Trump’s Base

There is a recurring conversation among reasonable people–a category that includes long-time Republicans who now feel disenfranchised, as well as Democrats and the diminishing   number of genuine Independents–that revolves around a single question: how can anyone continue to support Donald Trump? Who are the people in his (evidently fervent) base? And what in the world is wrong with them?

What prompts that question is a recognition that rejection of Trump isn’t political. It’s moral.

Most Americans who were raised to be polite to other people, who were taught to value modesty and integrity, who honored George Washington by insisting that he “never told a lie,” who were raised to pay their debts and own their mistakes, see Donald Trump as the polar opposite of these virtues. People who value knowledge and education see a man who is not only utterly devoid of intellect, but proud of it.

Above all, for those of us who were raised to believe that racism and associated bigotries are not only wrong, but unAmerican, Trump’s enthusiastic embrace of those bigotries reveals him to be an altogether repulsive figure.

I have significant political and policy disagreements with Republican friends who are “never Trumpers” (and with plenty of my Democratic friends as well). What we all have in common, however, is a belief that immorality and ignorance are flaws, not virtues, and dread about the immense harm this administration is doing every day.

That brings me to the question with which I introduced this meditation: who are the people who can look at Trump’s daily, egomaniacal, misspelled tweet-rants, his word-salad harangues, his documented whoppers and corruption, and the overwhelming evidence that he is seriously mentally ill–and still support him?

Thomas Edsell tried to answer that question in a recent New York Times column. He concluded that Trump’s coalition is dependent upon better-off white people who did not graduate from college.

On Feb. 24, 2016, after winning the Nevada caucuses, Donald Trump told supporters in Las Vegas, “I love the poorly educated.”

Technically, he should have said “I love poorly educated white people,” but his point was well taken.

We have been talking about this since Trump came down that escalator four years ago, but we haven’t quite reckoned with the depth of the changes in the electorate or the way they have reshaped both parties.

Edsell shares data showing that college-educated white voters have been leaving the Republican Party, with the biggest shift occurring between 2016 to 2018.

Political scientists at Duke and Ohio State make the argument that the transition from an industrial to a knowledge economy has produced “tectonic shifts” leading to an “education-income partisan realignment” — a profound realignment of voting patterns that has effectively turned the political allegiances of the white sector of the New Deal coalition that dominated the middle decades of the last century upside down.

Driven by what the authors call “first dimension” issues of economic redistribution, on the one hand, and by the newer “second dimension issues of citizenship, race and social governance,” the traditional alliances of New Deal era politics — low-income white voters without college degrees on the Democratic Party side, high-income white voters with degrees on the Republican side — have switched places. According to this analysis, these two constituencies are primarily motivated by “second dimension” issues, often configured around racial attitudes, which frequently correlate with level of education.

According to this analysis, it isn’t white working-class voters who form the base upon which Trump depends–it’s relatively well-off, low-education whites.

Edsell also notes the obvious: the support of Evangelical Christians:

The key bloc for both Trump and the Republican Party is made up of white Christian evangelicals. Eight out of ten of these voters cast ballots for Trump, and intensely religious voters make up 40 percent of the Republican electorate.

The column is lengthy, and the analysis is interesting–especially the discussion about the true values (as opposed to the professed values) of that Evangelical bloc–but it’s impossible to avoid the obvious conclusion: Trump’s base (which is today’s GOP) is composed of people who fear cultural displacement by those “others.” They are willing to overlook the ignorance, the nastiness, the corruption and dishonesty, and all the harm being done, because they share the bigotry.

For Trump’s base, hate isn’t a bug. It’s the feature that overwhelms all else.


  1. Those of us who live in the Indianapolis area have a genuine “distant mirror” before us. The Indiana Repertory Theatre is presenting “Twelve Angry Men” in which we come face-to-face with the sort of mind-set destined by Thomas Edsell and Sheila Kennedy in today’s meditation. I find it valuable to be hit by truth sideways and the IRT did it for me and my thirteen year old grandson. The artist very often gets to the truth faster than prosaic people like me.

