My theory about Donald Trump and those who idolize him has shifted a little as more exit polling data from people who have actually voted has come out. Black people are voting for him. Hispanic people are voting for him. Angry white men are voting for him in droves. Even Muslims are coming out to support the guy.
The Donald’s appeal obviously transcends racial lines and even ideological lines given how much support he’s getting from a certain subset of Democrats. His appeal is so diverse and so unusual in our recent political conversation that I’ve been casting about in my mind for examples of other politicians who have had this kind of populist charisma…and then I had a thought that the people on the Caribbean island where I grew up would (and probably DO) love this guy.
When I remembered what political campaigns looked like on my island home, the pieces fell into place: Donald Trump is a banana republic dictator.
Trump’s appeal is rooted in the same things that all tin pot dictators cherish: machismo, money, and malevolence.
Of course he appeals to a certain segment of the White, Hispanic, Black, and Muslim populations. There are segments in each of those populations who are culturally prone to wanting a tough guy, a yelling man, a powerful presence who promises to hurt and punish anybody who gets in his way. I remember during the Gulf War hearing islanders opine that Saddam Hussein was obviously going to win the war because he looked so much tougher than George Bush. Bush was a total nerd and Saddam sported fatigues and wore sun glasses at night for crying out loud! How could he lose?
A cult of machismo explains why a lot of Trump’s followers across the spectrum tend to be poorly educated. That’s why his followers don’t have ideological uniformity. The white supremacist who loves the Confederate flag unwittingly stands shoulder to shoulder with the black man who isn’t quite sure what a poll-taker means by “Emancipation Proclamation” and the Muslim business owner who’s had a rough go in this economy. All of them are after the same thing: they want the tough guy in the White House because the tough guy has told them he’ll make it all right in the world. Donald Trump is ultimately just the projection of their own stunted egos.
Looking at individual issues is the wrong way to understand Trump’s supporters altogether. This strange candidate’s popularity can’t be about race or economics or gun control or healthcare the way the pundits are usually wont to define candidates. This time it’s just about a guy. One dude who has convinced a certain segment of the population that he’s a total woman-hating, Mussolini-quoting, rooting’ tootin’ badass.
Once you understand that the strategy is to be “the man on the horse“, a lot of things start to make sense. Trump’s waffle about the KKK wasn’t about supporting David Duke, it was about showing the world that he doesn’t HAVE to answer questions if he doesn’t want to. He plays by his own rules. Nobody makes Donald do anything. Donald is THE MAN. His followers eat that up.
And there will always be some segment of the population who wants that tough guy to win. In true banana republic style, they’ll also be the same people screaming for his head in a year if he actually does because just being a tough guy doesn’t get you far in US politics.