I don’t like to write about Trump because at base, I’m an academic. An academic without an academy, sure. But over time, I’ve found that I’m just not interested in discussing the little things. It’s kind of like in Reason, Faith, and Revolution. Terry Eagleton knows that most religious people hold ridiculous opinions, so he doesn’t talk about it. It’s fish in a barrel. He wants to aim higher. And I feel the same way about Donald Trump. He’s so obviously a nightmare, his latest proof doesn’t seem worth talking about. But I am still interested in the question of why Trump won the GOP primary.
Let me start by noting that I don’t think that, from a policy standpoint, Trump would be categorically different than other Republicans. His foreign policy might well be far better. This tax plan is worse, but after going through the House and Senate, his tax plan would turn out to be identical to whatever one would have been enacted under Ted Cruz, John Kasich, or Marco Rubio. On Social Security, Trump would be better. The one area where he might be worse is that his rhetoric might embolden his followers to commit acts of terrorism against various minority groups. But I tend to think these lazy cowards won’t be doing anything — especially if their savior Donald Trump is in command.
Another issue to consider is that it doesn’t much matter why Trump won. By the end, all the candidates were Donald Trump. They just weren’t as good at it. Look at Kasich! He has a notorious anger problem. Amanda Marcotte wrote an excellent article about him back in February where she ran down what a vile president he would make because of his racism, sexism, xenophobia, and demagoguery. So the GOP was going to nominate someone like Donald Trump because that’s what Republicans like.
The Eternal 25 Percent
But on the specifics, it isn’t a mystery why Trump won. There are always about 25% of the people who are mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore. What they’re mad about is mostly unclear. The few Trump supporters I know are actually doing very well in an economic sense — far better than I’ve ever done. They remind me of rich people who are angry that they aren’t more rich. These people want more respect (or something) in the society. Of course, if they got it, they’d just be angry that it wasn’t enough.
There are roughly 25% of these people in the United States. I suspect the numbers are roughly the same in England and Germany and France. These people are, to put it bluntly, authoritarians. They want a strong leader. But they don’t want him (!) so much to get the fags, the coloreds, and the feminazis. They want an authoritarian leader because they want an ultimate authority to say that, yes, they are the right kind of people. They are the real Americans! And this has been the appeal of the entire Republican Party since Nixon.
This 25% of the population has always been there. Look back at Richard Hofstadter’s article The Paranoid Style in American Politics from 1964. This isn’t new. When the Tea Party sprang up, it annoyed me that the media talked about it like it was extraordinary (unlike any leftist movement, which they ignore unless they can’t possibly avoid it). Reporters were surprised when John Birch Society booths showed up at Tea Party events. I wasn’t.
Authoritarianism Is a Republican Problem
This authoritarianism is not confined exclusively to the Republican Party — but it mostly is. I recommend reading John Dean’s Conservatives Without Conscience. Without this 25% of the electorate, the GOP would be a regional party.
Republicans smelled blood in the water in 2016. They thought this was their election. As a result, we got upwards of 20 candidates for president from them. Why Trump won was simply that he best spoke to these authoritarians who make up at least half the party. They don’t care about policy. They care about having a president who will say that they are the chosen ones. All those other people are lesser. Round them up into camps? Not really necessary — but hardly out of the question.
Why Trump Won
Why Trump won? I think roughly 50% of the Republican Party base is flat out authoritarian. Another 40% have notable tendencies in that regard. In a crowded field, of course Trump would get about a third of the vote. And once it was clear no one could touch him, the rest fell in line.
It’s no mystery why Trump won.