If there is one question that puzzles many mainstream Republicans and others it is “Who are these people supporting Trump and why are they doing it?” The pundits and pollsters review the demographics of people voting for Trump. But they cannot fathom the reasons why. Not the alt-right, the racists, or the misogynists, but the ordinary men and women who respond to Trump’s message of “Make America Great Again.”
Henry David Thoreau, in his book “Civil Disobedience and Other Essays” captures it perfectly. He said “The mass of men leads lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city, you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats.”
Trump’s rallies have shown us people who are angry and frustrated. Unfortunately, Trump does not offer solutions but only encourages their fears. He misquotes and lies about crime, taxes, and immigrants in order to inflame his followers. He has played on their anxieties and promised the unattainable. When we look at the election results from traditionally Democrat areas such as the Rust Belt, we see the desperation of workers whose jobs have disappeared. Trump promised to bring them back. He can’t, but they were willing to believe someone, anyone, who promised that they would.
In the Bible belt, many Christians have felt their faith has been under attack. Gay marriage. Transgender bathrooms. All was too much for them to Aided by the so-called evangelical leaders, Trump, and his campaign leveraged their desperation for a return to the America of their childhood, with prayer in schools, and everyone attending Sunday school, into votes.
These ordinary men and women – our neighbors, friends, and relatives – were truly living out lives of quiet desperation, feeling that their needs were ignored, that no one listened to them. Perhaps they were right. For in politics, perception is reality.
Then someone everyone knew, a fabulously wealthy celebrity, was suddenly interested in them. At least he claimed to be. For the first time in a long time, they mattered. And in their desperation to be heard, to matter, they believed what they wanted to believe. They believed him when he said the mainstream media was “out to get him” so they ignored his lies. They believed him when he said that he, and only he, could “Make America Great Again” because they had lost faith in our government and its leaders.
Eight years ago an unknown senator named Barack Obama promised “Hope and change.” It was enough to carry him to the White House. We should not be surprised that a well-known man promising to “Make America Great Again” was able to duplicate that feat. People hear what they want to hear and believe what they want to believe. They are not racists. They do not hate women. They didn’t take to the streets to riot, but they did go to the ballot box and vote. They are frightened by a world they can no longer understand or control. In a life of quiet desperation, any hope is better than no hope at all.