The scuttlebutt among Trump-deniers is that the new president’s supporters will abandon him en masse when he fails to keep the promises he made during the campaign. This is unlikely. Will Mexico pay for a wall along the border? Will undocumented immigrants be rounded up or Muslims be banned from the United States? Will the republic be returned to the imperfectly-recalled halcyon days of Eisenhower’s Roadside America? Should none of these things come to pass, Donald Trump can rest easy that his supporters will not jump ship. Their job was to get him elected. Mission accomplished. Whether their man follows through on his promises is irrelevant.
Here’s my reasoning. Trump is an entertainer who never expected to become president. What he, and his proponents, wanted to do was throw a live grenade into the room and blow up the place. The problem was that the door shut before Trump could escape, and now look what’s happened — he’s been proclaimed Wizard Deluxe.
The conventional wisdom is that Trump was propelled to office by frustrated white, working-class Americans who feel that the country has shortchanged them. If this is true, then it’s at odds with the narrative that this same segment of the population has long claimed it wants the country to leave them alone. But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say that, yes, the country has let them down. How, then, would the following policies bring them back up: getting rid of their health insurance, opposing their unions, creating a swamp of plutocrats in the executive branch, giving tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans, and reinstituting torture?
That all of this seems contradictory is no surprise because Trump’s entire campaign defied comprehension. His followers’ immunity to logic, facts, or even personal insult was displayed to me by the young woman who commented — aglow with defiance — that “Trump can grab me anywhere he wants.” Likewise, I overheard an older gentleman lecturing his buddies in a local convenience store about the need to “get the Mexicans out of here.” He noticed me looking on in wonder, so I took this as an invitation to speak up. “Just curious,” I said by way of introduction. “How will deporting undocumented Mexicans in Arizona benefit you?” His response: “They won’t come to Maine to take my job.” (When I pressed a little more, I learned that the gentleman was retired.)
All of this raises the question of how one finds common, civil ground for discussion when the two sides occupy different worlds. For example, I believe that climate change is a reality (and not, as Trump avowed, a plot hatched by the Chinese). I can lay quantitative evidence on the table, such as the fact that Miami is raising its sidewalks and streets ahead of rising sea levels. But when I asked a climate change denier for evidence for his position, he told me, “Jesus wouldn’t let it happen.”
The moral here is that Trump’s supporters, like the object of their adoration, are divorced from the evidence-based conversation to which, one would hope, we all aspire and which forms the bedrock of reasoned discourse. They do not live by facts alone (or at all), but by “ alternative facts,” which equates perception — or opinion — with data, such as the assertion that the number of attendees at Trump’s inauguration was the largest ever recorded, despite indisputable evidence to the contrary. This has relieved them of the need to think for themselves or to consider the effects of Trump’s renegade behavior and designs on their own interests. But I digress. The message, again, is that none of this matters. The damage — which was the goal of his supporters — has been done.
In the meantime, the potential for scandal in the new administration is already growing: conflicts of interest, histories of racism, incomplete vetting of cabinet nominees, nepotism. But even here, should a full-blown scandal erupt, it will not matter because Trump’s supporters were not looking for policy or statesmanship or even maturity. They were looking for a big bang. Which is exactly what they got. And now they have adjourned.
Robert Klose teaches at the University of Maine at Augusta in Bangor. He is a frequent contributor of essays to The Christian Science Monitor and a four-time winner of the Maine Press Association award for opinion writing. His novel, “Long Live Grover Cleveland,” won a Ben Franklin Literary Award and USA BookNews award.