Microbiologist Dr. Siouxsie Wiles brings science to the public in collaboration with artists who paint with bioluminescent bacteria: "Bioluminescent portrait of Donald Trump at the WSF Brisbane, painted by Ray Coffey. Photo by Chris Proud, Old Museum Network (Queensland Museum [Australia])." Image Source: SBS.
On 20 March 2016, Bill Maher joked on HBO (ep. 14/381) about Donald Trump's ignorance, because Trump claimed to get all his information off the Internet. Trump has also promised to shut down the Internet if he is elected. He stated he would shut down parts of the Internet domestically and internationally when necessary to restrict terror operatives. He later expanded that promise beyond terror threats. Snopes found the reports on Trump and the Internet to convey 'mixed truth'; on 7 December 2015, Trump stated in South Carolina:
"We have to go see Bill Gates and a lot of different people that really understand what's happening. We have to talk to them about, maybe in certain areas, closing that Internet up in some way ... Somebody will say, 'Oh, freedom of speech, freedom of speech.' These are foolish people."
Video Source: Youtube.
Few considered what it would mean if both statements were true, meaning: Trump knows mass opinion because he has drilled down into the chatter on the Internet; and because he knows what is on the Internet, he would shut it down. Trump contradicts himself and exaggerates all the time, so his meanings and intentions are blurred. In a country that takes freedom so seriously, it is amazing how curtailing freedom has become the calling card for protecting it. Some critics contemplated that America could face suppression of the press similar to that in other countries. But The New Yorker wondered if Trump had a point; perhaps the Internet should be controlled to combat terrorism. Gizmodo, a popular tech mouthpiece, was horrified, but indulged in the low level of debate, calling Trump a "pumpkin-flavored arsenic marshmallow."
Also on 20 March 2016 on CNN, Fareed Zakaria expressed concern about Trump, and asked columnist Thomas Frank if American politics was dividing along class lines. Zakaria suggested Republicans are becoming blue collar, while the Democrats have become the party of the urban, educated élites. Frank acknowledged that this was broadly true, but that it is a little more complicated than that.
A generational trend? Liberal-Left, enlightened Boomer couple on why they are voting for Trump. Image Source: Financial Times (29 February 2016) via Reddit. Discussed here and here.
It is indeed a little more complicated than that. First, Trump's supporters are not all uneducated and poor. This may be the last Baby-Boomer-dominated election. Salon.com wondered if Boomers are supporting Trump because they are nostalgic for the golden age of middle class America and of their youth, when immigration was restricted. CNN called Trump "the ultimate Baby Boomer":
Fox News reported:
"Forget the chatter about millennials, the tech revolution and a new world order. The presidential campaign is taking a U-turn and suddenly feels like a reunion of the Woodstock generation.No wonder — the race is likely to be the last hurrah of the baby boomers, for both candidates and voters.Donald Trump is 69, Hillary Clinton is 68, and it was 74-year-old Bernie Sanders — slightly too old to be a boomer — who dusted off Simon & Garfunkel for a touching trip down memory lane.Over a soundtrack of the duo’s 1968 hit America, the Sanders ad shows farmers, families and enthusiastic crowds at his rallies. A mosaic of faces flashes by in a bid to rekindle the idealism of older voters who remember the song and its swelling refrain of 'All come to look for America.'"
Since the 1970s, Boomer-dominated demographics have dictated politics in the United States and in other democratic countries. Source: Pew Research Center.
As usual, the Silent Generation and Generation X almost do not exist in these assessments, even with Sanders's, Cruz's and Rubio's participation in the race. The Millennials merit attention because of their numbers and they are mainly Boomers' children; reports on their support of Trump, for and against, are mixed. Gallup.com comments that Boomers remain the most powerful voting bloc and all politicians must appeal to them first:
By population numbers, the strongest portion of the Boomer electorate are voters born between 1950 and 1955. Currently aged 61 to 66, they will be aged 69 to 74 after a forthcoming two-term presidential period. If Boomer voters come out in full strength, they will determine this election. The majority of this generation enjoyed prosperity and economic stability for much of their lives. In some ways as a result, the Great Recession hit them even harder than Gen Xers, who faced increasing challenges in the system, or for Millennials, who entered it even later, and found tough conditions almost from the start. Established Boomers do not want to lose what they have. More vulnerable members of this cohort find it difficult to compete in a youth-oriented economy and society. Whatever their ideals and political opinions, their primary concerns will be personal security in their most vulnerable years. That means: health care; old age pensions; national growth and security; and protection of already-accumulated wealth. It also means: the final statement on capitalism and a generational cult of lifestyle, egotism and personality as it has emerged over the past 50 years. If the fall contest becomes one of Trump versus Clinton, both will speak directly to their peer group about their generational concerns."Baby boomers constitute 32% of the U.S. adult population and, by Gallup's estimate, 36% of the electorate in 2012, eclipsing all other generational groups. Baby boomers have dominated U.S. politics on the basis of their sheer numbers since the late 1970s, when most of the group had reached voting age."
