to elude me.

Racism and xenophobia.

Owning the libs and punishing lesser humans.

He hates the people they hate.

That sounds glib and snarky, but it’s been the answer for every political personality cult around the world for the last century.

He’s a tough guy who won’t put up with America being pushed around by foreign countries, illegal immigrants, socialists, social justice warriors, and anti-Christians, to name a few. And all those ostentatious displays of wealth are just signs that American capitalism works.

He exploits their fear and prejudice, using overly simplistic terms that resonate, offering easy solutions to complex problems, making them feel like their lives will finally improve while their enemies are punished.

Like hell he is. Haven’t you noticed how much he whines and whimpers about how he’s “treated” when he treats others far, far, far worse?
He’s a bully with money. Without the money, he’s a frightened little boy.

I think you’ll all wrong. Sure, some of that is on target but racists have run before as outsiders - Pat Buchanan, Ross Perot and such - and not even gotten close.

The simple fact is that government has only paid lip service to fixing people’s economic and financial fears for many, many years.

It’s a fact that real-dollar wages haven’t gone up since what, the 1970s? 80s? Something like that. Inflation has, sure, but not real wages. And even if a person can’t articulate it, they can sure feel it. But despite promises from both democratic and republican congresses and presidential candidates their fears have not be solved.

So, given that, is it any wonder they’ll come out for someone who DOES say he understands it? Someone who’s not part of the system of political parties and talking heads? Someone who actively runs against them and appears to mean it? Trump through verbal lifelines to people who begin to feel desperate. Is it any wonder they responded - both in the primaries and the general - when what they heard from Clinton and the cavalcade of Republican candidates was the same old thing? They’ve lost faith - not in D or R politicians but in the entire electoral system.

Now, find yourself a candidate who can make the same sorts of arguments without being one more DC asshole AND doesn’t happen to be a general asshole and maybe you could find your ‘White Man who can sign black’ Elvis candidate. But neither party has any incentive to find that candidate because it would undercut the party’s power and constituency.

You’ll never get a straight answer from his base because they’re afraid to tell you the truth.

I kind of understand it having grown up in a rural red area. But it mostly comes down to ego and bigotry.

They think they are the most authentic, superior, hardest working segment of the country and everyone else is inferior. And they feel ‘their’ America is being invaded and taken over by people they consider their inferiors. Non-whites, immigrants, gays, non-christians, etc. all of whom are being empowered and organized by liberals and democrats. They feel they will lose status and power in an America that doesn’t put them at the top, and they fear society will become soft and vulnerable to domestic and foreign attacks. They are in survival mode in a lot of ways.

Trump is their great white hope to push back against a multi racial, multi cultural society and who will defend his bases position as the social and political elite.

One thing I can’t figure out is why he has such loyalty. Its obvious Trump will throw everyone under the bus to save himself. And he lies thousands of times a year. But his base thinks he is the most honest person who would never throw them under the bus. That part I can’t figure out.

But as other people say, it pretty much all comes down to racism and ego.

Trump offers simple solutions to the chronic problems facing the post-industrial and agriculture center. That these solutions are unworkable, idiotic, and often counterproductive doesn’t matter any more than that the Laffer Curve didn’t prove anything about the validity of supply-side economics; it’s simple enough you can put it on a bumper sticker or postcard, and therefore is a marketable slogan. And not to be partisan about it because this is exactly the same strategy that Bernie Sanders runs on, too.

What “Middle America” apparently doesn’t like is some uppity East Coast-educated Harvard Law professor bitch with some blah blah experience in bankruptcy law giving them a bunch of detailed plans and policy statements about how to implement effective solutions. Ain’t nobody got time to read all that!


I think thats part of it, but studies have found that white anxiety is a better predictor of Trump support than economic anxiety.

You also have to take into account that Trump did amazingly well with high school educated whites, but not really with anyone else. Minorities want nothing to do with him (they don’t like the GOP in general since the GOP is a racist party). College educated whites like Trump less than they liked Romney or McCain, and they’re moving even further to the left. In 2020, some polls show college educated white women may vote democratic 2-1, they used to be pretty evenly split before Trump.

