Scapegoating and Grandstanding

The question that has continued to mystify me is how any voter could look at Donald Trump and see anything but a pathetic and embarrassing wanna-be entirely unqualified for office.

So I was struck by this recent paragraph from Talking Points Memo.

People continue to marvel how a city-bred, godless libertine who was born to great wealth could become and remain the political avatar of small town and rural voters of middling means. The answer is simple. Despite all their differences, Trump meets his voters in a common perception (real or not) of being shunned, ignored and disrespected by ‘elites’. In short, his politics and his connection with his core voters is based on grievance. This is a profound and enduring connection. This part of his constituency likely amounts to only 25% or 30% of the electorate at most. But it is a powerful anchor on the right. His ability to emerge undamaged from an almost endless series of outrages and ridiculousnesses is based on this connection.

Grievance explains a good deal. We all encounter people who seem desperate for respect, for the esteem of others, but who seem wholly unaware of the qualities or behaviors that might earn them that esteem. And because they lack self-awareness, they double down on two behaviors in particular that mark them as insecure and resentful: scapegoating and grandstanding.

Trump is exhibit A.

The grandstanding is repellant and its dishonesty is obvious to people who actually know how the world works. When Trump takes credit for corporate hiring announcements, or good economic news–after a month in office–economists and savvy business people roll their eyes.   Boasts that his administration is a “well-oiled machine” are a gift to comedians.

Proclaiming that you know more than other people, blustering that you have the “best” words or mind or instincts or whatever, is evidence of desperation, not superiority. (I still remember the counsel of an older lawyer with whom I once worked; he used to say “If you are good at what you do, people will notice without your telling them.”)

The most accomplished people I know are also among the most modest.

The constant grandstanding is embarrassing and revelatory, but it isn’t nearly as dangerous as the scapegoating. It is Trump’s “blame game” that binds him to his base. People who are aggrieved, who feel cheated of the respect, success or status they believe is their due want someone to blame. The enduring appeal of white supremacists is their willingness to provide those villains and their enthusiastic demonizing of the “other”– black people, Muslims, Jews, immigrants, gays…

When bad things happen to these lost, insecure souls, it can never be their fault. It can never be because they erred, or failed. It is because of the perfidy of those Others.

Donald Trump is the poster boy for pointing fingers and deflecting blame–even before the fact.

As Phillip Rucker noted earlier this month in the Washington Post, 

President Trump appears to be laying the groundwork to preemptively shift blame for any future terrorist attack on U.S. soil from his administration to the federal judiciary, as well as to the media.

In recent tweets, Trump personally attacked James L. Robart, a U.S. district judge in Washington state, for putting “our country in such peril” with his ruling that temporarily blocked enforcement of the administration’s ban on all refugees as well as citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries from entering the United States.

“If something happens blame him and the court system. People pouring in. Bad!” Trump wrote in a tweet Sunday.

Trump thus confirms his supporters’ core conviction: If it’s good, they did it (and all by themselves).  If it’s “bad,” (one of those “best words”) it’s someone else’s fault.


  1. I call it “perpetual immaturity”, a state of early pubescent behavior carried into one’s adult years. It was on display yesterday when part of the White House press corps was excluded from a briefing just like teenage girls would exclude someone from a sub-deb party out of spite. “That’l show her.”
    Unfortunately, many in the press corps responded with like behavior by broadcasting endless alarming rants about the slight as if they were covering the Normandy Invasion. It seems that the Trump Administration has managed to drag many down to their level. Ugh!

  2. From Talking Points Memo:
    “In short, his politics and his connection with his core voters is based on grievance. ”

    I have viewed his politics and his grievance throughout his campaign – and in the 30 years of his headline-making fiascoes on many levels – as being sexist, racist, bigoted, homophobic, xenophobic, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim, et al; and giving his Republican supporters full approval to go public with their personal views on all of these issues. It is now Politically Correct (PC) to act on all of these perceived grievances; some held in check for decades due to the Civil Rights movement. His personal attacks were and are greeted with cheers, sign-waving, support…and votes including the Electoral College.

    Once he was named the Republican nominee; political reasons and reasoning went by the wayside. Personal fears and grievances against “those people” in any of Trump’s targeted groups have been in the public cross-hairs and are now in physical danger. Immigrants, and now the media, are just his first active steps.

    Yes; Sheila’s references to Trump’s options for “good and/or bad” and Theresa’s totally on target description of “perpetual immaturity” now make up the foundation of our government. Dan Rather has come out of retirement to do battle; the election today of the Chairman of the DNC is vital to survival and rebuilding of not only the Democratic party, but the survival and rebuilding of the shambles Trump has made of our government in one month and five days.