  2. Bob G; I am unable to view the IRT presentation of “Twelve Angry Men” but recently watched the movie which is a classic. A study in racism and the mind-set of different “classes” of people (men only); it brought out racism and personal value systems internally buried from themselves by some of them. Henry Fonda’s character gradually led the other jurors to look into themselves for the guilt or innocence of the accused killer. The jurors appeared, with all of their differences, to all be white, working class men who were brought together by Jury Summonses who would never otherwise been in contact or forced to look within themselves for the true source of their beliefs.

    Regarding “Trump’s Base”; “Who are the people in his (evidently fervent) base? And what in the world is wrong with them?” There is no way to lock millions of them in a room and force them to look into themselves for their “fervent” support of Trump and question their own lack of morals and humanity and following their Judas goat into White Nationalism at the expense of the lives of others…including their own family members and life-long friends.

    “For Trump’s base, hate isn’t a bug. It’s the feature that overwhelms all else.”

    I have this tiny hope that those who have turned their backs on me; family, friends and neighbors, are now aware of their grievous error and too ashamed to admit to themselves they were wrong. I have no need for them to seek me out to reestablish whatever our former connections were; just go to the polls and vote out the vermin they previously elected. I still have the right as an American citizen to hope…however ridiculous it is at this time.

  3. We have exhausted tons of newsprint and hours of airwaves trying to figure out what’s wrong with those who voted for 45. Maybe we need to focus more on those who didn’t vote. I’m more interested to know why they didn’t vote and what would motivate them to vote in the coming elections. If they are content not to vote again, in the face of this outrage to our humanity, what does that say about them?

  4. I’m now reading Naomi Klein’s interesting book, “No is not Enough”. In the early chapters she describes Trump’s attachment to branding. He is making his money off of selling his brand. Add to that the schtick he discovered from WWE. Remember, he picked the woman who ran the WWE to be his small business department head. His rallies and his public harangues are EXACTLY congruent with what you see from WWE publicity. The name calling, verbal bullying, stupid accusations, etc., etc. All WWE schtick.

    Since Trump has never had to answer for his shady dealings, stiffing of contractors, illegal immigrant hiring and all the rest, he thinks his violations of the emoluments laws is simply business as usual. Now, he’s having us taxpayers foot the bill for his properties.

    Take Turnberry golf resort in Scotland, for example. In case you missed the story, he’s directed military supply missions to land and refuel at Prestwick commercial airport, a 30-minute ride to Turnberry. It turns out that this little airport is going broke. It also is the air hub for tourists who visit Turnberry and play golf there. Trump’s golf resort there is losing money hand over fist too. SO….. Connect the dots. We’re paying for the shameless propping up of one of his branded entities that is doing poorly. It’s kind of like WE are now the Trump Foundation and are being used to finance his business.

    It doesn’t get much more third-world dictator than that.

  5. Peggy makes a great point. 100 million didn’t vote in 2016 probably because the choices were awful. I hope we can bring a great strong candidate, like Obama was, to bring out the masses to finally remove IQ45.

    Warren is my favorite. I’ve been watching her for a decade.

  6. I agree with Peggy. The folks who still support Trump are really a lost cause. They are stubbornly committed, and I don’t think there’s any winning them over at this point. I’d love to see a wave of young voters hitting the polls — newly minted and registered adults who have grown up under very real threats of school shootings and climate disasters who are fed up with the inaction of our government. The Parkland survivors and Greta Thunberg give me hope for the future. I hope they are inspiring their peers to engage and make their voices heard, eclipsing those who are content with the destructive status quo.

  7. i never gave golf a second look,due its roots in segregational policies. those who wear a suit,to be seen,and deals made. sure theres some working class who get the knack,and enjoyit. mostly a status game. if wondering how the well to do get their way,play the game,er,games, toss mega bucks at someone and see where it goes. trumps golf infrastructure is definatly above ours,now he has jet one to get him there….
    in euro,id be more alarmed at the rights side of policy is gain traction in germany,and many more euro countries. another state just fell in germany to the right,because he had no contender

  8. This is an offshoot of a larger problem. When you have churches allowed to preach politics with impunity, when you have churches who do not teach the law of Christ, when you have churches that are more of a political organization with money being the motive, then you’ve tapped into a large group prefer to follow a man rather than their religious beliefs. Both of Jesus Christ greatest and most important commands were to “love God and love your neighbor.” Jesus Christ did not say, only love your neighbor if he is like you, he said “love your neighbor!”

