It’s America’s Trump: An Explainer
and the co-opting of American pride and suffering.
The Trumpist movement is not just about Trump. He just tapped into a demographic that has been left behind — not economically, but culturally.
His supporters during the primary had a median household income of $72K yet still feel uncertain about life. They feel uncomfortable with the changes in American life over the decades, tend to live in areas with poorer populations who subsist on welfare support, and feel like they are being told to make way for supposedly favored groups like women, immigrants, & blacks.
And yes, they tend to be white Americans from rural or industrial regions. They are not racist in the classical sense but they are more nativist and are more likely self-identify their ethnicity as “American.” They are more likely to consider themselves as religious Christians but are less likely to be frequent church goers.
They see the economy as a finite entity and not something that can grow & benefit everyone. Individually, they can be quite generous but they have a visceral reaction to those receiving welfare because they don’t want to be seen as takers or reliant on others. They take pride in working and providing for their family. They see the community around them and wonder how their children will survive with increased competition from other demographic groups. This sense of lower-class elitism can be so strong that it can also dissuade them from taking advantage of welfare help when they might need it.
What Donald Trump does is two-fold, make it okay to accept welfare support under the guise of government projects by also limiting it to their class, aka their idea of “true working Americans.” Trump talks vaguely about his actual policy positions because it allows this demographic to fill in the gaps with their own presuppositions and ideas. Not only does his style allow each person to mold their own ideas into Trump’s rhetoric framework, it also actively invites them to take personal ownership in the campaign’s positions.
This is the inverse of the usual dynamic where voters are asked to choose between prepared policy ideas from the candidates. Instead, Trump is crowdsourcing his policy proposals from his supporters and he’s just trying to calibrate his words to match his supporters. Trump’s seemingly shifting policy positions don’t matter to this group because the script has been flipped. It’s his supporters that are filling in the gaps with their own ideas & potential solutions and it’s Trump that is trying to latch onto them.
Incidentally, this is where the nativist sentiments of this group start to join up with the smaller alt-right & white nationalist movements. While the backbone of Trump’s coalition is this nativist demographic, the “intellectual” center that is building the conversational framework is the neo-reactionary (& quite racist) alt-right movement.
This mix of self-pride, individualism, and perceptions to welfare & cultural change in America along with the economic transition over the decades has created a demographic that feels left behind and suffering a cultural decline. Trump simply offered a nativist vehicle to channel their outrage. The alt-right & white nationalists recognized the opportunity to legitimize their own views and proceeded to help design & defend that vehicle.
Meanwhile, the Trumpist movement is going to reverberate in our American society — whether Trump wins or loses. Quite a few Trump supporters are clearly receptive to traditionally progressive and worker-related programs. The rest of America needs to push for such solutions but also ensure the solutions are marketed correctly to all disadvantaged groups — including those in the Trump-leaning demographics. By economically supporting their communities, they can help rebuild their own cultural cachet that takes into account the great progress that America has taken over the decades.