What are the Reasons that Otherwise Intelligent People Zealously Support Trump?
Operating from the premise that evolutionary instincts play at very least a tangential role in shaping the modern human mindset and overall view of one’s culture, we can assume that current culture fosters a level of stress that triggers deep inherent survival mechanisms. With that construct as the foundation for the processing of informational, cultural and interpersonal relations, and the implementation of the countless intellectual, practical and physical methods for stress reduction, human history demonstrates that there is a favorite strategy for attacking fear and the unknown. That being the simplification of the unknown into acceptable concepts that not only yield answers to unsolvable questions but tend to remove the stress and fear associated with unfathomable mysteries.
Religion may be the ultimate exemplar of human propensity for simplification. To many, the complete surrender of science and reason to the proposition that life has a deeper meaning as a result of our debt to a creator, and the dictates of our existence, strives to achieve the ultimate stress reducer from the vantage point of the fear of the unknown. The effectiveness, in assessing the wrought of destruction inflicted on humanity in the name of religion, however, raises the question of diminishing returns as to the price for humanity’s insatiable aspirations for inner tranquility.
The path out of Medieval and feudal times in modern Europe was significantly spawned by the French Philosophes who embraced the Newtonian analytical procedure. “Reason was to them not so much a body of principles and truth as it was a specific method for acquiring knowledge…” “Lessing put it pithily when he said that the real power of reason lay not in the possession but in the acquisition of truth.” Under the Trump Administration, truth has become a malleable concept in service of both Trump supporters and the administration itself in deflecting criticism and the myriad of misadventures.
Equally alarming, the Administration and its supporters have degenerated to the childhood favorite tactic of name calling and projection blaming. Among these their favorite is to demonize the “liberals”. In the context of First Amendment issues, discussing dynamics of the Cold War in the 1950’s, Sidney Hook credited Justice Holmes with, to date, the most exquisite definition of liberalism, “…[It is a belief] in the free trade of ideas—that the test of truth is the power of thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market.” Hook then commented, “[I]t is a faith which marks off liberal from totalitarian culture. Any action which restricts the freedom of ideas to develop or circulate is illiberal.” Why the rejection of such a fundamentally noble principle?
This last described tool, which becomes manifest in nationalistically directed hatred for non-believers in the cause and immigrants, represents the debasement of American principles, the magnitude of which is comparable to the darkest chapters in human history. Although it is tantalizingly attractive to lean towards pointing out similarities of the Trump Administration with the fascist regimes of Mussolini and Hitler, in order to technically qualify, according to Robert Paxton, there must be a level of violent ascendency to power and an acquiescence by the governmental departments to the infiltration and shift of focus that has not yet occurred. 
One might argue that the violence exhibited at Trump campaign events and later debacles, such as the Charlottesville torch carrying rally (which was positively sanctioned by the Administration) and the inexplicably total subservience of the Republican Party to the Trump blatantly racist agenda, are consistent with Paxton’s definition of fascism, albeit a more subtle or more insidious nature. Even more suspect are the appointments of industry lobbyists to Cabinet posts designed to protect the environment and natural resources, but who have instead previously denied global warming or have extensive public records of advocating corporate profit – not protections - as the prime directive. The recurrent question being: how is such behavior condoned or even applauded by people who otherwise appear to be normal functioning, productive and responsible citizens?
It is undeniable that prior to the Trump presidency American democracy, in terms of its ability to productively address important issues, was faltering. The basis of the logjam, as it is often described, is the diametrically opposed political camps, premised significantly on money, religion and guns. Therein lies the attractiveness of simplicity to the Republican/Trump agenda. The ideas or more accurately the cultural shifts espoused by the Republican Party, especially considering their Congressional and or Senate majority and Oval Office occupancy, subordinate the democratic process to the accomplishment of questionable moral and outright racist objectives.
Of course, because so much of the Trump agenda threatens so much of our domestic fabric and foreign policy traditions, it is difficult to point to a single source of greatest harm. But in light of the current standoff regarding the government shutdown and the Wall as the underlying cause, it becomes clear that Trump’s assertion, strengthened vigorously on a frequent basis, that he is a nationalist, is supported by not only his loyal legions, but alarmingly, by an almost unanimous Republican Party. Aside from the striking similarity that this term has to the Nazi agenda and eventual tactics, that term also happens to be the White Nationalists’ euphemism designed to facilitate their transformation to political respectability. The term “Nationalist” is simply short for “White Nationalist.” For an excellent look into the White Nationalist mindset, see Eli Saslow’s Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening Of A Former White Nationalist.
So why all of the sudden did almost 50% of the voters in the last presidential election decide to support a candidate with a clearly racist agenda? Yes Mr. Trump, you did lose the popular vote by almost 3 million. Yes illegal immigrants who come into our country at our southern border do commit crimes. But is it at a statistically significant level to justify calling it a national emergency and contemplating the erection of a structure, whose concept will absolutely destroy the brightest banner of our county from its inception, i.e., the beacon of freedom for the whole world! Certainly, the proportion of crime committed by southern border transgressors does not begin to approach levels that require action which would inexorably transform our world image and cost American taxpayers some 25 billion.
To Trump’s legions, the ability to rid our nation of supposedly the major source of crime by building the wall, keeping out the Mexicans and other Hispanic Central American immigrants desperately clawing to escape tyranny and seek freedom, and support the poster child of this grand revelation, Donald Trump, all in one fell swoop is simplicity par excellence!
