By the time you read this, the first Republican presidential debate, in Cleveland, will be over, and billionaire Donald Trump will, as usual, have grabbed center stage.
Trump, the leader in the mix of opinion polls Fox used to pick the ten hopefuls on the podium for the main GOP debate, gained campaign notoriety – and one-quarter of GOP voters surveyed – with statements, accusations and rants that range from provocative to outrageous.
We’re not going to comment on the statements themselves. Suffice it to say that combined they show the real estate-casino-etc.-etc. mogul is unqualified for the Oval Office.
What we’re more interested in is “Who are the Trump voters?”
And what do we do about the resentments they have – and the elections they can roil?
Believe it or not, there’s a website entitled Trump supporters, not affiliated with his campaign. It doesn’t have much on it, but it does have this comment on July 14 from a supporter who signs himself “Jared”:
“Mr. Trump, thank you for having what it takes to confront the politicians and issues facing America in a frank way. Few are willing to say what they honestly feel but instead seem to live in a different world and play down the realities of life out of fear of offending someone.”
Jared actually gives us a big clue about who the Trump voters are. They’re a group, identified by social scientists, of the extremely alienated. They believe all politicians lie. They believe that politicians and elites cater to “them” and not “us.” You can fill in the blank with various “thems.”
This was amplified when CNN questioned Trump supporters who attended one of his rallies in New Hampshire, the first presidential primary state.
“I like his aggressive approach to save America. Not taking any bullsh-t from anybody,” one woman told CNN’s correspondent. “Start taking our country back instead of letting people come in and control it.” Added another woman: “He’s more into a-kicking than a-kissing.”
Noted political scientist Norman Orenstein, writing in The Atlantic, summarizes the Trump voters as follows: “The emerging, even dominant force in the GOP – an angry, anti-establishment, anti-leadership populism triggered by the financial crisis and the 2008 bailout, cynically exploited in 2010 and 2012 by the ‘Young Guns’ in the House and other GOP leaders in Congress to convert anger into turnout and elect Tea Party-oriented candidates.
“This force is now turning on those leaders, creating problems not just in the presidential race, but in a Congress whose leaders face the possibility of implosion ahead,” he adds.
The U.S. has had voters like this – resentful, bitter, “us” versus “them”-for almost 200 years. Only the targets change. Remember “No Irish need apply?” The Know-Nothings? The Klan? Anti-“miscegenation” and anti-immigration crusades and laws? Expletives against any-one who’s different, including Catholics, Jews, African-Americans, Latinos, gays, and women?
So what do we do when confronted with this crowd of alienated voters, who make up an apparently substantial part of the Republican Party and a notable slice of the U.S. electorate?
Well, we could try facts to win them over. Somehow, we have a feeling that won’t work.
The Trump voters’ reactions remind us of Rep. Earl Landgrebe, R-Ind., who went down with Richard Nixon’s sinking ship in 1974. When asked about impeachment 41 years ago this week, Landgrebe replied: “Don’t confuse me with the facts. My mind is made up.”
Another way is to offer ways to mute that resentment, to show how the system can work for the Trump voters as well as for the “other” they keep demonizing. That may take a long time and a lot of education, and there’s no guarantee of success. Trying to get people to listen to reason when they’re predisposed not to do so is an uphill battle.
If anyone else has any other ideas on how to reach those Trump voters, and get them out of their bitterness, out of their emotions, we’d like to hear them. Because as long as they’re around – and they and their ancestors have been around for a long time – we as a nation have yet another strong strain of hate to deal with.