The Washington Post considers Trump's rise in terms of failed moderate Republicanism, increasingly brutal politics, and deepening racial tensions. The Post acknowledges Trump's seductive promise to make 'America great again' on the world stage through a renewed materialist American dream. In the last consideration lies his appeal across generations. This post asks how Trump reflects changes in American society since the Great Recession. The last time the United States produced a independent businessman as a presidential candidate, Ross Perot, the country was similarly on the heels of a recession. At that time, America had suffered much less, but Perot's campaign was enough to split Republicans at the polls and see Bill Clinton into the Oval Office.
This is the first election where the political cost of the Great Recession becomes evident. In summarizing America's political divide in class terms, Fareed Zakaria did not account for the fact that the middle class is disappearing. In 2014, The Economist reported on a study from Harvard and University of California, Berkeley. Economists analyzed over 40 million tax returns of Americans born between 1971 and 1993. This Gen-X- and Gen-Y-oriented study found that upward mobility for lowest-stratum people born in that demographic remained low, but constant. The study did not address growing inequality between the haves and have-nots, and whether that huge class 'hour glass' imbalance is generational. The Economist admitted that, post-recession, everyone is more concerned about downward mobility than upward mobility:
Donald Trump's message is aimed at people still hurting from the Great Recession. This is the Backlash Vote. In a thousand different ways, he promises one thing, that he will personally reverse the effects of the recession, and of the past 15 years. As though he is rebooting America like a computer, he claims he will reset the clock to 1997, or perhaps 1987. He will stop downward mobility of individuals and of the entire country. On Quora, Rohit Sharma considered how Trump channels and handles voters' underlying emotions and frustrations:"A recent Gallup poll found that only 52% of Americans think there is plenty of opportunity for the average Joe to get ahead, down from 81% in 1998. ... Several studies point to widening gaps between rich and poor in the kinds of factors you would expect to influence mobility, such as the quality of schools or parents’ investment of time and money in their children. ... America’s inequality ... [is evident in] the soaring share of overall income going to the top 1% (from 10% [of overall income] in 1980 to 22% in 2012)."
Although Sharma is likely correct that Trump will become more presidential as he gets closer to the election, I am not sure that he will abandon his xenophobic promises. His message and style are definitely 'emergent,' and unconscious."Donald Trump as well as a Bernie Sanders are candidates who [are] getting traction with people while emerging naturally (unconsciously). In entrepreneurship, emerged ideas and emerged companies have a better chance of success than the ones that are consciously created. Likewise, there is a pretty good chance that Bernie or Donald will most likely generate escape velocity and create significant stickiness with the public. ...Trump is known for making controversial remarks and while Trump may lose due to these remarks, another possibility can occur. When people hate you, they are still connected with you and are sharing a portion of their mental and emotional bandwidth with you. Eventually, a ... person may be able to convert the hate to love using a well crafted strategy. ...Trump may be leading people to convergence by stirring up discussions on controversial topics by steering clear of being politically correct. Notice that Trump uses the 'hot/cold' approach where he throws a spanner in the works, waits for the stirred up discussion to settle down, goes quiet for few days and then plays the same cycle again. People will soon get addicted to this cycle and start noticing what Trump is saying. ...My prediction is that Trump will sound more and more presidential as he gets closer to the campaign after playing out the bully image who makes xenophobic comments. That will be a game changer for him as he may effectively lead other candidates by miles in a short span. This sudden shift in projected persona will confuse the populace and combine with bandwidth stealing, Trump's campaign will reach an inflection point. Of course, he is not going to follow through with xenophobic policies, if/once he gets elected."
To his supporters, it does not matter if his proposals make no sense or do not add up. Nor does it matter if his real personal motivations are likely those of a rampant narcissist. Few of his supporters would stop to look beyond his rhetoric, in which he blithely identifies with them, a classic ploy of the type. They do not or cannot put themselves in his shoes, to know what it would be like to be a pathological egotist with enormous wealth. When you cannot pay your bills, or are worried about future financial security, you do not consider how the world would look if you were already in a position never to worry about money again. Nor do most of Trump's supporters know the exclusive world the man actually inhabits. Madonna, a middle class Boomer who 'made it,' described how it feels when the American Dream becomes reality in her 2003 song, American Life:
"I got a lawyer and a manager
An agent and a chef
Three nannies, an assistant
And a driver and a jet
A trainer and a butler
And a bodyguard or five
A gardener and a stylist
Do you think I'm satisfied?
