There are very strong parallels between the phenomenon of Obama in 2008 and 2012, and Trump in 2016. In both cases, by any objective measure, one cannot say that people supported these men based upon policy considerations. Indeed, when one looks at Obama’s policies, it is quite clear that the very people his policies have hurt the worst are in fact the people who have always given him the greatest political support because he was “on our side” and “fighting for us”. The black community, young people, and the poor have found themselves devastated by the Obama administration, yet they continue to support him. In the same way, from a policy standpoint, Trump should have little or no appeal to the people who have given him the strongest support, as there is no sense that he has ever consistently fought for what they profess to believe in–all he has ever done is offer slogans and soundbites that please their ears, yet none of this has any apparent substance or reality.
Surveys show that both men receive their support from low-information voters–the people supporting these men do not actually know what these men stand for, and are merely supporting them based upon appearance and tribal impulse. Yet, when one tries to explain clearly what each man stands for, using their own actions and their own words in context, this is met with complete denial and even scorn. So, it is clear that the issue isn’t merely their supporters don’t know what these men stand for: It is that they don’t want to know what these men stand for. Their supporters simply do not care.
What is going on here?
This question has caused me to review an old post that I wrote in 2011, which seems even more true today than it was when it was written:
Since we have so many alternatives for amusement in modern society, the truth is so often drowned out by all of the media noise that surrounds us. Our desire to be entertained and the many avenues for fulfilling that desire have made us all egoists: It is always about us, what amuses us, what makes us happy, what satisfies our needs. Our feelings, how we feel about others, and how others make us feel becomes the center of our existence. Thus, the trivial becomes elevated to the same importance as the essential, the meaningless to the same importance as the meaningful, and many people have lost the ability to distinguish between what is insignificant and what is vital.
America has become, like it or not, the Oprah society. The TV news is rarely watched anymore, and when it is there is only about five minutes of hard news followed by hours upon hours of human interest stories. Our political discourse has been reduced to soundbites. Our last presidential election was taken about as seriously by many people as a vote on American Idol. However, instead of having Sanjaya as president, we ended up with Obama. Sanjaya could sing some, but did not at all belong on the big stage–people voted for him because they liked him and it made them feel good about themselves. In the same way, Obama was not by any measure qualified to be president, not by experience nor by temperament, but he gave people the warm fuzzies inside and caused tingles to run up their legs. Obama could have been Charles Manson as far as many people were concerned, but they voted for him anyway, because it made them feel good.
And that is the crux of our problem. There is a huge mass of people in America who no longer really care about what is going on outside their front door–they just want to feel good about themselves, they want all the problems in the world to simply go away, and most of all, they want to be amused and entertained. Obama and Trump are perfect candidates for such people, as they are devoid of real substance, but full of sound and fury.
Essentially America is on the brink of becoming communist China, where the government and political leaders can get away with anything–even murdering people in the streets–so long as the leaders make the people feel good about themselves, keep the economy limping along, and provide its citizens the requisite entertainment.
For democracy to work, it needs a “demos”. This is a group of citizens who have the interest, knowledge, and ability to take part in the political discussion and deliberations of government. A demos is certainly not an unformed, unthinking mob. However, as we can see from the Occupy Movement, Black Lives, etc.–which Obama has explicitly encouraged–Obama has always made up for his political deficiencies by aiming for the support of the mob.
In the same way, it is hard to see Trump’s support as anything but that of a mob with pitchforks, looking for a witch to burn. Trump has found a way of pushing the mob’s buttons, and they love him for it–his policies, all reality, and the facts be damned. This is not democracy. It is in fact the very thing the Founding Fathers of the US feared most, because it is demagoguery, pure and simple. And, the impulse to support the demagogue can only lead to tyranny.
So long as a leader can placate people with slogans, soundbites, and appeals to their worst emotional instincts, that leader can rule unrestrained by any limitations of law, constitution, and basic morality. We already have this with Obama, and so how would Trump be any improvement over Obama? Indeed, since Trump has so easily been able to roll people who call themselves conservatives, he may well in the end be much worse than Obama.
Conservatives have been the only real voices in America crying against the Obama agenda. With conservatives bought off by Trump’s demagoguery, who in American will still be standing for rule of law and morality in government? Certainly not Trump, with his track record.