I thought this Marshall piece on the Trump voter was pretty much right on. Trump’s rise is not about Trump’s appeal per se. It’s about that a large section of the American voter finally has someone committed to destruction and violence as they are.
First is simple political substance. TPM Readers are entirely familiar with that the fact that a large segment of the American right is animated by a belief that ‘their’ world, their America is being taken away from them – this includes everything from declining white racial dominance, having to choose whether you want to hear the phone tree message in English or Spanish, changing cultural mores. The whole package. This is the essence of Trump’s campaign – beating back the external threat – the harsh anti-immigrant policies, Muslim bans, flirting with white supremacists, etc. This is the most visible and literal part of Trump’s appeal.
Second is the appeal to power and force. Trump is the master of GOP ‘dominance politics’, the intrinsic appeal of power and the ability to dominate others. All of this has an intrinsic appeal to America’s authoritarian right, especially in a climate of perceived threat, which has been growing over the last two decades – something political scientists are now catching on to. We might think of this as the embodiment and acting out of the policy drives noted above. The phenomenon of the imperiled, resentment right is something you’re well familiar with if you’re a close observer of American politics, certainly if you’re a regular reader of TPM. I noted back in December that we were seeing this show up in the demographic data in the unprecedented rising mortality rates of middle-aged whites – from chronic substance abuse, overdose and suicide. And as the Washington Post’s Jeff Guo noted last week, the states where middle-aged whites are dying fastest heavily correlate with the states where Trump has had his highest margins. Think about that for a second. Trump’s message and policy agenda hits every dimension of threat and change.
The third factor is I think the least obvious but for these purposes the most important. On the radicalized, revanchist right, provocation and transgression of norms isn’t simply indulged. It functions as a positive good. It is a feature, not a bug, to use the tech phrase. What the mainstream electorate might view as an ‘outrage’ is actually signal of the willingness to tear down a corrupt order that is unwilling (Democrats and elites) or unable (RINOs, mainstream GOP) to turn back the tide of threat. So whether or not you think it’s a good idea to kill terrorists families, saying you will is a signal that you won’t accept limits. How can Trump break all the rules and pay no price? What’s his magic? Changing your positions, obviously lying, taunting enemies – none of these hurt Trump because his core supporters are not seeing them through the same prism you likely are. They’re not signs of deception, bad character or untrustworthiness. They all signal a refusal to accept the norms of the threatening order and thus a willingness to overturn it.
Add to this America’s deep-seated racism and an economy that has destroyed the working class and you have a powerful opportunity for someone like Trump. And this is important because it is so easy in our 24-hour news coverage and seemingly biological appeal to look at Great Men as the movers and shakers of history. But Trump isn’t exceptional here. He’s just filling a vacuum that an awful lot of people want to have filled. Plenty of Americans would openly welcome fascism, although they wouldn’t use that term. That’s what Trump is providing them.