Donald Trump holds the leading position among Republican presidential contenders (as of mid-December 2015). TV pundits say Trump’s followers have one common characteristic: they’re angry. The big question is why. Why does Trump even have a following?
Individual Americans are disturbed-even frightened—by the multiple changing forces on their lives, forces over which they have no influence. They feel powerless, and Trump expresses power if nothing else. If individual citizens can’t be powerful, at lease he is—or promises to be—triumphant.
We recoil as jobs, institutions, finances, and geopolitics change faster than we can understand. American news media features the sensational, not rational exploration of the rate of change. Popular information builds anxiety rather than rational understanding. Like novels, TV programs increase their ratings if they build tension, not resolution. Our attention is forced toward the spectacular. Trump is spectacular.
In place of spectacle, would better information matter anyway?
The Christian Science Monitor says the voters are divided into partisan camps where no one changes his or her mind despite the facts. If so, belief and prejudice outweigh information, and Trump dominates the polls by accenting the polarity.
Politics, then, is based on belief. Political belief is attractive merely because it is simple, because we long for a simpler world. Some voters expect Trump to simplify the world. Thirty years ago we were subject to less input. There was no internet, no daily bombardment of emails or tweets or facebooks that demand response. We had fewer things to sort each day. Now each of us is connected to millions of others, so the noise is overwhelming. Social overload.
Concerns of riots, terrorism, climate, corruption and purposeless wars are now forced downward on the individual. There’s a lot to be angry about, and no simple target at which to throw stones. Trump suggests targets and promises stones for the throwing—none of which will solve the underlying problems of equal opportunity, domestic peace, or foreign policy.
Trump resonates with angry voters, yet he’s cool because he is non-partisan, non-establishment, unattached. He makes the powerful appear powerless, and many of us cheer for that. Trump claims he doesn’t kowtow to big financiers because HE is the big financier. His independence makes him attractive. We’d all like to shuck external controls, to have some power, to promote our own versions of truth—and Trump provides a vicarious opportunity.
Trump gives voice to the anger that’s inside America, and the anger does not ask for a clear identification of the problems or a proposal of credible solutions.
Other Republicans call Trump’s Nazi*-like tactics wrong, but no one—not even Democrat Hillary—identifies the underlying problems. Well, no one except Bernie Sanders. He tells some technical truths, but he appears a little wild to voters who want immediate restoration of a thrift and stability that never really existed.
It’s more noisy now, but it’s always been chaotic. Remember the cold war, invasion of Panama (1989), Korea, WWII, the Great Depression, WWI, invasion of Panama (1901), the Spanish-American war (1898) … ? All that happened within one long lifetime. Instability isn’t new—there’s just more of it going on now.
Elections are rooted more in political myths than in practiced values, and myths form the grounds for mass movements. There’s a lesson here. Only rational examination and shared values can overcome blind polarization. We won’t have shared values until we share opportunities and lives and education and care for each other. Life is not best lived as a competitive football game.
* Nazi: contraction of Hitler’s Nazionale socialistiche deutsche arbaits partai