Guest columnist Sylvia Staub: Explaining 74M votes for Trump

  • In this Dec. 12, 2020, file photo, President Donald Trump walks on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. AP

Published: 1/1/2021 6:23:10 AM
Modified: 1/1/2021 6:22:59 AM

It’s a mystery to me, and many others, how 74 million Americans voted for Donald Trump to spend another four years pretending to be the president of the United States. I say pretending because he has been very open about his rejection of Americans who don’t share his biases, prejudices and political views. He refers to them as “traitors,” “enemies of the people,” “scum” and “monsters.”

Much has been written by journalists, columnists and political pundits in an attempt to answer this question. Here are some of the answers they have come up with.

1) The language that Trump and his supporters have used to describe the Democratic opposition has convinced many not-very-well-informed Americans. Trump has labeled even moderate candidates for office, like Joe Biden, as socialists; he referred to Kamala Harris as a communist.

He has manipulated the widespread tendency to associate anything that smacks of socialism as a form of evil totalitarianism. Most Americans don’t know that many of the most stable and prosperous nations of western Europe support programs that could be called “socialist,” such as universal health coverage, paid maternity leave, free day care, and more. Rather, many Americans associate the term with the Soviet Union, our arch enemy in the post-World War II decades, in fear of which we built a huge nuclear arsenal, and with Cuba.

2) A second explanation offered is that Trump presents himself as the savior of the American working class. He proclaimed in 2016 that he would increase American manufacturing, increase jobs and lower taxes. The working class in America has suffered deeply from the effects of neoliberal government policies: lost jobs, collapse of union power, wage stagnation and general insecurity.

Trump promised much to these workers in 2016 and very many of them voted for him. And despite not delivering on those promises, most of those supporters voted for him again. So additional explanations are needed.

3) A further explanation is that the demographic changes that have taken place in the U.S. over the past four or five decades have profoundly changed the face of America. It is predicted that in 10 or so years, we will be a minority/majority country, meaning there will be more people of color living in this country than whites.

The number of Blacks at high levels in business and government has increased substantially. In addition, the number of women elected to Congress in 2018 was unprecedented, as well as the number of women in high positions in corporations. And a woman of color will now be vice president, and perhaps next in line for the presidency. This is reversing a system of white male dominance that has existed since the founding of the country.

And what does Trump represent? Racism by refusing to condemn white racist groups in the U.S.; insulting Black countries and opposition to the immigration of people of color; misogyny by insulting and verbally and physically abusing women; telling the “squad,” the four women of color elected to Congress in 2018, to “go back where they came from.”

In other words, are we seeing in Donald Trump something like the last gasp of white male supremacy? If you are a white working-class male in America, whose economic condition has worsened in the last few decades, what claim to status in society do you have? Only your whiteness and your maleness, and those status symbols are being undermined by the vast social changes happening in America at this very moment.

4) A fourth explanation for Trump’s popularity is offered by the philosopher, Costica Bradatan in his New York Times op ed on July 5, 2019, entitled “Democracy Is for the Gods.” Bradaton attempts to answer the question, why do democracies fail? He enumerates the many behavioral tendencies in humans, whereby “humans are not predisposed to live democratically.” Rather, our vital instincts for survival, including the “…blind drive towards self - assertion that we find in the animal realm,” propels some humans toward conquest and others to seek someone to “bow down to.” He portrays such conquering figures as Napolean, Hitler and Mussolini as “great political seducers,” whose relationship with the crowd is intimate, and whose effect is even “proudly erotic.” The seducer’s pronouncements may be empty, even nonsensical, but that matters little; each one brings the aroused crowd to new heights of pleasure. Does this remind you of anyone?

Bradatan concludes that “so perfect a form of government is not for men.” Still, it is “one of those elusive things ... whose promise, even if perpetually deferred, is more important than its actual existence. We may never get it, but we cannot afford to stop dreaming of it.”

I find his ideas both intriguing and disturbing; does it throw some light on the 74 million?

Sylvia Staub is a retired clinical psychologist, co-editor of “Psychology and Social Responsibility: Facing Global Challenges” and contributor to “Handbook of Refugee Experience: Trauma, Resilience and Recovery.”
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