    The apostle Paul on the apostle Peter both warned of these things, they could see the literal handwriting on the wall so to speak. Paul said that after the last of the apostles would die, there would be leaders of the church who would draw Christ’s disciples disciples (Christians) away from the congregation for themselves. This is seen at acts 20:29, 30. 1st Timothy 4:1 through 3 states, “however, the inspired word clearly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith paying attention to misleading statements and false teachings, by means of the hypocrisy of men who speak lies, whose conscience seared as with a branding iron. They forbid marriage and command people to abstain from foods that God created to be partaken of with Thanksgiving by those who have faith and accurately know God’s word.”

    In his 2nd letter to the congregation in Thessalonica, the apostle Paul discussed the man of lawlessness. The apostle Paul alluded to the fact that it would be very noticeable for those living in that time, and that what was going on would be undeniable, although the political leaders would not be able to do anything about it leading to foretold disasters. To this very day, the man of lawlessness remains shrouded in the minds of most people as he practices his lies and teachings contrary to Christ’s laws and, under the guise of godly devotion.

    If you are a student of Scripture, you know that many things started to change after the death of the last apostle,by church leaders own admission, they started to teach falsehoods that were frowned upon and proven wrong by Christ and his apostles. There was a great change starting almost immediately and was in full of fact during in the 2nd century after the death of Christ. And culminated with the changes that Emperor Constantine made at the Nicene counsel in 325 AD. The few over the centuries, that tried to maintain accurate faith and knowledge were burned as heretics, imprisoned, tortured, accused of demonic influence and the like, all at a cost of their lives.

    So, present day, is foretold this way in apostle Paul’s 2nd letter to the Thessalonian congregation in Thessalonica, “but the lawless ones presence is by the operation of Satan with every powerful work and lying signs and wonders and every unrighteous deception for those who are perishing, as a retribution because they did not accept the love of the truth in order that they might be saved. That is why God lets a Deluding influence mislead them so they may come to believe the lie, in order that they may be judged because they did not believe the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness.”

    So whether you believe in God, whether you believe in Christ’s law, it is undeniable that these things are in motion at this unprecedented point in time. Sheila is correct discerning well-off but ignorant evangelicals, I’ve worked with many over the years. Those who made hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in construction and utility work are an example. This good old boy network allowed many to use nepotism to keep these jobs in the church and the community. They are some of the most hateful and bigoted people I have ever come across. They became more resentful when laws were passed to allow other unconnected folks access to these jobs, supplanting their own ignorant ilk including their family members. They all swear an allegiance to God, it fits perfectly with what her article is about today. People that I thought I knew, turned completely upside down when Barack Obama was elected president. They tried to point to their religious beliefs to justify their hatred and despise. With the current administration they have their perfect foil, it will allow them to be as vocal and hypocritically maniacal as they can be and justify every bit of it.

    Soon, there is going to be a reckoning by those of the masses who are tired of individuals and organizations using religion as a bludgeon on the citizenry of this and other countries. I believe it’s going to be a sorrowful time for those followed the man of lawlessness, or the composite man as it were, because it gave those individuals ticket to hate. Judging by everything we see every day, almost every conflict is caused by religious fervor and hatred. Religions days are numbered, and it’s wealth will be taken to be used as the government sees fit.

  9. I have 2 brief observations.

    1. “Above all, for those of us who were raised to believe that racism and associated bigotries are not only wrong, but unAmerican…” unAmerican? Huh?

