Since Donald Trump became the presumptive candidate of the Grand Old Party a few weeks back, I’ve been asking Republican men I’m acquainted with—some neighbors, a couple of friends, and one family member in particular (all white, by the way)—for whom they’re considering voting come election time. A few refused to answer. But for those that did, I shook my head in disbelief as, invariably, nearly all said, hiding their sheepish grins, “probably Trump.”
Hmm... Bright, well-educated men voting for an ignoramus! Let me think about this...
For want of a more accurate term, I’ll call these Trump supporters “white dinosaurs”—dominant terrestrial vertebrates who are quickly becoming extinct. They secretly admire and envy Trump’s power as a bully and bemoan the slow and steady erosion of their high-ranking position and cultural influence. Like Trump, they admire, without question, our most powerful cultural institutions: the military, the corporation, and an authoritarian government (as long as it promotes global-militarized capitalism).
It’s hard to understand why these dinosaurs, under the cloak of preserving freedom and American exceptionalism, are so willing to vote for Trump and against their own best financial and social interests. It seems that they reflexively oppose restraints on corporations that intimidate workers and deceive and mislead consumers, and, instead, buy into Trump’s hollow pledge to “make America great again.” All the while, Trump laughs in their face as he flaunts tax laws; manipulates corporate rules to his advantage; sells fake degrees and rotten meat; swindles old men and women of their Social Security checks at his casinos; and refuses to clarify the details of irrational political policies he so loudly espouses.
In addition, Trump is alarmingly obvious in his contempt for foreigners or strangers; he embraces bigotry, sexism, and racism; and he encourages the illegal use of torture by our military. Would Trump really make America great again, or just shape it in his own scheming image?
Common wisdom has been that Trump’s power and influence comes from the support of white working-class male supporters who are struggling to make sense of a 21st century economy. But looking at his growing support today, especially among dedicated Republicans, I no longer believe that simple explanation. His candidacy is exposing views and opinions that are embedded deep in our culture and dominate our national institutions. Almost instinctively, Trump bullies and threatens women, people with disabilities, gay people, people of color, Muslims and whole countries, such as China and Mexico. He is saying what many middle- and upper-class Republicans really think, but are hesitant to say publicly: “I’m better than them and deserve a bigger piece of the pie.”
Though Trump’s rhetoric is truly insulting and significantly offends the groups he targets, the loyalty he wins among white men and certain white women is widespread and can’t be refuted. Even among those Republicans who would never vote for him, Trump has the power to sway public opinion and is secretly admired. Though he might be too extreme for some to openly embrace, there is a veiled appreciation of both his manner and behavior.
So what conditions do exist that have enabled such a flawed candidate such as Trump to commandeer the Republican Party, marshal its support, and seek the most powerful political position in the world? Is it the economy; terrorism; government failures; unpopular challengers; or an unmitigated hatred built up over almost eight years towards the country’s first black president, Barack Obama?
A huge segment of racially conscious Republicans have railed against Obama from Day 1. I believe this pervasive animosity has given rise to the persona of a Donald Trump. Trump began his drive towards the presidency by persistently attempting to delegitimize Obama—questioning his citizenship and referring to him as a Muslim born in Africa. Trump was relentless, and his attacks on the president’s credibility have gone on for years. Trump’s campaign taps deeply into that reservoir of vulgarity, disrespect and blatant racism he helped to foster. And, sadly, as a great country, and the supposed beacon of democracy, we are much the worse for it.