Translation: Tom Atkins
As women and feminists, many of us watch the Trump phenomenon in disbelief. How can someone displyaing such shameful behaviour, scandalous biography (including 26 complaints of sexual assault, misogyny and racism) and blatant narcissism not only be elected as president of the US – a month after a recording of him bragging how easily he could commit sexual harassment was made public – but also run for second term?
In the 2016 election, Trump’s supporters included a not-inconsequential number of white women. Recent poles show that ahead of the 2020 election many of them expressed reservations regarding Trump and have shifted their support to Biden. American men, however, are a different story. The hard base of Trump supporters comprises mainly American men over 40, mostly blue collar workers without college degrees from rural areas. And they support him more than ever.
In a rally last January, Trump boasted that he had the biggest rallies, although he doesn’t even play the guitar. And that’s true. While he doesn’t play guitar, Trump hits all the right chords, exciting crowds and garnering the worship of his admirers more than any pop star ever could.
While most of us are shocked by Trump’s audacity, he keeps hitting new heights of vanity, now downplaying the Covid pandemic even after contracting and surviving it himself (probably due to an experimental, life saving treatment). He still presents himself as a winner, claiming he recovered by being strong and not afraid. he also advises that US citizens, who have lost 216,000 of their compatriots to the pandemic not let the disease control them. Trump pictures himself as powerful and dominant – he won’t be caught weak or vulnerable. He is unapologetic, unashamed, not even during a global pandemic, infecting people without regard for religion, race, sex or social status.
On October, a New York Times reporter said that his friends, Trump supporters, had sent him admiring e-mails, describing Trumps in terms out of a superhero comic: brave, fearless, unfazed by Covid, possessing the physical and mental fortitude, at his advanced age, to overcome the disease
Perhaps this emphasis of strength and virility could go someway towards explaining why middle aged men are so enchanted with Trump. They feel that with age, global changes and shifting generations, their position and power in the world are waning.
In a Washington Post article, as well as an election podcast on October 9th, Jenna Johnson tried to get an in-depth look at the hard core of Trump supporters. She joined an election party that took place on yachts and barges in Sandusky bay, to the shores of lake Erie in Ohio, one of the swing states Trump needs to secure in order to win the election. On the backdrop of the global pandemic, the election party was a colorful, lively event, where masses of men in red shirts and MAGA hats rode motorcycles, shot canons and waved flags adorned with Trump’s image.
Trump may have been in the White House for four years, but his supporters still insist on seeing him as a leader unsullied by Washington’s corrupted politics. As far as they’re concerned, he’s still a businessman, an outsider who says things as they are. In other words – completely ignores politically correctness, equal rights for women or women’s right for bodily autonomy. The media is fake, masculinity is the paramount ideal, immigrants are dangerous rapists and murderers, and the police is to be supported at any price.
In a video from a huge rally in January 2020, Trump asks his followers if any of them believe the media is fair. “Of course not” they answer. “is it corrupt?” he asks, “Yes!” they answer, cheering. Trump tells his followers that the USA is more respected on the global stage now than it ever was under Obama. He also says that the Republican party has never been so united. Both these claims are controversial, but no one cares about facts.
In 2016, Trump recorded a surprising win in the state of Pennsylvania. New York Times journalists who have recently visited a mining town in the state have talked to white men working in Pennsylvania mines. Some have lost their job. They used to be democrats, but in 2016 they voted Trump. They say that when they heard Hilary Clinton, she made them feel bad about themselves. They felt talked down to, deplored. With Trump, however, they felt good about who they are. They weren’t the problem. They were valued. They also said that Trump was a real patriot, putting America’s needs before anything else.
For his ardent base, Trump is not only a president, he’s a folk hero, some kind of Superman, a true icon. They put his image on flags, cars, banners, shirts and mugs. His followers believe they were given a once in a lifetime chance to serve a president who puts “America first.” They would do anything he asks for. Trump, for his part, dedicates all of his time and effort to preserving the legend. Not for nothing did he toy with the idea of leaving the hospital wearing a superman shirt. He’s empowered and enlivened by the worship of his followers, and they, in turn, draw strength and meaning from him, strength and meaning they need in order to deal with the new world, one undergoing tectonic changes regarding treatment of women, foreigners, anyone who isn’t a white man. The same hardcore Trump supporters feels sidelined and underserved in this new world, and with Trump – their fate is changed. They take part in the glorious task of Making America Great Again.
But reality is changing. As we know, soon after Trump’s election to office, the @me_too movement rose, bringing radical change, at least on the surface. Could Trump and his followers’ “masculinity on steroids” parade, broadcast to the general public as an expression of superpower and unlimited strength, simply be the voice of fear?
Headline photo: AP Photo / Gerald Herbert