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.