    2. They feel the same way about us. Now what?

  10. I don’t have any idea of how it can be measured but I have to believe that there are psychological models that can depict the scope of each person’s world and how inclusive or exclusive it is. It has been noted by many that the culture that has evolved seemingly around the world has become tighter with more focus on me, and less focus on we. While that makes for perhaps newly revealing demographic variables I think that it has allowed new political variables as well and Trump’s mastery of personal brand management has revealed the power that can be obtained by appealing to the most exclusive individuals in that dimension. Trump played the system in 2016 with the combination of campaign collusion with Putin and entertainment skills appealing to those with the smallest circles of inclusion – those with their prime to only focus on “me”.

    His Party of convenience, Republicans, have doubled down on their long term exclusionary nature and gone along for the ride based Lord Acton’s observation that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. It’s a Machiavellin nightmare of ego but it attracts power in today’s world.

    What will reveal the dimensions of this dysfunction is an honest election in 2020 which is now possible only in a relative sense. Will it be more or less honest than 2016 so will it accurately measure the degrees of the “me only movement” and will they be revealed to be a minority when put to the black and white test of an honest election? All we can do is work for an honest election and let the facts speak for themselves. If the world has become too inwardly focused to function anymore I feel very sorry for the future human race. But perhaps it will show the opposite: that the majority of us won’t live that way and will lead the species back to our social roots.

    We’ll see. What we can do now is to focus on the honesty of the election process.

  11. Vernon at 8:18 is on to something: “The name calling, verbal bullying, stupid accusations, etc., etc. All WWE schtick.”

    The WWE is typical Hollywood entertainment, genre, except on testosterone. This type of “entertainment” demands more and more over the top displays to keep the audience engaged.

    The evangelicals, especially the tel-evangelists, must engage their audience with ever increasing amounts of hell fire, damnation and the apocalyptic.

    President Agent Orange maybe the imperfect vessel, but he understands his target audience: anti science, woman are second class and macho posturing concerning the military. Pastor Pence is the perfect lap dog, with his smiling servility for all to see.

    There is an informative article concerning Greta Thunberg. Why is Greta Thunberg so triggering for certain men? How can a 16-year-old girl in plaits, dedicated to trying to save the planet, inspire such incandescent rage?

    Even for someone who spends a lot of time on Twitter, some of the criticism leveled at Thunberg is astonishing. It is, simultaneously, the most vicious and the most fatuous kind of playground bullying.

    The reason they taunt her with childish insults is because that’s all they’ve got. They’re out of ideas. They can’t dismantle her arguments, because she has science – and David Attenborough – on her side. They can’t win the debate with the persuasive force of their arguments, because these bargain bin cranks trade in jaded cynicism, not youthful passion.

    Why is Greta Thunberg so triggering? Because of what she represents. In an age when democracy is under assault, she hints at the emergency of new kind of power, a convergence of youth, popular protest and irrefutable science. And for her loudest detractors, she also represents something else: the sight of their impending obsolescence hurtling towards them.

    Greta, is a huge threat, she is a young woman, with the science behind her who not afraid to speak her mind. She is the exact opposite of what the bible thumper’s expect of a young woman.

  12. ML,

    Good points all. Thanks for the cred. BTW, have you also noticed that strong women in politics absolutely terrify the right-wing morons? AOC, Warren, the other members of the “squad”, etc., etc. It seems to me that these lip-strummers have more issues with their sexual insecurity than they do with the issues. Pathetic.

  13. Good point, ML, but I would call her a teen-aged girl versus a young woman which makes it worse. Her speeches are threatening to grown men — they dismiss her and tell her to “go back to school where you belong.”

    After one speech at Davos, Bono even apologized for her mind speak. It challenges their masculinity.

    Trump’s followers, todays GOP, are the group formerly known as the Tea Party — taxed enough already groups. It doesn’t matter who the person is, they’re better than a tax loving Democrat.

    We knew they were racists when hate crimes elevated 1,800% after the election of a black president. They were created and supported by the Koch brothers and eventually bailed from the monster they created on a national stage because it was bad for their brand.

    As for why people didn’t vote and/or didn’t vote for Hillary, may I refer you to Wikileaks, or more specifically, the DNC leaks?

    Millions of young people were screwed and the DNC has learned nothing because we’re an Oligarchy ruled from the top down. As embarrassing as Trump is to some, he’s taken care of the Oligarchy. He’s made Wall Street a priority — what’s NOT to like about him?