There are lots of non-whites who struggle economically as well as lots of college educated whites who struggle with economics. The real appeal of Trump is his racism and his authoritarianism. One study I read said that if you control for various forms of racism and authoritarianism, the education gap among whites disappears. High school educated whites are on average more prone to bigotry and authoritarianism than the college educated ones (the reasons for that, I don’t know but I can speculate).

But both Trump and Sanders have emerged as very powerful figures in their respective parties since both speak about how the political system is rigged and broken, and works to protect the wealthy and well connected at the expense of everyone else.

And I don’t have it offhand, but I remember listening to NPR where they discussed various ways to reduce Trump support among his followers. The best message to use was to discuss how Trump ran as an outsider in favor of the working class, but has governed as a typical republican plutocrat. Cutting taxes for the rich and well connected while wanting to cut medicare, medicaid and social security. That message resonates with his base more strongly than talking about his treason or incompetence.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen blind loyalty like Trump has. The GOP base was loyal to Bush, Romney, McCain, etc but they didn’t worship them like they do Trump. Trumps base is orwellian in their beliefs and I wonder how it got to that point. How did a sociopathic NYC con artist with a history of scamming anyone who trusted him become the messiah for angry white people in rural america? I don’t know. Almost everyone can spot Trump for what he is except his base.

This jives with my personal experience living in suburban Ohio. Among people I know that view Trump favorably, he embodies the qualities of what they think a “strong leader” is supposed to be: loud, brash, firm in his opinions and unwilling to consider alternatives or take crap from anyone, etc… He is what many of them think “tough” is supposed to look like in a leader. Being tough enough to grind day after day, week after week, to navigate complex group dynamics and forge a coalition or achieve some kind of consensus? To painstakingly sift through analysis to develop basic understanding of the complexities of the issue at hand? Screw all that. Punch them in the face and run roughshod over everyone; that’s the best way to quickly get stuff done. The fact that the stuff he tries to gets done is often fairly simplistic and easy-to-understand further adds to the “tough leader getting stuff done” image, regardless of actual effectiveness of those actions. It’s mistaking activity for achievement.

Pretty much this. Of course it is much more complicated than that. They’ll tell you they don’t hate people, just their sins, and they know they are all sinners too because they are human and make mistakes, but they know liberals sin on purpose and want to tempt them into sinning. Being holier than thou is very complicated.

Basically, they are fascists.

Other significant influences at play here are their idolization of religious authority and personal wealth on the one hand, and suspicion/disdain for intellectualism on the other.

I think some of it might have to do with basic tribalism. Trump’s “their guy.” I have relatives who will get behind a Republican no matter what just because that’s what they’ve always done, and the Republicans are “their team.” Fox news is their home team media outlet, and everyone else that doesn’t actively support their team is against them.

I have a cousin I pretty much only see on Facebook who constantly talks about “our side” and “your side” whenever anyone talks about Trump doing something. She’ll say “Hey we didn’t like your side either. Now get over it.” She posted something about the stimulus checks today, calling them “checks from MY PRESIDENT.” When someone commented about this being socialism, and also from Congress, she said it couldn’t be socialism because it’s a one-time payment not a long-term crutch, and besides it’s from Trump and he despises socialism. (Yes, there’s no talking to people like her. She, unironically, posted three minutes ago that she “seeks the truth.” No she doesn’t; most of the time she plays the victim when people question “her team” or “her president.”)

Her view of this is her side vs. the other side. It doesn’t matter what Trump does, if he does it, it’s “her side” and she’ll support it. I know other people who are the same way. It’s less about policy and truth, and more about teams. These “team” players are also people who pretty much only associate with other members of their team, by their own choice.

So yes, I agree with a lot of the posts about this being racism and xenophobia and economic populism and misinformation, but it’s also just an inherent need to be part of something, and being validated by people in their tribe.

People pick the tribe that reflects and reinforces their own values. So there is a need for that kind of belonging. But to a large extent people choose a side based on their internal values system.

I’m going to give it shot and try to get into the head of the middle America Trump voter, with a little empathy.
It’s Easter Sunday, 2020.

