The Forty Percent

A recent column by Gary Younge, a Guardian columnist has identified the most dangerous problem illuminated by Donald Trump’s erratic and incompetent Presidency–and it isn’t his obvious mental illness.

It’s the 40% of Americans who still approve of his performance.

As Younge notes, there is no serious debate about Trump’s mental disorders among most observers.

Divining, assessing and adjudicating the mental health of this US president has become more than just a parlour game. Following a 2017 conference, 27 psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health experts wrote a book, The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, arguing it was their moral and civic “duty to warn” America that “for psychological reasons”, Trump was “more dangerous than any president in history”. They diagnosed him with everything from “severe character pathology” to “delusional disorder”, which can be added to the more common verdicts of “narcissistic personality disorder” and “antisocial personality disorder” which are regularly offered.

Younge also notes the signs of deterioration, as the pressures of impeachment mount, and polls showing that he is likely to lose his bid for re-election proliferate.  Trump’s bizarre behaviors are more frequent (although somehow that doesn’t seem possible), and his melt-downs more embarrassing and concerning. It is, as Younge writes, “deeply worrying” that the powers of the presidency are in the hands of a man who is “at one and the same time so brittle, aggressive, vindictive, ridiculous and self-obsessed.”

As dangerous as this administration is, however–as much harm as it is doing and may still do–Younge argues that it would be a mistake to think that simply replacing Trump and the cabal he has assembled with rational and honest public servants will solve the problem.

The problem, Younge says, isn’t just Trump. It’s how he got to the Oval Office. It is the nearly 63 million people who voted for him, and the 35-40% who still tell pollsters they approve of his performance.

For along with Trump’s personal frailties is a series of political characteristics that underpins his anomie. He is a misogynist, a racist, a xenophobe and a nationalist. Those are not psychological descriptors but political ones, fortified by systems and ideology.

As such, his behaviour has been irascible but hardly erratic. The rhetorical objects of his disdain are not random. He has not lashed out at the National Rifle Association, the religious right or white people. Politically, his tantrums invariably find their mark in the weak, the poor, the dark, the female, the Muslim, the marginalised and the foreigner. (He will attack powerful people, but not simply for existing. They must cross him first.)

These inclinations were clear when he stood for the presidency. He has been every bit as bigoted, undisciplined, indiscreet, thin-skinned and braggadocious as his campaign promised. And he won.

This was not because people didn’t see those things, but because they either didn’t care, cared about other things more, preferred him to the alternative, or simply didn’t show up. As such, his victory marked a high point for the naked appeal of white supremacy in particular and rightwing populism in general, and a low point for the centre-left, neoliberal agenda.

In other words, Younge tells us, Trump’s bigotries–his particular form of mental illness– enjoy significant, if not majority, support. His hatreds are shared–or at least not considered disqualifying– by millions of people.

That is our problem. And it’s chilling.


  1. “In other words, Younge tells us, Trump’s bigotries–his particular form of mental illness– enjoy significant, if not majority, support. His hatreds are shared–or at least not considered disqualifying– by millions of people.” That is our problem. And it is chilling.”

    Younge understands the U.S. real well. He’s African-American. Impeachment of Donald Trump will not be an answer to this problem nor will the election of a Democrat as President in 2020.

    Our #1 priority should be finding an answer to the VIRUS OF HATRED that has permeated throughout America. Running away from this problem can only be labeled, at this point in time, as DOMESTIC COWARDICE.

  2. Enlightening and rather frightening column by Gary Younge; we can always depend on The Guardian to go directly to the heart of all issues. That 40% of Trump supporters is much more physically frightening because they walk among us every day of our lives, some within our own families. The mass shootings have escalated under Trump and his name is often found in writings by the shooters who have followed his words inviting violence. Due to that 40% we are not safe in hour homes, on our streets, in our schools, churches of places of business. The 2nd Amendment; originally written to protect us from foreign enemies has placed all of us in the cross hairs of other Americans.

    We read about the meeting last week when he had what was called a “melt down” and his insults and refusal to discuss issues caused three high level Democrats to walk out. Yesterday we watched his speech after the cabinet meeting as he rapidly decompensed while his rambling on and on in different directions at the same time seemed never ending. The same could be said about Mulvaney’s press conference last week in which he publicly admitted this government uses quid pro quo systems for political favors…and we should “Get used to it.” Watching Mulvaney’s repeated attempts to “walk back” his words is parroting Trump’s many attempts and denials.

    But we can watch them in action via the media; we have no way to know “what goes on behind closed doors” of that 40% of Trump supporters we live among unless and until they go into action.

  3. A mea culpa regarding my poor editing on that one sentence in the first paragraph. It should read, “in our (not hour) homes” and “churches or (not of) places of business”.

  4. That 40% didn’t just show up the day Trump came down the escalator. They were with us before, and they will be with us after. They simply were not so easy to spot.
    If we want to lower their numbers, and their influence, we can do a better job of educating the next generation and be better citizens ourselves.

