We hear that question all the time–when we see pictures of babies in cages, see viral videos of racist incidents, or interviews of Trump supporters applauding his vicious rhetoric and bigotry.
Facebook comments posted by those supporters parrot Trump’s celebration of “achievements” that aren’t–mimicking his habit of declaring “wins” that are wholly imaginary. As Dana Milbank wrote recently in The Washington Post,
A Trump-boosting Republican member of Congress has been indicted on charges of insider trading — from the White House, no less. Trump’s former campaign chairman and another former aide are squabbling in court over who is the bigger criminal. And in a closely watched special congressional race in Ohio — a seat Republicans have held for 35 years in a district Trump won by 11 points and Mitt Romney by 10 — the Republican was clinging to a 0.9-percentage -point lead Wednesday despite Trump’s intervention and vast sums of Republican dollars.
In situations such as these, there is only one thing for Trump to do: declare victory.
“Congratulations to Troy Balderson on a great win in Ohio,” Trump proclaimed, even though the number of uncounted provisional and absentee ballots meant the race could not be called.
Milbank followed up with a partial list of Trump’s bizarre claims, including a tweet saying that tariffs are being used to pay down “large amounts” of the debt” (Obviously, Trump doesn’t understand how tariffs work), and that North Korea no longer poses a nuclear threat. Evidently, his base accepts these pronouncements at face value, despite the undeniable fact that the national debt has increased rather dramatically, and as widely reported, North Korea is continuing to add to its nuclear capabilities.
A fairly recent poll from Quinnapac, one of the better polling operations, found that 30% of Americans “approve strongly” of Trump. The poll also found that 31% of American voters like him as a person. (59% dislike him, and 54% disapprove of the job he’s doing–48% strongly.)
I find it astonishing that anyone could find Donald Trump personally likable. Be that as it may, the more relevant inquiry is: who are the 30% who “strongly support” him–and what is it that they support?
The article focused on a study of the “alt-right” from the University of Alabama. It is no secret that figures like Richard Spencer and David Duke are ecstatic about the Trump Presidency, but I think I’m representative of most reasonable Americans when I say that I have assumed the attitudes they represent are found in a pretty small slice of the population.
Evidently, that assumption is wrong.
According to Hawley, a political scientist who specializes in demography and the far right, roughly 5.64 percent of America’s 198 million non-Hispanic whites have beliefs consistent with the alt-right’s worldview. Whether or not they would describe themselves as alt-right, Hawley argues, they share the movement’s belief in a politics that promotes white interests above those of other racial groups.
If Hawley is right, then the alt-right’s constituency isn’t a tiny fringe. It’s about 11 million Americans….
The wrong thing to conclude from Hawley’s data is that there’s a massive number of people who are active participants in the alt-right. Last year’s Charlottesville rally only had several hundred participants; this year’s DC sequel isn’t expected to be orders of magnitude larger.
This isn’t a surprise. The alt-right is an extremely online-focused, extremely marginal movement. People who don’t closely follow the news or spend a lot of time online are unlikely to know a ton about the movement or self-identify with it, let alone spend time and money to attend its rallies.
But while the alt-right as a practical political movement is marginal, Hawley’s research shows that its ideas are more popular than it might seem. Large numbers of people think the way that they do, and shape their political identity around a sense of white grievance and identity. They may not march around the streets yelling, “Jews will not replace us!” but they are extremely receptive to a politics that positions whites as victims and a growing minority population as an existential threat.
I think that explains where a sizable part of that 30% comes from–and what it is about Trump that they support.