You are a lifelong citizen of Smalltown USA.

Your church and religion is very important to you. You believe that the hand of God is behind the success of your farm or small business, even as you have become less and less successful. Your feel that every time you open your mail, it’s a tax bill or notice of a new regulation that costs you money. If you are a farmer, there are regulations about what you can grow and how much you can sell it for. You may not even own your land, you lease it and are tied into stringent rules that put the well-being of you and your family below that of prairie dogs and snakes. If you own a small business, there are rules about who you can hire and fire, the size and layout of your store, everything. Rules made by rich men living in coastal cities thousands of miles away. Men that care nothing about you or your family. Their solution is always another government program that “gives” you back part of what was taken from you. Then they make fun of you for not clamoring for their crumbs and accuse you of voting against your self-interest.

And they are always accusing you of racism, even though your closest friends and neighbors, the family that owns the next farm over, are black.

Even though you are successful, it’s hard. You succeed only through the grace of God. And you truly believe that it wouldn’t be nearly so hard if the government would step back.

This year it’s worse. You’ve been regulated out of your church. The government has taken Easter away from you. Because there is a pandemic affecting the coastal cities, the places that are the root of all evil. And the government has scientists and experts that are telling you that you can’t go to church because of this, even though you don’t know or don’t know anyone that knows someone that’s been sick.
So you stay home from church, the place you want to be more than any other place in the world.
You turn on the TV to watch the news, and see a bunch of liberal newscasters making fun of you and calling you a murderer for wanting to go to church. Your President (more on him later) wanted you to be able to go, but the liberal newscasters made fun of him and called him a murderer, too.

Then the news ends and the network begins their Easter evening programming. The Greatest Story Ever Told? The Sound of Music? - No, it’s Jesus Christ Superstar, a musical about your Lord and Savior. You watch in horror as a bunch of multicultural hippies spray paint “Jesus” all over the set and generally portray Jesus as the leader of a hippie cult. You watch as Jesus is caressed by a prostitute. You are further outraged by the sympathetic portrayal of a black Judas that looks like a gang member. You’re outraged that this is now normal. You’re outraged that your kids seem to think this production, while a little “out there”, is great because it makes religion more accessible. You’re outraged that your grandkids love it. You want the America of your youth back.

Three years ago, you elected a President that claimed to understand you. But even he is no match for the forces that have been working to undermine you and your America. Because here is, surrounded by the rich elites you hate, telling you you can’t go to church in a tone that makes it clear that he’s speaking under duress. And he’s trying his best to signal to you that he’s being held hostage. But he’s still your strong man, look at how he gets in some nasty jabs at his captors.

And he was winning. Look at how he’s defied the FBI and Congress. Look at how he’s smacking down all those liberal governors that are trying to take your freedom. You cheer every time he fires another rich elite that’s been sent to control him. You can’t wait to vote for him again so he can finish the job. Now they’ve tried to destroy the economy he has built back up just to take him out. But you won’t let them. You want his autocracy and you want him to grab as much power for himself as he can. Because you really do believe that only he can fix this.

—-end empathy—-

That’s what we are up against and it’s formidable and multi-faceted. Blaming it on racism and misogyny, while it may be true in some sense, is a vast oversimplification of a deeper dissatisfaction and will lead to a Democratic loss in November.

This is a nice story, but to the extent that this applies to anyone, it doesn’t represent the majority of Trump’s support. He didn’t win because of the white working class who is suffering economic hardship. It’s affluent whites who represent Trump’s winning coalition. These are people who are doing just fine. Trump won because fascism, tribalism, racism, sexism, etc., have been set up since 1964 and steadily growing into a coalition all built upon the base of anti-desegregation. That’s why rural people are in the coalition. That’s why religious conservatives are in the coalition. That’s what it’s all about.

The tribalism wasn’t the same in other eras. Take Nixon. We are hypertribal now because of the internet and our atomization and narcissism. And to be honest, all social media, even this one.

The old style of tribalism can’t explain not wanting to throw dt out right now, like yesterday. It was less than a decade ago that Howard Dean had to drop out of a potus campaign for a bad mic moment.