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Why people cling to Trump

I know this article is a week old, but there were just too many things going on that pushed this down in my stack. But you really should read this article in The Atlantic titled “Why Trump Supporters Can’t Admit Who He Really Is“.

When I’m talking to various liberal people, a common refrain is that we can’t figure out why Trump’s base continuously dismisses his terrible behavior and even believes his obvious lies and even rejoices in his venal corruption. Well, here’s your answer.

The bottom line is that they believe that “If Joseph R. Biden Jr. wins the presidency, America dies.” If you believe that Biden is an existential threat to you, your family, and your beliefs, then you will find a way to tolerate and even justify virtually anything Trump does to save you.

That is the message that is being delivered to them by the Republicans, by Fox News and other right-wing media, and even by their churches:

During last week’s Republican National Convention, speaker after speaker insisted that life under a Biden presidency would be dystopian. Charlie Kirk, the young Trump acolyte who opened the proceedings, declared, “I am here tonight to tell you—to warn you—that this election is a decision between preserving America as we know it and eliminating everything that we love.” President Trump, who closed the proceedings, said, “Your vote will decide whether we protect law-abiding Americans or whether we give free rein to violent anarchists and agitators and criminals who threaten our citizens. And this election will decide whether we will defend the American way of life or allow a radical movement to completely dismantle and destroy it.” And in between Americans were told that Democrats want to “disarm you, empty the prisons, lock you in your home, and invite MS-13 to live next door” and that they “want to destroy this country and everything that we have fought for and hold dear.”

“They’re not satisfied with spreading the chaos and violence into our communities. They want to abolish the suburbs altogether,” a St. Louis couple who had brandished weapons against demonstrators outside their home, told viewers. “Make no mistake, no matter where you live, your family will not be safe in the radical Democrats’ America.”

This creates a strong tribal identity that people cling to:

When groups feel threatened they retreat into tribalism. They close ranks and become more insular, more defensive, more punitive, more us-versus-them.

As a result, they will justify almost anything. For example:

In just the past two weeks, the president has praised supporters of the right-wing conspiracy theory QAnon, which contends, as The Guardian recently summarized it, that “a cabal of Satan-worshipping Democrats, Hollywood celebrities and billionaires runs the world while engaging in pedophilia, human trafficking and the harvesting of a supposedly life-extending chemical from the blood of abused children.” Trump touted a conspiracy theory that the national death toll from COVID-19 is about 9,000, a fraction of the official figure of nearly 185,000; promoted a program on the One America News Network accusing demonstrators of secretly plotting Trump’s downfall; encouraged his own supporters to commit voter fraud; and claimed Biden is controlled by “people that are in the dark shadows” who are wearing “dark uniforms.”

Trump believes his own government is conspiring to delay a COVID-19 vaccine until after the election. He retweeted a message from the actor James Woods saying New York Governor Andrew Cuomo “should be in jail” and another from an account accusing the Portland, Oregon, mayor of “committing war crimes.” The president is “inciting violence,” in the words of Maryland’s Republican Governor, Larry Hogan. Trump defended 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse, a supporter who is charged with first-degree homicide; and stated that if he loses the election in November it would be because it was “rigged.” At the same time, the second-ranking House Republican, among other of the president’s supporters, has shared several manipulated videos in an effort to damage Biden.

Telling these people that Donald Trump is a lying, corrupt con man won’t help. When people believe they are drowning, they will grasp at straws.

The article even points out that Democrats have done similar things in the past (albeit to a lesser degree). For example:

The degree to which Democrats, including feminists, overlooked or accepted Bill Clinton’s sexually predatory behavior—including his campaign’s effort to smear his accusers and its use of a private investigator to destroy Gennifer Flowers’s reputation “beyond all recognition”—is an illustration of this. So Flowers was branded a “bimbo” and a “pathological liar,” even though Clinton later, under oath, admitted to having an affair with her.

But as usual, Trump has taken this to an extreme:

But what’s different in this case is that Trump, because of the corruption that seems to pervade every area of his life and his damaged psychological and emotional state, has shown us just how much people will accept in their leaders as a result of “negative partisanship,” the force that binds parties together less in common purpose than in opposition to a shared opponent. As the conservative writer David French has put it, with Donald Trump and his supporters we are seeing “negative partisanship in its near-pure form, and it’s the best way to explain Trump’s current appeal to the Republican party.” His ideology is almost entirely beside the point, according to French: “His identity matters more, and his identity is clear—the Republican champion against the hated Democratic foe.”



  1. Wildwood wrote:

    I usually feel like I’m voting for the lesser of two evils when I go to vote. That’s basically what’s happening on both sides of the aisle. Although, of course, on the left, it’s not as extreme as on the right.

    Friday, September 11, 2020 at 8:51 am | Permalink
  2. Hassan wrote:

    I slightly disagree, Biden was VP with Obama, and he been in senate so there is nothing hidden. These things they allege, most did not happen or are not expected to happen.