    The “people” aren’t part of the power structure in this country…sorry, we are NOT a democracy. Until we fully grasp this truism, all the philosophical banterings by the “educated class” means nothing except maybe job security.

    Trump is a media creation because without the media he has no brand. Meanwhile, Rome is on fire and the media isn’t paying attention so it doesn’t exist for the drones who sit fixated in front of the transistors.

  14. What is been described and commented on in regard to today’s post by Sheila is nothing short of a catastrophe for this country and one at the very core of our society and culture. It’s no wonder that our political system is as dysfunctional as it is right now and that this man was elected President of the United States. It also makes me wonder how on earth that this can be fixed and how the genie can be capped in the bottle so to speak in regard to the rampaging fear and hatred that apparently already existed and is now running wild. We may not be able to fix it unless those that still ascribed to our traditional ideals and of doing something about this both at the ballot box but also by speaking out against those that have such warped ideas regardless of who they are and where they come from and that includes friends of longstanding and, quite conceivably, relatives. This is very likely a fight for the very survival of this country as all of us have known it including those who have given sway to all the various dark forces at work in this country.

    The rub with all of this is that while we go through all these gyrations and try to reestablish some sort of social, cultural, and political equilibrium in this country time marches on and those that benefit from this chaos gain even greater ascendancy in regard to the existing world order, all according to plan. We have fallen into a trap – hook, line and sinker. No one can fix this except ourselves and the question remains whether or not we can even come close to galvanizing ourselves to do so given that we allowed this to happen to ourselves and have been sitting and ruminating about how to fix it for three long years without reaching any real conclusions or plans of action. I do not want history to record that the American people could not bring themselves to do anything to preserve their democracy and way of life and spent what ended up being wasted time with us only trying to explain it to one another and nothing more.

    Tahiti and New Caledonia look better and better to me. I just need to brush up on my French.

  15. Yes, Vernon, I have noticed that. The Face Book primitives have transferred their venom to attacking the “Squad”. The primitives have no facts and usually accompany some outrageous and false accusation, with some photo-shopped pictures, making them appear grotesque.

  16. You don’t have to venture that far, Tom. Canada is nearer and there is a valley there extending up from the apple-growing valley in Washington State into Canada between the Cascades on one side and the Rockies on the other where Canadians in this warm zone raise nectarines, peaches, apples etc. It is where I have thought of moving if Trump should be reelected (assuming he was elected). I thought of an abode near the border where I could quickly attend funerals and weddings in the U.S. when necessary but otherwise survive until the holocaust is over, assuming there is a country left to which to remigrate. Also, since English is spoken there, you can beat the French rap. I also thought of Christchurch, New Zealand, where I had visited, but decided otherwise after the devastating earthquake there.

    Back to topic > Yes, the issue poised by Sheila today is moral, but that’s not new; government is nothing but collective morality in how and by whom we shall be governed in a democracy. The problem these days is that democracy as the fundamental framework within which to deliver such services as government provides can itself survive Attila and his Huns who have come to power on the banks of the Potomac.

    I think it will survive, but not as before, and since it was not perfect before, obviously, instead of merely trying to go back to what we had before let’s take this opportunity after a big win in 2020 to improve our democratic institutions better than ever. From the economic side there will be new water to tread given our move from the Industrial to the Information Age, though how this is handled may provide more opportunity than travail for our new democracy to find favor among voters. In spite of all, I remain an optimist for the long haul. We have far too much blood, sweat and tears invested in our democracy to surrender it to the Huns and their fellow travelers – and will not. To do: win the 2020 election – big!

  17. I have grown to ABHOR this statement: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    First, it is false. It could be made true with the addition of qualifiers like “sometimes”, or “give it enough time”, or “if you are morally weak”.

    Sometimes power corrupts, and given enough time, absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    If you are morally weak, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

    Second, it wrongly infers that no one should ever have power, power is just too dangerous. But power is necessary to get things done. If we reject political power, we reject ever getting anything done.

