I have steadfastly avoided most “Trump voter” treatises in the news and the constant rush to check on his approval ratings. They reek of a fawning, confused attempt to normalize, empathize with and explain elements of American society that people of color, and white folks with even a rudimentary knowledge of history, have always known.
America is, at its core, a nasty, venal, selfish and racist culture. Yes, we have our spots of progress: the MLKs; the first black this; a major discrimination case is won; a few “very special episodes” of Black-ish, etc. By and large, though, the long arc of history has generally bent toward crushing the necks of poor, weak and, especially, African-American citizens.
So the question shouldn’t be, why did millions of Americans vote for Donald Trump? That answer is obvious. The question should be, why have his core supporters stuck with him and, spoiler alert, why will they continue to stick with him no matter what he does over the next four to eight years?
Do they believe he’ll build that wall? Do they believe he’ll bring back jobs? Do they believe he’ll really “Make America great again”? Of course not. Trump voters don’t believe in what Trump says. They don’t care, and they don’t have to. Trump voters already think that America is done, finished, final, a fatality; they figured that out a long time ago. They didn’t elect Donald Trump to fix America; they elected Donald Trump to make sure that as America falls, white folks go down swinging.
Most Trump-voter articles fall into three categories:
1. What motivated people to vote for Trump: The answer is usually some variation of “economic anxiety” and “cultural anxiety,” which is just fancy code-speech for racists. These folks are different from just plain ol’ Republicans who were just voting party.
2. Why Barack Obama voters switched from Obama to Trump: The answer is generally the same (with a smattering of “I hated Hillary Clinton”), with buzzwords like “cultural anxiety” and fear of Black Lives Matter mixed in. This has baffled many mainstream white commentators and journalists who don’t understand how someone could move from a black president who touts an open multicultural society to a racist, sexist president who advocates ethnocentrism and suspicion.
It really shouldn’t. Didn’t the No. 1-rated Cosby Show give way to Roseanne? Wasn’t the ’90s Michael Jordan era followed by the mainstreaming of Confederate-flag-winking NASCAR? Didn’t the insanely popular racial and gender diversity of America’s Next Top Model give birth to the ethnocentric buffoonery and latent bigotry of Jersey Shore and Duck Dynasty? To paraphrase Van Jones, the “whitewash” is real, and we’ve seen it before.
3. What it will take for Trump voters to abandon him: These stories involve putting together some collection of mostly white Trump voters (and usually one black guy in a suit from the Steve Harvey Collection), who are presented with lie after lie that Trump has told, and the journalist sits there gobsmacked as these people calmly stick with Trump no matter what. It’s like the Michael Jackson/R. Kelly black-jury-selection sketch on Chappelle’s Show, when they ask Dave if he thinks O.J. is guilty and he says, “My blackness will not permit me to make a statement like that.”
White Trump supporters aren’t going to come out and just say, “That black guy and his pretty wife and kids made me feel bad about myself, and Trump is my way of getting back at him.” The rules of whiteness prohibit such honesty.
The reason these analyses fail is that they don’t get to the root of white-American psyche over the last two decades or so. Imagine you’re a 35-year-old white guy in 1999. The world is your oyster; the next 15 years, your income, life and opportunities are going to skyrocket. Then, boom: Columbine, the white suburbs are no longer safe; 2000, the electoral system is a mess; 2001, America is no longer safe from terror; 2002, the economy is rigged for big business like Enron; and 2005, America’s party city New Orleans gets flooded and the government botches the recovery.
After all that, the only way to fix the country is by handing it over to a handsome, smart black guy with a funny name. How emasculating! Eight years later, you’ve got black folks protesting, gays on every television network, and even black athletes, from college to the pros, are demanding to be heard. To quote the late Bill Paxton, “Game over, man; game over!” America is done.
The ’80s aren’t coming back; the era of white male cultural hegemony is only at 97 percent instead of 100 percent, and there’s no way to change it. Trump voters know this. They know that manufacturing jobs that pay a living wage aren’t coming back. They know that a wall is impractical. They know that terrorism is impossible to stop. When you know the inevitable is coming, when you know that you have to face change or become irrelevant, you either change or you kick and scream and drag every tablecloth and curtain in a temper tantrum on your way out.
Donald Trump is that temper tantrum. This is why Trump voters are still angry. Why they’re still stabbing college students and hanging nooses and protesting at Confederate statues and can’t stop talking about Obama and Hillary. Those aren’t the actions of optimistic winners who believe America’s best days are ahead.
Trump supporters still believe that America is ruined, soiled, tainted and irredeemable. No matter what America says to Trump now, his voters know that she dated a black guy for eight years and she liked it, and she still thinks about him. Why do you think conservatives are always calling their enemies “cuckolds”? It’s projection.
This is why poll after poll shows supporters sticking with Trump no matter how many times he fails or completely betrays his policy promises. They never expected him to change anything, and they never will. All they need to know is that he drives liberals crazy (and to them, “liberals” are anyone who isn’t a Trump supporter), that he’s white and male, and doesn’t challenge Americans to grow up and change.
This kind of political nihilism has the potential to destroy this country and severely destabilize the world. A leader whose supporters don’t expect him to deliver on promises and who don’t care if he’s honest, and whose greatest value is seen not in what he delivers but in how he antagonizes political enemies, is no leader. He’s a political cudgel, a temper tantrum from an electorate that votes out of spite, not hope; anger, not ambition; disdain, not destiny.
They just want to make sure they go down swinging, and if that drives the rest of the world off the cliff, so be it. At least the black guy won’t be at the steering wheel.