    So I think why people are clinging to Trump do not really believe most of these things, but they do believe and know one thing. If Trump loses, they cannot have another open racist president for many many years, and perhaps this could be last chance to keep racism alive.

    Friday, September 11, 2020 at 8:53 am | Permalink
  3. William wrote:


    I can’t speak to the Trump supporter generally, but did exchange messages a couple of weeks ago with one cousin who supports him. John lives near Dallas, Texas and works for one of the big financial management firms. He said that he was raised to believe racism and discrimination were wrong, but expressed concern that Biden’s announcement that he would choose a woman as VP was somehow discrimination, and that to support him, I must believe “two wrongs make a right.” I pressed him on that point, asking him to explain what class of people were hurt by Biden. Did Biden or the Democrats make it harder for men to run for office generally? Did that announcement create barriers for some class of people with regard to financial success, education, or living conditions or locations? He claimed that I was just blinded by liberal doctrine, if I refused to recognize the truth of the situation.

    My guess is that he’s watched too much Fox commentary or other such pieces that ascribe terrible things to the Democrats. He’s been told that the Democrats are terrible, so they must be, even if he can’t support his argument.

    He stated that his bigger concern, amazingly, was abuse of power! He didn’t say what specific action was the problem, and we didn’t even get into that before he gave up on trying to communicate. My guess was that a vague “Obama-gate” abuse was in his mind, and that Trump was correct in all of his actions.

    Before he cut off the conversation, John did suggest that I buy lots of guns, but “LOL” that I wouldn’t be able to buy any ammo, as the country is sold out. If I end up needing a safe place to hide, they’d still be happy to take me in.

    I haven’t tried to engage with a cousin on my mom’s side. He seems even further around the bend. He posted an image with a quote attributed to Goebbels, “If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” The image showed Goebbels above, and an array of logos for mainstream media channels below: ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, Time, NYT, WP, etc.

    Other folks seem convinced that Twitter, Facebook, etc. shutting down specific accounts amounts to a violation of Freedom of Speech. I worry that we live in a “post-Truth” society, and it will prove quite difficult to bring people together again in any meaningful way.

    Friday, September 11, 2020 at 11:06 am | Permalink
  4. Hassan wrote:

    WILLIAM, I am very much conservative, and perhaps disagree with Biden a lot. Maybe more with Kamala Harris. And him chosing Kamala, raised his respect in my eyes. I always like people who are principled over too much political calculation. I think Kamala would put some republicans off from voting for Biden (if they were leaning towards voting for him). But black women have been most loyal activists and voter for democrats, and so a black qualified woman is right choice.

    I will switch back to being Republican once it is purged of Trumps and Trump enablers.

    Friday, September 11, 2020 at 11:19 am | Permalink
  5. Hassan wrote:

    William, I believe all these points that Trumpist use are just their justification points given by Trump and Republican party. They do not want to say that they support Trump for white supermacy, so they look for guidance and points, and use them as concern.

    Friday, September 11, 2020 at 11:22 am | Permalink
  6. David Freeman wrote:

    I think only a small but dangerous minority of Republicans believe the conspiracies even when they promote them. If you actually believed Democrats were pedophiles with child slaves held in basements wouldn’t you act after your years of complaint led nowhere. One only one person went to the pizza parlor Q claimed held children in the basement.

    Friday, September 11, 2020 at 12:11 pm | Permalink
  7. Wildwood wrote:

    David, I think your “small but dangerous minority”, might be a lot bigger than you think.

    And Hassan,welcome to the Democratic side of the aisle, because you might be here for some time. The Trump enablers are almost the entirety of the Republicans in Congress, and a hefty portion of the judiciary.

    Saturday, September 12, 2020 at 7:54 am | Permalink
  8. Robin wrote:

    This article seems to be telling us that Trump supporters are driven by an “us vs them” mentality . . . while creating the very “us vs them” mentality they deplore. C’mon you guys.
    I recommend watching World Wrestling – the episodes Trump was in. Trump succeeded in moving the wildly popular comic-book persona into the White House and his fans love it – forget the intellectualizing. Trump speaks to the gut-feelings of millions of people about good vs evil.
    I have neighbors, relatives and co-workers who voted for Trump. For the most part they believe owning guns makes them safer, and democrats want to take their guns away (I do want to take away assault weapons – I’m a teacher). They (and we, both) try to reconcile respect for soldiering and military service with the demoralizing quagmires of Viet Nam and Iraq that return family members home so damaged. Many of my students 20 years ago were getting ready for the race wars; some were 3rd generation Klan or had skinhead affiliations, and the only blacks they saw were in the gangsta movies of the time. I have to agree with Hassan that Trump may be America’s last chance to keep racism alive. Maybe it’s good to have things out in the open – more possibilities for real change.
    We gotta keep talking to each other in our own communities and find common ground over what we want our country to look like.

    Saturday, September 12, 2020 at 1:08 pm | Permalink