Deciphering Trump and Trumpism


If you read the New York Times piece titled “Why Rural America Voted for Trump” and a response to it with the header “F*** You, Rural Elitists,” you’ll come away with the conclusion that both are overwhelmingly accurate.  But, the conclusions embodied in them are diametrically opposed.  How is that possible?  The only explanation is that they describe, and are the results of, mindsets that are radically different, that have very different starting points.

Donald J. Trump (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Why, you wonder, is this even a relevant topic for an Armenian newspaper?  Three reasons:  First, most of its readers are U.S. citizens and will therefore directly impacted by Trump’s coming actions.   Second, the level of vitriol among Armenians on opposing sides of Trumpism is unprecedented.  It wasn’t this bad for Obama, Bush Jr., or Clinton, as I remember, so this is unhealthy within the confines of our community.  Third, what kind of foreign policy he conducts will impact many of our compatriots throughout the Armenian Plateau and its environs.

Those who support Trump argue that they want change, are sick of elites, feel a strong economic pinch, perceive societal changes that they find undesirable, want to clean up corruption in government, and likely many other smaller items.  There are also those who support him for truly vile reasons, such as racism, but I’m convinced those are a minority of his supporters.

Let’s look at these notions.  “Wanting change” is very understandable.  Who doesn’t?  Things have been getting worse for most people for the last 40 or so years.  But how and why is Trump to be believed?  Based on what?  One interesting explanation which I’ve heard in two versions, is that he should “be taken seriously, but not literally” or “look at what’s in his heart, not what he says”.  The example cited is the “building a border wall with Mexico paying for it”:  this is to be construed as he will do something about the border, for real, but the payment part is not necessarily a part of what he will do.  But this sort of approach allows anyone to project just about any desire or interpretation onto Trump.  How can that be a basis for supporting a candidate for any office?  How can one take seriously a candidate who plays fast and loose with the facts?  One example that stands out for me is when he claimed the murder rate had gone up, when in fact it had gone down?  The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan is known for one of his quotes: “you have a right to your own opinion but not your own facts.”

The anti-elitism argument is perhaps the most inscrutable.  Trump is a billionaire.  It doesn’t get any more “elite” than that.  If people are sick of U.S. elites, by what rationale would they vote for such a person?  A friend presented an interesting twist on this apparent contradiction.  “Trump is part of the elite, but he’s not elitist.”  That’s possible, and that could explain how people opposed to elites could vote for him.  But anyone watching Trump is immediately beset by his arrogant manner and speech.  That arrogance is a primary marker of elitism, that “I’m better than you” mindset.  So we have another contradiction.  But, if “elite” means something else to his supporters, that could explain things.  I have the impression, based on the NY Times article cited above and other material I’ve encountered in right-wing media, that elite means “coast-dwellers, city-dwellers, the (so-called) liberal media, those who support evolving/newer cultural/sexual mores” i.e. those who are not on the conservative end of the political spectrum.  But even here, Trump doesn’t fit the description.

The economic argument for supporting Trump also is fraught with contradiction.  It seems very unlikely that a billionaire is going to understand the plight of middle class citizens, much less those who are even less well off.  That lack of understanding is bound to manifest itself in policies he puts in place.  This gap might have been filled by well-chosen advisors (i.e. his cabinet).  But, even those people are coming from the same economic stratum as he.  Plus, some of them are exactly the vile people who caused the economic crash in 2008 (remember that Clinton was rightly criticized for being too cozy with those banksters).  While these choices were not known to his voters prior to Election Day, why do they not react with dismay now?  There is the possibility that Trump’s anti-trade-agreement rhetoric got people to support him.  But here again, he seems two-faced since he has significant interests overseas, including the manufacturing of Trump branded items sold in the U.S.

The societal changes and cleaning-up corruption angles overlap with the previous two points.  Trump is one of the most conspicuously non-traditional people on the public scene, hardly a “family values” man is he.  The banksters he’s nominating for confirmation to his cabinet are the absolute manifestation of corruption at the government-big business nexus.  Plus, Trump himself can easily be described as a crook given how many of his employees and contractors he has screwed out of the money they were due.  And, don’t forget, Trump said early on that when he gave money to various candidates for elective office, he did so with the expectation of favors, and got them.  How is any of this uncorrupt and virtuous?

Perhaps Trump’s rallying cry of “make America great again” was appealing.  After all, who doesn’t want their country to be great?  But there was nothing of substance to back that up.  By luck, I encountered another Moynihan quote that addresses this point: “Political society wants things simple. Political scientists know them to be complex… One could argue that, in part, the leftist impulse is so conspicuous among the educated and well-to-do precisely because they are exposed to more information, and are accordingly forced to choose between living with the strains of complexity, or lapsing into simplism.”

So, while these approaches may yield some insight as to the roots of Trumpism’s support, they do not result in clarity, at least not yet.  A measured, rational, factual discussion of these (and any other, missing) perspectives would be beneficial in multiple ways.  Please provide your input.

3 Comments on Deciphering Trump and Trumpism

  1. avatar vart adjemian // January 18, 2017 at 4:13 pm // Reply

    I had to laugh at your last sentence ” Please provide your comment”.
    There can be no reasonable, logical or factual discussion that is remotely possible with you. There have been many comments about your articles about Trump, but obviously you choose to ignore them.
    Since the election campaign started, you have been anti-Trump, insulted American-Armenians who voted for Trump, stated unproven allegations against Trump, covered up for Hillary, did not even put in a single sentence about her shortcomings, or the dirty tricks and games the DNC played to have her elected.
    Get over it. On 1/20 Trump will be president.
    If you do not like him that much, you may consider a move, may be to Armenia and see if you can have your tirades published.
    Vart Adjemian

  2. I will comment however I never get posted why don’t know wrote the editor for a reason hopefully will get an answer okay Trump ALL THE PRESIDENTS ARE from or married to $$$$$ money The even more elite buy our presidents with campaign money so no matter who we vote in they were hand picked and bought by the rich to serve the rich You have to know by now their speeches are empty they are puppets and liars Now Hilary is an evil EROGAN of a person NEED I SAY MORE Trump can not be BOUGHT he is arrogant enough to do it and do it right (be president) he is obviously a business man and has done well to say the least Our country has lost trillions that NOBODY CAN ACCOUNT FOR Trump will have accountability checks and balances and if nothing else will pay attention to the moneys spent etc and that is our the taxpayers money Again because of his arrogance HE DOES NOT LIKE TO FAIL AT ANYTHING and due to the crap said about him and many predicting his incompetence and such HE WILL NOT FAIL AND PROVE THEM WRONG JUST BECAUSE and his independent wealth makes him his own man and nobodys puppet He also exposed dirty secrets (meaning not reported by mainstream news) He certainly doesn’t give a damn what the other political elite say about him or what he says (and many times I wish he would think before saying things so he doesn’t have any reason to lie as far as understanding the plight of those in the middle class he is not ignorant but if he did not understand he would hire someone who did to inform him because he was put down in the media in evryway possible his ego will prove them wrong because he will not allow himself to lose at anything ego is a good thing sometimes and I love it when he put down because it plays on his enormous ego to win and prove them all wrong he truly got a kick out of being cheered by we the people now hes in our pocket so keep on shedding him in a bad light and his ego gets us a man who will not lose to adoration of the people and put the foot of all the bashers of his character etc into their mouths WE CANT WAIT

  3. Oh I did say I know you will not post my comments because like our media if you don’t go with the side they are on the words do not make the cut

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