    I hope and pray the message on Facebook this morning is true; that President Obama and a group of attorneys are setting up to take action against Trump & Co. President Obama was filmed yesterday coming out of a business building in New York City, to cheers and applause – a good sign and a hopeful one.

  3. Every comment above mine adds to the premise of your article, Professor. An excellent essay today.

  4. I have to agree with Steve Smith myself, a totally excellent piece and equally excellent comments. All of this is beginning to remind me of a documentary that PBS did now over 20 years ago on the Great Depression and in particular the time frame running up to FDR’s second term in office. You had Huey P. Long on one side and Upton Sinclair on the other. Long was clearly a demagogue and Sinclair sort of being like a Bernie Sanders-type advocate for the opposite. Unfortunately for us there was no FDR in the middle and Huey P. Long-type character was elected to the presidency. The central current and that particular part of the documentary was how close we came and being in the position that we currently find ourselves in.

    I don’t even want to come close to contemplating what the world would have been like had Long not been assassinated and had become President. Unfortunately I do have to contemplate, as do all of us, what his latter day counterpart is doing everyday to undermine and quite possibly destroy the democracy that we all cherish so much.

  5. My apologies for the syntax errors that I didn’t catch when I was using my voice activated software.

  6. We know how he feeds on fear, hatred and hypocrisy, but how did he get this way? Is it merely a matter of a spoiled rich brat syndrome or some organic defect characterized by narcissistic impulse accompanied by pretenses that include I know more than all the admirals and generals and I’m the only one in the world who can fix it etc.? I think he may be a scared person who knows he has a personal tiger by the tail and hopes through bluster and fear-mongering that he can bluff his way through all this while hanging on to the Bannons and Flynns of this world as he navigates through the narcissistic haze of his own. He needs a shrink and has needed one for a long time.

  7. >> In short, his politics (Trumps) and his connection with his core voters is based on grievance.

    Grievance was recently on display >> Kansas shooting: injured man says suspect asked victims about visas. A man injured in a fatal shooting in suburban Kansas City that witnesses say was racially motivated has said the alleged gunman asked two of the victims about their visa status before later returning and opening fire, killing one and wounding another. Witnesses told investigators that at Austins Bar and Grill in Olathe, Kansas on Wednesday evening, as patrons watched a Kansas-TCU basketball game, Adam Purinton yelled at two Indian men to “get out of my country” before opening fire.

    One man, 32-year-old Srinivas Kuchibhotla, was killed. Two other men, 32-year-old Alok Madasani and 24-year-old Ian Grillot, were injured. Ian Grillot, “So I got up and proceeded to chase him down,” Grillot would recall. “I wasn’t really thinking when I did that. It was just, it wasn’t right, and I didn’t want the gentleman to potentially go after somebody else.”

    Grillot would dismiss any suggestion that he was a hero.

    “It’s not like that,” he would say. “I just did what I felt was naturally right to do… I was just doing what anyone should have done for another human being. It’s not about where he’s from, or ethnicity. We’re all humans.”

    But the gunman suddenly turned and proved to have one more round.
    “I guess I miscounted with everything going on,” Grillot would allow.
    The bullet pierced Grillot’s hand and tore into his chest. <<<<<<
    The word Hero is over used these days, but Mr. Grillot qualifies as one on all levels. You wonder how many other people with firearms, grievance and hate in their soul will "hear" the message of racism.

  8. Stickin’ it to the man! That’s the explanation I get often from folks as ignorant about climate science as they are about Presidential timber.

    How did this divide come about between the rurals and the elite? I believe that it is what can be expected from extremism. High contrast everything. There is your black and your white and gray is only indecision. Of course that’s also the strategy of oligarchy. You get power in a democracy by buying first voters then politicians who need them. Minds are bought by investing in advertising dividing the world into them and us. The less thinking the more effective.

    Interestingly there’s a certain symmetry with the world of science. Those who know science can been viewed as elitist by those who don’t who default to common sense. I can figure out what I don’t know. Well, not necessarily.

    So the man becomes everyone with advantage, especially those cramming change down our throats blocking our way back to the past when we were relevant.

    Stickin’ it to the man. Not these united anything.

