WASHINGTON — By now it’s obvious that lecturing Donald Trump supporters about why they shouldn’t vote for him only confirms their convictions.
If you’re part of the “establishment,” which approximately means anyone who has served in government or, grab your garlic garland, a member of the media, your opinion matters less than whatever you scraped off your shoe.
It also matters not that Trump loves the media when it suits him (see “Morning Joe”). Or, that Trump wouldn’t be where he is without the media’s compliance in covering every word he utters. Both he and early endorser Sarah Palin have been masters of media manipulation – knowing how to attract attention that necessitates coverage, while also mocking journalists when they show up.
The challenge for people who fear a Trump presidency even more than others covet it comes down to: How do you convince the inconvincible? How do you persuade the proudly unpersuadable?
First, you probably should buy them a drink, and then you should try not to insult them. (I’m talking to myself here.) Too often we in the media say or write things that feel more like a putdown than an observation. To say, for example, that someone is “undereducated” (a pollster term), which is true of a large portion of Trump’s base, isn’t the same as calling someone stupid. But it might feel that way if you’re on the receiving end.
Most people know that college doesn’t endow intelligence. It’s all in how you say things, which one wishes Trump appreciated more. He isn’t just coarse and rude, but is often vile.
Second, the motivating anger of his constituents needs to be respected and its origins fully understood. It’s too easy to capture a disordered individual acting out as representative of the crazies-for-Trump. Unfortunately, when your jobs are in China, the southern border has been overrun with people entering illegally, your fellow citizens are attacked by radical Islamists, and the president whose policies you abhor happens to be African-American, it’s easy for others to interpret anger about policies into anger toward groups of people.
Trump, alas, has made it exceedingly easy.
Some of his fans may well be guilty of a variety of phobias and -isms, but the sum of Trump’s popularity is more aptly found in his offering what these voters feel they haven’t had — a voice and a place at America’s table. Trump has given them a megaphone and a chair. Most important, he has given them a purpose.
“Make America Great Again” is a grand cause that can mean whatever you need it to mean. Trump himself is a conduit to the belongingness imperative, the human need to be a part of something larger than oneself. Whether Trump realizes this consciously, he has the primitive instinct of a tribal leader. He senses how to marshal his warriors, who, emotionally committed, are loathe to desert.
This was apparent in Nevada when Trump won rural voters who should have belonged to Ted Cruz, based on the all-important public lands issue. The federal government owns a whopping 84.9 percent of Nevada’s land. Cruz promised he would return the land to the state; Trump said he wouldn’t.
One insider told me that when Cruz researchers showed rural voters news video of the comments, most rejected the video as doctored. They were inoculated to any truth that ran contrary to their beliefs. Data be damned.
The irony is that this deep distrust of the establishment and the media is the Republican Party’s own handiwork. Its leaders and operatives have been preaching for decades that the government and journalists can’t be trusted.
The tragedy is that, of all those mentioned here, the most untrustworthy and dishonest is Trump. He undeniably lied a few days ago when he said he didn’t know anything about David Duke in what otherwise would have been the easiest disavowal in political history. In fact, Trump specifically mentioned Duke in a 2000 interview that many have heard by now.
His dishonesty consists of promises he knows he can’t possibly keep, whether forcing Mexico to pay for a border wall or deporting 11 million illegal immigrants, though my favorite is promising Wofford College students that they'll all have jobs upon graduation. In Palm Beach, Florida, recently, I heard from more than a few of Trump’s neighbors, “He doesn’t believe anything he’s saying.” I suppose there’s some comfort in that thought, but then what does he believe?
By unanimous assent, he believes in The Donald.