As the country remains steadily divided between those who could (maybe sort of) stomach a Donald Trump presidency and those who couldn't, former presidential candidate Jeb Bush cautioned voters not to dismiss Trump supporters outright. At a three-hour event in Amsterdam hosted by the Nexus Institute, Bush took a stab at explaining the Trump phenomenon, zeroing in on the climate of fear that's bolstered the business mogul's campaign and the ways he has been "preying on people's angst rather than offering tangible solutions." However, he also argued that the feelings that paved the way for Trump shouldn't immediately be discredited:
What I fear is that people, kind of looking down their nose, will say the people that are supporting Donald Trump are a bunch of idiots. They're fearful. They're not as optimistic for legitimate reasons, and there should be respect for that. And on the other side, a similar respect needs to be shown.
While I've never been one to willingly agree — even partially — with Jeb(!), he's making an important point. It's dangerous to write off a clearly powerful group of voters as hapless, ill-informed idiots. We're better off understanding what's actually motivating them.
The #RiseOfTrump has been attributed to his appeal to both authoritarian and populist sensibilities because he potentially represents the "strong leader" whom authoritarians flock to while also defending a "virtuous class" — in this case, his core demographic of disillusioned working-class white dudes — from the winds of change. As Kim Messick wrote for Salon, through his rhetoric, policy, and his campaign as a whole, Trump reflects the same narrative that these voters identify with:
In our present case, that explanation is the meme, repeated ad taedium if not ad nauseam, that the GOP base likes Trump because he seems as angry as it is. His pugnacious manner, his willingness to insult opponents — or just anyone who disagrees with him — his brusque tone and dismissive gestures: All these things, we’re told, are like catnip to the Republican faithful. Mostly older and white and male, and wholly pissed-off, these folks are tired of namby-pamby politicians who whine about “bipartisan solutions” and want to find ways to “work with the other side.” They want someone who calls ‘em as he sees ‘em, and who sees, as they do, that “the other side” largely consists of fools, traitors and knaves. Trump, it turns out, is their tribune.
Understanding this angry segment of Trump voters in a way that's not reductive and dismissive takes some work. Typically, when a group unleashes relentless vitriol filled with sexism, racism, and xenophobia, there's an urge to equate those things with stupidity. However, recognizing that the "fear" that Bush was talking about is in many ways an aftershock of movements seeking to dismantle power (rooted in both whiteness and maleness) is a pretty solid start. Without giving credence to the idea that it's "unfair" for previously marginalized groups to finally get a seat at the table, it's not so difficult to see why the "We're gonna take back our country" rhetoric resonates with a group that so sincerely feels like they've lost something.
Image: Bustle/Dawn Foster