    Thirdly, those who quote that statement, are automatically inconsistent. For instance, the very same people who insist that we Democrats must win the 2020 election (acquire the power to change things) then (sometimes in their very next post) tell us that power corrupts.

  18. If you get a democratic president next election, that president and his party will have to look after the interests of the trump voters as well, in order to overcome the divisions in the population of the USA. And to prevent new “trumpers getting power in the future. Love and greetings.

  19. I do not understand Hoosiers, let alone their watering holes. Who is Mike Pence and what KKK chapter goes on with its headline-getting work? Speech is not dichotomous, and neither are the ballots, but dual, plural… . The first rule for a political speech in the Class of 1968 was for the sales agent for his or her party platform was to give the appearance of being fair — not liberally schooled only to age 21.

    I think politicians are using the Economic formula for The Producers, win or lose, handle the stakes. You have to put up a Native Son or Daughter candidate for each federal office of signature. All the land was nationalized from 1492, Treaty by Treaty. Pull out of one, unravel the whole Earth’s full. Think of this Administration like examination of a tumor colony there at NYCDC, sickening tests. A second term and it’s chemotherapy to weather!

    It looks to some like Religiously divided property stewards have made no reconciliation attempts 1865 to present, and to others like Democrats are throwing elections in their own States first where they are losing those jobs. Last campaign registered so many house-to-house automated calls that even Senate sponsors were fined paper dollars — not Treaty signatures. Pollution is so thorough that prospects of community service cleanups are terrifying physically without wise engineers for jobs of work, not office journaling.

    I liked the Democrat candidate for Governor, but Pence partisans totally aced the State for years to come. And what was the big advertising peg — colonial Common Sense and English commoners’ laws [unwritten but recorded]. Since English is 5/100 or 6/100 of our captions, it would take 20 years for an English citizen to pass a Friday spelling test and get to do extracurricular activities. And you will not get grandparents’ names on contracts without having day schools for pedestrians, with sports and facilities for the entire township or more. Who is going to serve as presiding officer[s] in Indiana of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, who the Olympic Committee, is interesting also.
    Anywhere men are ahead of women on record, they are behind on women in their families. The skraeling have intermarried since the first Earth around Christian Crusades for converts, and Vikings never did scoff at lithography or rolling pins. It may be the lettered Constitution is on its last Z, but that changes not the Declaration of Independence in our own vocabulary style or the French Rights of Man in English and French — both Germanic languages.

  20. There is also that authoritarian impulse that drives a lot of those folks, which is also characteristic of the more fundamentalist white folks. (See “The End of White Christian America”) I think it’s also associated with how those folks view “a great boss”: someone who “tells it like it is”, who pushes people around, has that gruff demeanor and “lets you know where you stand”. These are generally people who work in businesses where they do what they’re told and think the best CEOs are like Trump, but we know the best CEOs are focused on consensus, “servant-leadership”, praise and reward and respect for others. The more educated folks hunger for the second type of CEO because they are more acquainted with excellent management. Authoritarian personalities think the best people see the world in black and white. They look for “the savior”, or at least the “savior” who claims to be able to “fix it”, all characteristics of Mr. Trump.

  21. Psh, at 2:51pm, I waded all the way through twice, then came back again. I’m sorry, but all that I can get out it is at best a tossed word salad. To take a small sample, in the last sentence, you said English and French are both Germanic languages – at least that’s the way I read what you said. I’ve always thought French was a Romance (or Latin-derived) language, whereas English has a lot of German, Nordic, Celt(?) and many others. And none of that is a hill I’m willing to die on, and school was about 60 years ago. My memory(and everything else about me!) isn’t what it used to be. And I have to say, I sometimes have trouble sorting grammar and misspellings, but like I said, I wade through…. Of course I do have trouble doing my own editing(doesn’t everyone?).

  22. Donald Trump is the best president in generations He is the savior of the United States of America and I truly wholeheartedly support him and I could not be happier that he is my president.

  23. So, Gri, I guess that his behavior and his language are, for you, not a glitch and the result of bad judgment but a feature. I’d like to know how you are able to rationalize all of that, as would most of the people writing in this blog. Unless you are just a troll.

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