  5. I’m not sure there’s anything left to say about this topic. That 1/3 of the American public that just loves our President is the same 1/3 that owns most of the guns in this country, so we need to address this before they get comfortable with the thought of armed uprisings.

  6. No democracy has been particularly long-lived. The problem always is that roughly half of any population are not capable of self-governance, nor do they desire it. Sooner or later the psychopaths learn to manipulate the fools, and tyranny results. We have simply been very, very lucky to live when and where we have to this point in our lives. The future of American democracy, even in the near term, remains uncertain.

  7. Good and accurate analysis by all, especially the points by Theresa and Marv. That 40% HAS always been with us…even before we became a nation. The issue in 2016 was the 93 million voters who stayed home, thus bringing the 40% who DID vote into the majority…so to speak. This social sloth coupled with the antiquated Electoral College gave us what we deserved.

    What Mr. Younge didn’t mention was that a democracy like ours cannot succeed and endure unless its citizens PARTICIPATE. How many times have we read on this blog about someone pleading with our brethren to push people to vote. In 2016, it was a choice between two flawed candidates (Oh, did you see where the “final” investigation into Hillary’s e-mails came to the conclusion that no purposeful wrongdoing occurred?), but instead of choosing one or the other, the 93 million just didn’t bother. The results speak for themselves.

    PEOPLE: If you want to keep your republic, you have to participate, otherwise you get crazy people controlling our country. Take Mike Pompeo (please) for example… He graduated first in his Naval Academy class and yet….. And yet, he has embraced a madman for, presumably, the betterment of his own ambition. Mulvaney is another very smart guy who has grabbed Trump’s hand and jumped off the same cliff. THAT is what is meant by crazy.

  8. Gary spent over a month in Muncie leading up to the 2016 election. He interviewed lots of folks on both sides of the aisle and spent time at Ball State. He quickly picked up on the racist problem in our community. He wrote a series of articles that were very insightful on why certain people were backing Trump and why the young people weren’t backing Hillary, regardless of all the negatives surrounding Trump.

    Tea baggers are exactly the problem we thought they were even though they denied their racism vociferously. They’ll never be caught hugging all their neighbors. 😉

    What I found hilarious was the most outspoken Tea Partiers in our community (anti-government crowd) either worked for Ball State directly or derived an indirect profit from the government-run institution. It defies logic.

  9. I’m not educated in how to distinguish between the mental pathology Trump might have been born with vs the personality impact of what Trump was born into vs the cultural impact of the dysfunctional people who Trump’s upbringing stewed him in or the contribution of his life as an entertainment celebrity but the net impact of all of those things clearly created the anti-politician that we have before us.

    On the other hand I can see the social forces that have made us dysfunctional as a body politic and how all of his influences have created a bond between the two forces, dysfunctional leader and dysfunctional followers, that have civilization falling in slow motion around us. I also fully accept the evidence that we got him close but Putin carried him over the finish line despite the overwhelming majority of the democratic vote that Hillary received.

    Our election success in 2018 blunted somewhat the ability of that dysfunction to do more permanent damage but today we have two campaigns aimed at a longer lasting solution, impeachment and election.

    The two seem complementary to me with the impeachment certifying the extent of the crimes involved and the election of Democrats ultimately restoring democracy.

    Stay the course.

  10. Vernon,

    “THAT is what is meant by crazy.”

    Your definition is probably the best. But It’s all crazy because of the INTELLIGENCE GAP. Why not embrace a madman, as you have pointed out if the opposition’s intelligence is compromised? Why not rob a bank if there are no armed guards? So on and so on.

    We’ll never know if the craziness could have been stopped. From my experience, it can be.

    Unfortunately, much sooner than later, we’ll all be saying: WE’VE BEEN ROYALLY SCREWED!!!

  11. “This was not because people didn’t see those things, but because they … didn’t care, cared about other things more…”

    Think this says a lot about our society today, something growing since the 1980’s – cultural narcissism. My life is all about ME and MINE. I can swear when I want, dress how I want, tattoo how I want, run red lights, speed, get high….It is MY music programmed for me, MY orders to my smart speaker, MY food delivered, MY Uber coming for me….

    The country? Our democracy? Others? Who cares….

  12. Lester,

    You’re right. But if you’re not faced with the facts, you can then get away with MURDER. And that’s why it’s so insane in the U.S.

    No doubt problems are mounting over the whole planet. All we can do is minimize them if possible. But first, we have to understand the extent of the problem, both on the surface and sub-surface; and the sub-surface answers are not going to come from Gary Young and the Guardian. They no better than to do that. I know that for a fact.

  13. With Younge’s column comes negativity in re how long our democracy can last. We have already surpassed the 169 years enjoyed by Athens, and I for one am not throwing in the towel on keeping a form of government in which governors rules by consent of the governed Big B as opposed to Big Brother and King George regimes. Been there, done that. Never again!