  9. Everything you said is spot-on, as usual, but here’s my quandary: why does the Indianapolis Star, and Gary Varvel, in particular, publish absurd op ed pieces and cartoons making it look like Trump is the victim of media and liberal abuse instead of the grandstanding mentally ill immature racist, xenophobic, misogynist, tyrannical emotionally disturbed loser that everyone knows he is? Varvel’s recent cartoon that had a grinning working-class looking man sitting at a bar next to a distressed looking “elitist liberal” with the caption: “now you know how the rest of us have felt for the past 8 years”. What? Who are “the rest of us”? On what planet is President Obama even remotely comparable to the fat, pussygrabbing mental patient? Is Varvel truly this ignorant? Is his head shoved that far up his ass? Even if it is, where is The Star’s editorial board? Did anyone over there attend college? If so, I want to know which ones, so I can write them a letter requesting that their degrees be rescinded because they either cheated their way through or bought their diploma. I will not be renewing my subscription to The Star, and this will be the reason.

  10. I am watching the 40th anniversary showing of “Roots” on Sundance channel. I just switched from 1765, Kunta Kinte in the belly of the slave ship praying to Allah to take him to Paradise; to Austin, Texas, today February 25, 2016, where thousands are gathering to protest “No Ban, No Wall”.

    Have we really progressed at all during the past 250 years?

  11. Please excuse my error; of course I know it is 2017, but does adding one year bring us closer to being civilized? Truth be told; this country is far less civilized today than it was only one year ago on this date.

  12. Drumpf is taking credit for a 12 billion dollar drop in the federal debt, even though it is due to corrections based on Obama’s last budget, which is in effect until next October, I believe. He is mad because the news won’t heap praise on him.

  13. Fake President Donald Trump is totally predictable. If something turns out badly, he blames someone else. If something turns out well, he takes full credit. Is he narcissistic? Probably. So what? Thousands of US citizens are endowed with that ailment, but do not create the havoc Trump does. He’s an ill-informed egomaniac who’s too lazy to do his homework. Democrats will do well to challenge every Trump step. And so will Republicans.

  14. You will continue to be mystified because you’re a liberal. Every day your diatribe says the same thing as you preach to the liberal choir. I laugh when you mischaracterize Trump supporters or think they will will leave him. You still don’t understand why your team lost and that gives me great hope.
    Do you understand stock market at 20,820? The liberal oppression is going away and when America is thriving again Trump’s support will grown even stronger and that’s what you’re most afraid of. So, keep up the name calling.. I actually love it because liberals are now showing who they truly are and their hypocrisy is in full display. You’re perpetually offended and will continue to be because there is a new team in town and you can’t bully this one.

  15. Tom Perez just elected Chair of the DNC; he nominated and was seconded, Keith Ellison as Deputy Chair. Is electing Mr. Perez a tactical move on the part of the Democratic party to give added strength to Trump’s anti-Hispanic racism or is that an additional benefit? He is the son of Dominican immigrants and has served long in the civil rights field. He is a good man, as is Keith Ellison; they will work well in tandem and present a strong front and strong civil rights protection. Congratulations to both fine men.

    Now that this is settled; the Democratic party can turn their attention and strength to fighting Trump’s “Scapegoating and Grandstanding” and we can begin to more forward.

  16. Becky; the DOW AVERAGE, not the stock market, was above 20,000 BEFORE Trump was elected or inaugurated. It has fluctuated, as is normal movement for Dow and the stock market, and has actually NOT increased with Trump’s takeover to deconstruct the administration which will result in Dow and the stock market dropping – again. Take a seat and watch for yourself.

  17. Mea culpa, Becky…and Jerry; DOW missed 20,000 by a few points for a few days. I bow gracefully to your knowledge; but it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere fast since.

  18. Joann,
    The Dow just closed at 20,800. I’d say 800 more points is going somewhere pretty quickly, but hey it’s just my retirement.
    Jerry, I’m laughing too; all the way to the bank!

  19. Becky – Why do you accuse Sheila and the rest of us of name calling, when you are actually calling us names? What on earth has given you the idea that you are somehow better than us?

    My thoughts about you:

    How could any intelligent person ever think that Trump actually cares about the middle class? More so now that he has filled his cabinet with Wall Street and billionaires.

    Do you like the fact that he is rewarding the oil magnates by putting one of their best friends in as the head of the EPA? Will you enjoy drinking polluted water, breathing polluted air, or whatever other myriad of regulations he will eliminate that have protected you for decades?

    Your comments reveal that you are an angry person that is the exact type described in today’s blog post. You want to blame someone other than yourself and you have chosen to come here to do it. If you are joining in here to attack us or to anger us, it isn’t working. Your comments are actually sadly comical.