It seems then that the key dynamic to endorsing a blatantly racist agenda is the willingness to adopt a” means justify the ends” strategy. Not everyone has fully recovered from the 2008 recession. Poor people ended up worse off and the middle class has had little if any improvement. May one attribute financial stress alone to the Republican, conservative right, establishing an agenda embracing racist doctrine? Again the answer lies in the quest for simplicity. Supporters of the racist Trump agenda apparently never get to the moral question of racism because national security trumps all other concerns, and it is simply not necessary to explore the racist etiology of the solution. White Nationalists on the other hand have an obviously different agenda. To protect the American white race from genocide at the hands of anyone other than white lineage, Trump’s racist agenda IS their agenda. The chilling reality is that the current President of the United States is perfectly aligned with the White Nationalist movement that spews hatred and, among other despicable precepts, questions the Holocaust and argues that open immigration threatens the white race with genocide. As Roger Kahn so eloquently expresses in his biography of Jack Demsey, “Hatred like any other emotion is irrational.” An eloquent explanation about our country’s collective sense of compassion for struggling immigrants, can be found in Justice Frankfurter’s concurring opinion to Dennis v. United States, 341 U.S. 494 (1951), a communist conspiracy case, where he stated, “[t]he treatment of its minorities, especially their legal position, is among the most searching tests of the level of civilization attained by a society.” Sadly the great jurist’s words have no application in the agenda and mindset of the Trump Administration.
In the midst of the current political tumult it is monumentally sobering to review Madison’s notes on the Constitutional Convention with various descriptions of private citizens’ and statesman’s love of country. These were especially Federalist No. 10, where Madison compared pure democracy, with all citizens directly participating, with a representative Republic, as contemplated by the United States Constitution, utilizing elected representatives, considering the handling of public views, “…by passing them through the medium of a chosen body of citizens, whose wisdom may best discern the true interests of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations.” How great is the disparity between Madison’s exemplar of the responsible statesman to the Republican senators holding the country hostage as a result of Trump’s ill conceived campaign promise, focused primarily at his racist base?
Incredibly, I have spoken to several friends, relatives and both long time and new acquaintances who continue to support Trump. Has Donald Trump perfected a brand of political mind control, where through name calling “Crooked Hillary”, “Mexican rapist and murderers,” etc. appeals to the most sensitive vulnerabilities of physical safety and economic stability?
The complexity of our democratic society has become such that a citizen may logically feel disconnected and powerless to meaningfully participate in the process, but still harboring strong ideas and emotions about important issues. How does one reconcile this incongruity? The phenomenon of idolizing public figures, where a vast assortment of attributes are bestowed upon the recipient of our affection, who could not possibly possess the endless torrent of talents presumed, may hold a partial answer. In our desire to participate, where participation is not readily practical, human ingenuity, survival skills if you will, allow one to hoist upon another’s shoulders the sum total of our hopes and dreams. Then, an interesting concept is triggered – cognitive dissonance, which allows the idolizer to distort reality so as to perpetuate the idol’s ability to carry the banner of the correctness of their political analysis and provide the gratification of vicarious participation in the democratic process. Clearly, other heroes are held to a strict standard. They must continue to deserve the praise heaped upon them. When the Philadelphia Phillies stopped being a postseason contender after 2012, the home game sellouts stopped. Why then, in the glaring light of absolute chaos, incompetence and a never ending torrent of lies, do Trump’s supporters continue the drone of infallibility?
Accepting the proposition that constructive dialogue is an important hallmark of democracy, one may safely assert that by creating a champion of our political bidding, who in actuality is a mere shell of the image created, a supporter of that champion is not obliged to debate their champion’s credentials, abilities, effectiveness or the possibility they may have committed treason. Economic instability, unavailable staples of existence like food and shelter, have proven to be the most susceptible conditions to tyranny. Certainly the recession of 2008 did not approach the magnitude of conditions in Germany in 1933 when Hitler became Chancellor. But, a broad section of our people suffered irretrievable losses and as a result, there was a rebooting of life style and perspective. For many, hope and trust in the democratic process was seriously wounded. Might not those conditions be ripe for the suffering to look for simplistic answers offered by someone who is not only singing their song, but provides an opportunity for revenge against the political forces who injured them?
Considering that the technical and informational revolution and the globalization of business and culture has created an overwhelming magnitude of background noise within which we all must operate, the recognition and survivability of distortions and outright lies struggle to be maintained in the collective political mindset. In light of the open attack by Trump and his supporters on our cherished traditions of domestic and foreign relations, concerned citizens must commit to remain engaged in the political process. They must do everything possible to support any credible challenger in the next presidential election, and support alternative candidates to the Republican drones who are simply towing the Trump line, to prevent the further onslaught of our democracy.
Hopefully, our fellow citizens’ lapse in judgment is only momentary and the installation of a responsible and capable Chief Executive in the Oval Office will bring our misguided brethren back into the fold of political, social and moral reality.
Philip M. Finestrauss
-  Dorn, Walter L. The Rise of Modern Europe: Competition for Empire 1740 – 1763. New York, Harper & Brothers, 1940, p.195.
-  Hook, Sidney. Heresy, Yes—But Conspiracy, No. New York Times Magazine, July 9, 1950. Bishop, Hillman M. and Hendel, Samuel, Ed. Basic Issues of American Democracy. New York, Appleton-Century-Crofts, Inc., 1956, p. 118.
-  Ibid.
-  Paxton, Robert O. The Anatomy of Fascism. New York: Vintage Books, 2005.
-  Kahn, Roger. A Flame of Pure Fire: Jack Demsey and the Roaring 20’s.
- Writer's Bio: Philip Finestrauss