I'd like to express my extreme point of view
I'm not Christian and I'm not a Jew
I'm just living out the American dream
And I just realized that nothing is what it seems."
So many people are chasing the American Dream, to preserve it, uphold it, or save this ideal in the Land of Opportunity, that they don't stop to consider what it actually feels like to achieve it at the highest level. If Trump privately is an ultra-egotist, he now faces old age and death as the absolute end of ego. After a lifetime of business battles and successes, the businessman realizes that the individual 'Trump' will get no footnote in history. There are lots of rich men in the world and no one remembers them. To be remembered, Trump has to up his game before it is too late, and embark on a Bonapartistic adventure.
His supporters do not consider the internal workings of the man's psychology and instead take him at his word. They are preoccupied with their own primal emotions, which Trump wears like a succession of outfits: despair, anger, frustration, loss, injustice, humiliation at a bungled, fading national glory in a world of threats and faithless, exploitative friends. Fear fuels popular faith in Trump's heroic, or anti-heroic, role in this regard. If Obama was elected as a saviour of hope and change, Trump presents himself as the man of action who will brute-force the whole country and the whole world until America is respected and upwardly mobile again.
Thus, Trump's appeal is personal, not political. By taking politics out of the political arena, he casts himself as a personal actor on the national and international stage, a post-political action hero in a Hollywood summer blockbuster. To Trump's supporters, his campaign is like the Die Hard of American politics, where a reluctant leading man comes out swinging to save the country.
|True Detective (Season 1/ep. 3; 26 January 2014; HBO).|
Image Source: Washington Post.
Former Anti-Defamation League leader Abraham Foxman: Trump knew his Hitler-like salute was evoking fascist symbolism. Image Source: Jewish Journal.
Video Source: Youtube.
By acting as the anti-political anti-hero, a range of dangerous tools becomes available to Trump. In early March 2016 in Florida, North Carolina, and Mississippi, Trump asked supporters to swear a personal oath to support him and vote for him. The Times of Israel criticized the resultant Nazi-like, fascistic effect. Trump dismissed the comparison:
"'Well, I think it’s ridiculous. I mean, we’re having such a great time,' Trump responded, listing off his latest crowd counts. 'Sometimes, we’ll do it for fun. … They’ll start screaming at me: 'Do the swearing! Do the swearing.' I mean, they’re having such a great time. … Honestly, until this phone call, I didn’t know it was a problem.'"Despite his denial, in a country accustomed to swearing the Pledge of Allegiance, it is a slippery slope. Trump accomplished a political trick of transferring loyalty from God, constitution, flag and country to himself, the man.
As early as the mid-1920s, Hitler also used this political trick. He removed the establishment and usual political terms from his speeches and inserted his seemingly embattled, anti-heroic individual identity in their place. He required German officials and officers, the military, and later the German people, to pledge loyalty to him, the man, rather than using an older oath in which they swore loyalty to an abstract, the republic, the flag, the constitution, or the country. The original German salute was rumoured to be Roman but was more likely Neoclassical, revolutionary, and neo-imperial, dating from the 18th century.
The Nazi oath came as a salutation, sealed with a salute, which is the origin and meaning of mass rallies of Germans saluting and pledging an oath of allegiance to Hitler as the individual source and personification of Germany's forthcoming victory. Everyone has seen the images of Nazi rallies a thousand times, but it is important to understand the subtle psychological transference at work in those images. Germans were swearing a personal oath to support the man who promised to save them and restore German dignity. The man was equated with the battle for national greatness, and to win that battle, Hitler asserted, the German people had to take him on; through him lay the path. In 1926, that personal oath to Hitler, in lieu of the German republic, was made compulsory for Nazi party members.
In the comparison with Hitler, as with other antics, Trump shook off criticism and barreled forward. He wins more support with every rule he breaks and every controversy he creates. Rather than demonize Trump or belittle his supporters, this post is meant to deconstruct the generational climate and historical background behind Trump's campaign successes. The next post in this series further explores implications of the disappearance of the 21st century's middle class.
Nazi salute at the Harzburg Front rally in Bad Harzburg, October 1931: in this early period, the salute was more relaxed than the rigid, stylized gesture we now associate with Hitler's period. Image Source: Wiki. (Bundesarchiv Bild 102-12405 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, Bad Harzburg, NSDAP-Anhänger.)
(before August 2, 1934)
(effective August 2, 1934)
The German Army oath before and after the death of Paul von Hindenburg (1847-1934), German President (1925-1934). Table Source: Jewish Virtual Library.
See all my posts on Time and Politics.