  20. Becky; President Obama hit 16,000, 17,000, 18,000, 19,000 and barely below 20,000 historic levels after starting below 8,000. 800 points over a 5 week period is nothing to brag about; President Obama saw that more than once in one day. I believe he and I win this pissing contest. If you are “laughing all the way to the bank” you are part of the problem. I still say take a seat and watch for yourself.

    Jerry; my sense of humor died somewhere between late on the night of November 8 and early morning November 9, 2016. Living on $805 monthly Social Security check, with that and Medicare in jeopardy, almost 80 years old, deaf and disabled and people like Becky laughing all the way to the bank, hasn’t helped me regain it. I am no longer laughing at what an immature fool Trump is; that joke currently is ON us.

  21. Nancy, Joann,
    Sheila eviserates Trump in every post as unqualified. It is liberal fearing mongering to say we are going to drink polluted water and breath polluted air under Trump. Who really believes that except liberals that hate Trump? I find it laughable that I am the problem because I worked hard, saved and invested money conservatively my whole life and can benefit because the Dow is rising. Just because someone like Trump is wealthy and successful you immediately classify him as greedy and wanting to punish and put down people. Yes, I believe he wants a better life for all Americans. I’m glad I can offer you comic relief because the next 8 years you probably will choose to be miserable.

  22. Becky, you have proven that you are the epitome of denial and ignorance. There is no hope for mean spirited people like you who refuse to see the evil of trump and his cabinet and the extreme damage they are already inflicting on YOU and everyone else. Life does not revolve around you and your retirement investments. I pity your children and grandchildren, if you have any.

  23. Nancy,
    Sorry to burst your hateful bubble, but I am surrounded by people I love and people that love me. Contrary to your belief, my happiness is not built on who is in the White House or what my investment statement shows. I am passionate about conservative values and caring for those I love, but ultimately, my hope and faith is in a higher power- the One who truly is in control of all things. I know how this all ends and only that brings a lifetime of peace.

  24. Nancy; people like Becky are unreachable, they are the epitome of the “Deplorables” Hillary referred to. Hillary should never have been forced to apologize for telling the truth and her term for them was nothing like the name calling and threats from the Trump camp throughout the campaign and which has reached unimaginable levels since January 20th.

    A post on Facebook from the New York Times; they will be publishing a column, “This Week In Hate”, with the help of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The Facebook post reports some recent hate crimes here but I have seen many more along with actions being taken by states to deny our civil and human rights. These actions are being fed by Trump and his White Nationalists who are showing their true nature blatantly, more and more, day by day. Becky’s comments reek of covert hateful references; we should ignore her and maybe she will go away before she reaches Gopper’s overt level of insults.

  25. More and more, Trump takes on the behavior of authoritarian dictators. His stated admiration for Putin and Mussolini are but two indications. The incessant scapegoating and grandstanding are two more. I’ve never witnessed another American politician so addicted to excess.

  26. Nancy; have you noticed that Becky’s comments are filled with scapegoating and grandstanding?

    Bannon is coming more and more to the forefront; no longer the man behind the man. How long will Trump’s ego tolerate Bannon getting the accolades, when it becomes more obvious Trump is the puppet and Bannon the puppeteer? Trump’s scapegoating and grandstanding will become nothing but bluster and a facade and President Bannon will become the problem for Congress to resolve. Do they know that yet?

  27. Becky,
    God loves you.
    Trump loves you.
    Many people love you.
    However, when you die your flesh will rot and there
    isn’t a place in the sky for your soul to go. For you
    that will be tragic, for me that will be paradise.
    That is how it all ends

  28. Becky like the rest of us will have to observe the results of Trump’s presidency as time passes. Based on his performance thus far I am not encouraged. He seems to be cultivating an inexplicable romance w Russia, insulting our closest allies and trading partners and threatening anyone as he pleases. Becky I don’t see the path that you describe. I have saved and invested but unlike you I am waiting for Trump to Tweet something or sign something that gets us into a war or causes the DJI to give up 25% in a day.

  29. It is a sad day when someone or anyone judges a president on the the basis of the stock market. What goes up must come down. Where will Ms. Beckie be when the market drops and the middle class sees their retirement funds drop like and an IPL or GM stock? Suggest Becky go buy some stock in any food currently being picked by our friends from south of the wall. Oh and just wondering how did that wall work in Europe?

  30. C.S. Lewis: “Human history is the long terrible story of man
    trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

  31. poor trump…..he never was able to crack the upper crust of NYC…….they thought he was tacky…..and he bankrupted so many small businesses in the country, by claiming lousy work, forcing small businesses to engage in endless lawsuits until they folded. If he ever paid, it was pennies on the dollar. He is a mean, classless con artist.

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