Trump’s Fixed Base, and Why a Diversifying America Won’t Save Democracy Unless We Win Now
In her newsletter on Aug. 27, sent after the RNC, historian Heather Cox Richardson captured the ethos of Donald Trump’s base, how it’s fueled by resentment and fear of a changing society. She described the crowd in front of the president, cheering through 70 minutes of his lies and dark rhetoric as he delivered his speech illegally on the South Lawn.
“I looked at the hundreds of people at Trump’s rally tonight, unmasked and older, and almost all so very white, and saw a group of people so afraid of the future they are willing to say yes, willing to throw in their lot with a malignant narcissist because he tells them they can recover a world in which they felt more relevant, a world they control.”
“Tonight’s event at the White House demonstrated that we are in another great crisis in American history. A reactionary group of older white men look at a global future in which questions of clean energy, climate change, economic fairness, and human equality are uppermost, and their reaction is to cling to a world they control.”
This take revealed something deeper about their idolization of Trump: it isn’t results-based.
That Explains His Fixed Approval
Trump supporters don’t care about competence, as he fumbles through interviews and undercuts his own staff (“I will hire the best people”) without denting his approval. They’re not interested in policy achievements, as the 2016 fervor hasn’t withered in the absence of a Mexican-funded wall or a “beautiful” healthcare plan (“I alone can fix it”). To the extent they care about “draining the swamp” it’s not to stop cronyism — Trump is surrounded by grifters and family — but to fire experts or independent officials who dare defy his illegal orders. And their views and values, once deeply held, evolve as needed to accommodate Trump. One could fill a library with examples of projection on the right, from accusing Democrats of trying to steal the election to calling for opponents to be locked up.
But it all leads to the same conclusion: Trump is a cult leader, his allure rooted in personality, not results. As long as he expresses the base’s resentment at a changing social order, using imagined fears like Antifa and “cancel culture” as vehicles to make his point, then they’ll love him forever.
Trump isn’t even expected to solve the grievance that animates the right. He’s never offered a way to combat culture wars because culture wars aren’t related to the job and you can’t govern via bluster. Like everything else with Trump, it’s just noise. And the fact that he’s rooting for civil unrest — images that reflect his America — shows that it’s not about finding solutions but stoking fear.
Politico’s Tim Alberta, author of American Carnage: On the Front Lines of the Republican Civil War and the Rise of President Trump, set out to discover what the party he covered for a decade now believes since it’s not deficits and tough foreign policy or family values. In Grand Old Meltdown, his latest insightful and vivid piece, he recalled this exchange with a “party elder.”
“[H]e joked that it’s a good thing Republicans decided not to write a new platform for the 2020 convention — because they have produced nothing novel since the last one was written. Trump and his party have relied more on squabbles than solutions in delivering for their base. Even some of the president’s staunchest supporters concede Buck’s point in this regard: The party is now defined primarily by its appetite for conflict, even when that conflict serves no obvious policy goal.”
Trump’s entire appeal is rooted in the expression of resentment. He’s not the antidote to these “threats” but merely a champion of white victimhood, searching for ways to stir conflict, and that’s all that counts to his base.
So, He’s Lived Up to Their Expectations
To understand a president’s political latitude requires understanding the force behind their rise.
Trump wasn’t elected to save the economy and reform a truly broken healthcare system like Barack Obama was in 2008. He wasn’t elected to restore family values to the White House after a scandal like George W. Bush was in 2000. Trump built his base by tapping into cultural unease, harnessing backlash at culture wars amplified by new media, and by pushing conspiracies about the first Black president.
Trump, then, isn’t held to a traditional standard of success as president. He ran on fear and symbolic goals so that’s what he’s expected to deliver on. And while some swing voters fell for the “outsider” ruse in 2016, believing that a reality TV clown actually was a businessman who could shake things up, the diehards joined for the grievance, the kind nurtured by Republicans and right-wing propaganda for years.
So don’t expect Trump to bleed much support even as his failure leads to immediate and noticeable consequences. Not only will Fox News create a different universe — where it conflates random citizens with elected leaders and stokes fear about a leftwing takeover — but because Trump’s expectations as president are fundamentally different.
He was elected to whine and fan flames over social unrest and level false attacks at his opponents — basically to troll the libs — and in that respect he’s scaled the heights of greatness. If he’s angering his detractors, then he’s doing the job he was sent to do.