    I do not agree that not electing Trump will not solve the problem since electing him is not a rational alternative in that it endorses our road to 1984. Democracy is not a perfect form of government; no government designed to bring human societies together in common effort can be. We are stuck with choosing the best of the forms available, and with all its imperfections and fragility I choose democracy, a system being sorely tested by the current occupant of the Oval Office. TO DO: Win elections, thus providing an atmosphere within which our democracy can expand its reach and flourish.

  14. “I doubt if the Republican Party could [ride to political victory on the four horsemen of calumny — fear, ignorance, bigotry and smear] simply because I don’t believe the American people will uphold any political party that puts political exploitation above national interest. Surely we Republicans aren’t that desperate for victory.” Quote by Senator Margaret Chase Smith of Maine 1950.

    The definition of calumny is the making of false and defamatory statements about someone in order to damage their reputation; slander.

    An interesting article – The Once-Fresh Hell of Republicanism, by P.M. Carpenter:
    Republicans are indeed so desperate for political victory that they’ll ride the four hateful horsemen of Trumpism to wherever they take them.

    Nor can Republicans’ base heal itself, for it’s willfully trapped in the thundering ignorance and bigotry of far-right epistemic closure. Daily, its illiteracy in all things good and decent and honorable — and real — becomes more profoundly engrained.

    Should any reality manage to spill into view, vampiric cries of “Fake news!” is their garlic. In darkness, they are safe once again.

    I only remark that the antebellum fire-eaters of southern Democracy were also bound by devotion to country — their country, not the country, which is again the creed of Trumpism’s hayseeds and hellraisers.

    Side Bar: The Jim Crow of the Old South and the Jim Crow Light of the North like guerilla warfare, went underground for awhile. It re-emerged with Evangelical Family Values, Conservative Catholicism, and trickle down economics. It did utilize dog whistles and code words to mask, the Four Horsemen of the Republican Party – fear, ignorance, bigotry and smear.

    President Agent Orange and Pastor Pence are no longer constrained they proudly display – fear, ignorance, bigotry and smear – they know the GOP Base demands it.

  15. All….should Pence find his way to be the President or run, one cannot help but wonder the reaction of “independents”. He could easily say that he “stood” by “to serve his country” and claim to have stopped The Duck from several worse things.

    He “looks” “presidential” and sounds like a typical politician (other than ultra-religious” stuff). He might seem like a relief and a bit of return to “normalcy”….especially compared to a fire-breathing far left Democrat candidate. I would suggest that the populace (not us) are tired of “big change” and non-believers in it after Obama and Trump.

  16. Oh my goodness! The whistlers in this graveyard are deafening…and they scare the crap out of me. The tune y’all whistle: “A democratic sweep will end the reign of ghouls and vampires.”

    A democratic sweep is merely the beginning of the real war, not the end. And a 2020 democratic sweep will be useless unless those democrats swept into office are fierce fighters…rather than the usual Pollyannas, psuedo-Emily Posts, phony effetes and petrified hand-wringers.

    The deplorable army and its weaponized money will not go away. It will counterattack on day one of the new administration. And it will defeat every liberal reform put forward by democrats who are weak enough to be bought, blanched, blackmailed, buffaloed, bamboozled, bugged, bludgeoned, bullied, or browbeaten. It will only take about a dozen of these weak ninny democrat “winners” to enable the deplorables to kill every reform, national and local.

    If we truly want to turn this governing free-fall around, we must be very careful which democrats we nominate and elect. And we must make it clear to those democrats taking office that we will not tolerate their smallest concession to money, threat, or fear.

  17. The last thing Pence looks like with those Charley Manson eyes and witch burning mouth is presidential. How could you suggest such a thing, Lester?

  18. Larry – a gold star for alliteration: “bought, blanched, blackmailed, buffaloed, bamboozled, bugged, bludgeoned, bullied, or browbeaten” – kudos!

    I meant “presidential” as compared to The Duck….

  19. Larry, good observation about, “2020 democratic sweep will be useless unless those democrats swept into office are fierce fighters…rather than the usual Pollyannas, psuedo-Emily Posts, phony effetes and petrified hand-wringers. ”

    I never did jump on the Mayor Pete bandwagon and the more a hear and read about him the worse he gets. Excellent article concerning the shifting sands under Mayor’s Pete’s feet concerning issues, especially on Medicare For All. Given his paymasters in terms of campaign contributions the shift is not surprising.
    A not-funny thing has happened to Buttigieg on the campaign trail. As he kept collecting big checks from corporate executives and wealthy donors, he went from being “all for” a single-payer Medicare for All system in January to trashing it in the debate last week as a plan that would kick “150 million Americans off of their insurance in four short years.” The demagoguery won praise from corporate media outlets.

    Buttigieg’s reversal of avowed support for Medicare for All is classic opportunism. In early 2018, he was unequivocal via Twitter: “I, Pete Buttigieg, politician, do henceforth and forthwith declare, most affirmatively and indubitably, unto the ages, that I do favor Medicare for All.”

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