Marcel Proust once famously said, “Love is a striking example of how little reality means to us.” For some reason, he said it in French, and he used more words. But that is the gist of it. It might explain something important about Donald Trump.
We often wonder how Trump’s supporters can continue to support him, when in reality he lies, steals, betrays them and our country, attacks the weak, sows racism and divisiveness, demeans women, constantly brags, fails to grasp the most rudimentary elements of government, fawns over dictators, alienates America’s allies, endangers the economy, and is basically not very smart. These realities are manifested in bold relief several times every day. Proust may be onto something about his base.
They don’t just support Trump. They love him. Reality means little in the face of love. There are many ways to look at it. If you have ever had a daughter who loves the wrong boy, just point out to her that he is the wrong boy and she will dig in her heels. Her love for him will become a romantic quest. If the boy is dangerous and destructive, as Trump is, her quest will be even more dramatic. The Trump crowd not only loves him, they love him more because the rest of America is frightened of him and angrily points out the reality of his flaws. His supporters revel in the unreality of their defense of him. If that is not a form of love, then I do not know my Proust, or my daughter.
Many people travel to follow Trump, as if he were a rock star, attending his Hillbilly Nuremberg Rallies like they were Grateful Dead concerts, despite the fact that they are maundering, self-aggrandizing, boorish rants, or perhaps for that very reason. This does not happen in American politics. Politics and policy are not at the bottom of it. Love is.
What is there to love?
You may ask this, and the answer is found in exactly the spot we have placed our current politics, on the video screen. Trump is rich, from the east coast, went to an Ivy League school, and on paper he seems to be what the Trump lover should and does abhor. But looking more closely, it can be seen that he is really Al Czervik, the Rodney Dangerfield character from “Caddyshack.” He is their kind of rich guy, rudely disrupting the country club set, leering, crass, and adorning himself with the equivalent of the gilt-edged accoutrements at Trump Tower. He is the image of what a poor, uneducated person might be, if one became rich, and still wished to stick it in the eye of the upper classes.
Trump is also Al Bundy, the Ed O’Neill character from “Married with Children.” I hesitate to ever say that Trump is ironic or suggest that he can even spell the word. But he has a certain playful insouciance with which he is crude, insulting, mean-spirited, and self-serving. He clearly seems to be having fun, to be enjoying it all, even as he betrays this country right out in the open. The Trump television viewer sees and senses this role-playing much more clearly than the rest of us, who are simply appalled. On that limited level, which is also a very broad level, Trump is more than a bit lovable to his supporters. He is having fun at the country club, disrupting all the people who think they are smarter and better than he is, better than they are.
The divide between Trump supporters and those of us who are rightly frightened by him has been described as educational and social and economic, as in, his supporters are not college educated, they are from the forgotten flyover parts of the country, and they are being left behind in the new information economy. These things may all be true, but there is an element that is simply populist, or more accurately, anti-authority. He is the lowest common denominator, and he is going burn all the smart and smug people to the ground, simply because they think they are better than he is. That aggrieved tone is never far from the surface with Trump.
The Democratic Presidential candidates discuss policies and debate Trump’s malfeasance and do it cogently and intelligently. The people who may become Trump supporters just tune that out. They are not willing to even begin to understand. And neither is Trump. He retains his crudity and his ignorance, even surrounded by people in the government who know a great deal more than he does. In fact, he pronounces that he does not need them. He is speaking to the people who love him. He is telling them that, like them, he has no use for people who think they know more than he does.
Love has been described as both a finding of the self in another and as a balm for all the slights and sorrows faced in childhood. (Set aside the cynics at Fox and in the Congress, who support Trump for personal gain.) Combine these two descriptions of love, and perhaps you can see that what the members of the Trump base may see in their leader is their adolescent selves, being told what to do or being told they have not measured up. And now the authority is a coastal elite, who are telling them they might be racist, they should be tolerant and inclusive, and they should be fans of Meryl Streep. If you listen to Trump in a certain way, you hear adolescent backtalk.
Seeing that Trump’s base loves him dramatically changes the political equation. The more he is vilified and attacked, or perhaps impeached, the more dramatic this love becomes. Any parent who has been in the position of having a daughter who loves the wrong boy, should know this. And that parent can only take one path and that is to have faith that love fades, that the rotten boy cannot hide his flaws forever, even from his fawning admirer. It must die of its own course, and that is likely if what we know of Trump does not change. Loving the wrong person can and usually does end badly, with a broken heart that hopefully heals. The only question is whether or not the loving daughter survives, or in this case, the country survives.
(Gerald Weaver is the author of the novel, The First First Gentleman, London Wall Publishing. It is among other things a sly tribute to almost all the novels of Charles Dickens. His well-received first novel, Gospel Prism, was published in May 2015. Each of its twelve chapters paraphrases a great work, by Cervantes, Montaigne, Shakespeare, etc. Harold Bloom said it was “remarkable” and “charming but disturbing.” Perhaps the same could be said of this satire.)