“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats. A stereotyped but unconscious despair is concealed even under what are called the games and amusements of mankind. There is no play in them, for this comes after work. But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things…” Henry David Thoreau, Walden
“To the frustrated a mass movement offers substitutes either for the whole self or for the elements which make life bearable and which they cannot evoke out of their individual resources.” Eric Hoffer, The True Believer
The question that currently lies beneath the threat to American democracy is why ordinary men and women choose to follow a man who is not only hostile to that democracy but also totally unqualified and unsuited for the office to which he seeks to return.
Any number of explanations have been offered from the rise of social media to racism, antisemitism, income disparity and loathing for educated elites.
We don’t have to pick and choose, rejecting some, because all of them no doubt play a role for what we can call the Trump faith community.
The proposition here is that the men and women who are the core of Trump’s support find their lives frustrating, unrewarding and meaningless. They find themselves constantly struggling to keep their heads above water, in their minds unlucky and unfairly treated in their communities and country. Life, for them, is always unfair. Other people get the breaks and privileges but not them. Affirmative action is a conspiracy to deprive white people of what is rightfully theirs. Consequently, these MAGA people—as they have come to be called—are angry and resentful, contemptuous of those who are better educated, more prosperous and those who seem to be getting breaks denied to them.
Of course, not all who share these traits are Trump supporters, and not all Trump supporters share these traits. Nonetheless, the solid core of Trump supporters meet this description.
Trump didn’t create the group. They were there, angry and seething, before he came on the scene. Some of them may even have voted for Obama, as incongruous as that may seem. They wanted change. Many of them hadn’t bothered to vote in previous elections, seeing the choice being between Tweedledum and Tweedledee.
Then we have the evangelicals who are in a perverse symbiotic relationship with Trump, each using and benefiting from engagement with the other. A generous interpretation of the evangelical perspective might be that Trump kept his pledge to make abortion in America more difficult. A less generous perspective is that evangelicals, especially white evangelicals, see their position in the social order threatened by Latinos and African Americans. Rural America, which is where a healthy portion of evangelicals reside, no longer looks like the America of old. Foreigners, especially Hispanics have invaded the Heartland working at packing plants and other jobs that white people deign to do. Then, too, a rising black middle class threatens to overtake a blue-collar white working class.
Status anxiety is not new in American history. The white Southern aristocracy played on status anxiety in the post-Reconstruction era to separate poor Whites and Negroes to keep them from uniting. The theme of white supremacy in America has never disappeared, and it obviously is enjoying a renaissance now.
Trump did not cause the frustration and anger, but he had and has a preternatural ability to speak to the anger and resentment that so many of his supporters feel. Despite his many flaws and deficiencies, including his ignorance, misstatements, lies, distortions and malapropisms, he connects with them, saying what’s on their minds.
Evangelicals have become prominent in the Trump faith movement. As others have noted, the evangelical movement has become increasingly politicized, and Trump has captured their devotion, winning 84 percent of the evangelical vote in 2020. They call themselves Christians, but it’s a strange denomination of Christianity, and Donald Trump for many of them has replaced Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Trump is not averse to accepting that role. His assertions of victimhood play on that theme. Trump is being persecuted by being prosecuted. He is suffering for them. He is their voice. As a result, each new charge is further proof that they are seeking to destroy him. Jesus was crucified on a cross. Trump is being crucified in court. (See the link below)(Make sure to turn on the sound in the video):
It’s only natural then that supporting Trump affords the additional benefit of bringing acolytes into a movement where followers can feel part of something larger than their seemingly unimportant, aimless lives. Showing up at rallies offers the chance for fellowship and camaraderie and the opportunity to express themselves in a way that they may feel uncomfortable doing in their everyday existence. The Constitution and laws are just obstacles on the road to achieving the better world that Trump will bring.
And, finally, social media gives Trump the opportunity, at virtually no expense, to communicate with his followers and the rest of the world. And they can communicate with each other. Time was when you had to be rich to own a printing press. No more. In fact, printing presses are becoming obsolete as they give way to this most democratic of media.
The irony here, not for the first time in history, is that a popular movement, employing modern media technology and taking advantage of constitutional protections, is threatening to use democratic instruments to subvert the democracy that allows them to act.