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One bit of help in struggling to understand the loyalty of Trump’s base

If, like many liberals, you struggle to understand how and why Trump’s message resonated with many working class voters in a lasting way, here’s something that may help.

Supporters of President Donald Trump react during a campaign rally at Duluth International Airport on Wednesday.
REUTERS/Leah Millis
Supporters of President Donald Trump react during a campaign rally at Duluth International Airport earlier this month.
There’s danger is assuming that those who disagree with you are evil or stupid. 

Anti-Trumpers (like me) have to struggle to come up with explanations (outside of the evil/stupid categories) for the president’s (as of this morning) 43.6 percent approval rating (as measured by the FiveThirtyEight average of many approval polls) and why, despite his constant lying, race-baiting, incompetence as president, such a large base of his supporters sticks with him.

I do have occasional conservations with people of good will and considerable intelligence who plan to vote for Trump. They generally concede (off the record) that he is an odious individual. They are not Trump enthusiasts. Their preference for him is based on the belief that the liberal Democratic vision is worse and more frightening than are Trump’s shall-we-say peccadilloes. 

Since I don’t share their fear of the liberal vision, I can’t make this work in my own mind or heart. But at least it gives me something with which to work. It seems important to me not to consign 40-something percent of my fellow Americans to “deplorables,” as Hillary Clinton once said (although, in fairness to her, Clinton specifically said the term applied to “half” of Trump’s supporters, and later expressed regret for saying “half,” presumably meaning that a smaller fraction were deplorable. But that’s old news.)

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In my struggle to understand the loyalty of Trump’s base, I found helpful a piece this morning by Farah Stockman, the acting editorial page editor of the New York Times, who explored the story in a relatively sympathetic way, relating the economic anxiety of white working class Americans who, under the policies of Bill Clinton, saw trade deals that they believe undermined their middle-class existence.

For years, Stockman has been following former factory workers who’ve struggled since their factory closed and moved to China or Mexico. They were Democrats, like their working-class parents before them, who believed that theirs was the party of the working class, but stopped believing that because of what happened to their former middle-class/working-class existence as a result of trade deals that they blamed on, especially, Bill Clinton, who signed those trade deals.

I won’t parrot any more of her analysis. The full piece is here. If, like many liberals, you struggle to understand how and why Trump’s message resonated with many working class voters in a lasting way, her column will help you.

P.S. Consider this a stand-in for my usual boring update on Trump’s never-changing-much-bad-but-better-than-I-can-truly-grasp approval rating. Based on the FiveThirtyEight’s average of many approval polls, as of this morning, his 43.6/52.9 approval/disapproval rating is 9.3 percent “under water,” or, roughly, what it is always is, bad, but amazingly steady.

And, in case you didn’t click through two paragraphs, here’s another link to Stockman’s column, which is headlined: “Why They Loved Him.”