Demographic Trends Offer Hope But A Re-Election Could Do Irreparable Harm
Many observers see the growing diversity in America as reasons for optimism. They know the country is becoming less white, meaning there’s a limit to the strategy of channeling white grievance.
Resuming her take on Trumpworld, Cox Henderson writes:
“But that world is passing, whether they like it or not. Even if Trump wins in 2020, he cannot stop the future from coming. And while the United States will not meet that future with the power we had even four years ago, we will have to meet it nonetheless. It will be no less exciting and offer no fewer opportunities than the dramatic changes of the 1850s, 1890s, and 1930s, and at some point, Americans will want to meet those challenges.”
Washington Post writer Paul Waldman echoed that, saying VP hopeful Kamala Harris represents “just the kind of America that seems to fill Trump and many of his supporters with anger and fear.”
“She’s a multiracial child of immigrants who rose to the heights of her chosen field. She went to Howard University and cooks Indian food with Mindy Kaling. She’s a walking demonstration of why America’s history as a magnet for immigrants makes us the most dynamic country in the world.”
America is changing against the will of Trumpism. His re-election would do nothing to stop it, just like how his rhetoric and divisiveness accomplish nothing in the way of real change. It’s just a release, one that distracts from matters that actually require work and competence.
But from the standpoint of democracy, a potential re-election would do irreparable harm. These demographic shifts still might not save us from the permanent consequence of a second term. Here’s why:
A Significant Drop in Motivation
Four more years of Trumpism would wreck our electoral system, as Republicans would continue to take a sledgehammer to voting rights with the permission of the courts, now made entirely in their image. Everything else would flow from rigged elections. This is all well documented.
But what’s rarely discussed, and maybe more terrifying, is the possibility that no one would fight back in a second term. What would be the point?
After four years of open corruption — on top of the incompetence and cruelty and divisiveness — voters would have shrugged and rewarded Trump. He’d be entirely unrestrained. Republicans would be even more emboldened after their obsequiousness paid off in keeping them in power.
On Jan. 21, 2021 Trump could publicly extort a vulnerable foreign ally, withholding taxpayer money unless they did him a personal favor, and Adam Schiff and co. would be resigned to his impunity. Even if Democrats controlled the House, they’d lack the political capital to check his lawlessness.
The electorate would be in even worse shape than Congressional Democrats. Citizens would either be dejected or in other cases oblivious since it would all seem more normal.
Activists Would be Listless, Younger Generations Inured
Activists — committed members of the Resistance — wouldn’t have the will to organize and demand action. Many would tune politics out altogether, convinced that a majority of Americans are either indifferent or supportive of this so why bother agonizing another four years. They’d be defeated.
Younger generations, meanwhile, would be inured to the insanity. It would be all they know. They’d see Trump as a president rather than a clown. For young people without historical context, he’d define that role. And more would think that government is supposed to be a reality show, a competition of trolling.
Rather than shudder at the White House’s lack of seriousness, at all the ugliness from public servants, young voters would judge these officials based on their ability to troll. Tweets like this, by the chief spokesman of the leader of the free world, wouldn’t be seen as beneath the office but rather the point of the office. Their understanding of politics wouldn’t just be cynical — it would be completely warped.
Harder to Count on Large Young Turnout
If you think Joe Biden is struggling to excite young voters now — those who should remember the Obama years — imagine trying to rally today’s 14–17-year olds around the virtues of decency and competence. They’d only know Trump. Meaning such traits in a president wouldn’t have existed in their world.
It’s harder to sell voters on ideas that are ground in a foreign concept to them. Democrats then would have to play on Republicans terms, stooping to levels of trolling and culture-war fights to persuade young people who think this is what politics is about. That plays into Republicans' hands.
A second Trump term would destroy our institutions and cripple our global standing for generations. But the irreversibility of it all would reside in the normalization, born out of a combination of forces: an unthinkable defeat that renders activists listless and the desensitizing effect that longevity would have on the next class of new voters.
The deeper Trumpism sinks into the fabric of our psyche, the harder it will be to fight or even recognize. The damage would be irreversible. That’s why we must win now, and ensure that these demographic shifts in America have the opportunity to eradicate Trumpism forever. Vote for Joe Biden and Democrats down the ballot.
(Check out the sites below for state-by-state info on how to register, request absentee ballots, vote safely, or even volunteer.)