After more than six months in office Pres. Trump has indeed delivered on his promise to the American people that he would be a disrupter. All the attacks on him, launched by people like myself, have served merely to strengthen his image among his base. What’s not to understand?
Well, let’s look at what the base thinks, how they think, and what images they already carried in their heads when Trump came along. I’ll be adding this to my about-to-be-entered blog item titled What Conservatives Think. As always, we carefully consider what our reference is with this label “conservative”. We’ll start with considering whether most Americans who label themselves conservatives are more reactionary than conservative.
The core Trump constituency is pictured as less educated and older White men, perhaps underemployed for some years, facing a bleak retirement and seeing their adult children unable to secure jobs or an education. Research I’ve seen reported indicates that that is a bit distorted, that Trump support is big among suburban Whites of decent income and some education. Also, Trump attracted some support among Latinos, more than expected, and his meager support among Blacks can be partly attributed to the titanium-strength support for Democrats among that population and an idolization of the Clintons. In talking to one elderly Black man who supported Trump, I saw the seeds of more support for him among that demographic, though he will fail to capitalize on it.
In the mind of our stereotypical Trump supporter, we see images of nineteen fifties America: a booming economy, strong unions, an immigrant population made up of Europeans in the third, well-assimilated generation. We were the clear leader of the world at that point, dominating markets and economies in a way understood by Trump supporters as making Japanese or German cars a laughing stock (remember “rice burners” and VW “bugs?).
His society had clear lines of racial division with only the slightest nod to the equality of citizens made by a few Hollywood movies and do-gooder organizations and main-line religious denominations (soon to lose members when they saw their leaders marching with King). The wealthy paid taxes their ostentation was muted by a sense of decorum so that a well-paid machinist could feel comfortable owning his home and his car, secure in a union-based retirement.
An American was someone, to this Joe Everybody, who had ridden a horse and carried a rifle in the old days, enforcing his code on others and ignoring the contradictions between America as a Christian nation and his violence, his slave-holding, his theft of Native lands, and his total reliance for security on a legal system crafted by the very sort Joe now despises.
This was a very inaccurate picture of contemporary and past American, abetted by school textbooks and most movies – then television – but what with our dominant position in the world and our major adversary, the Russians, on the run as we began a major push to install governments to our liking around the world, Joe accepted this picture and it got lodged in his mind.
These images are what George Lakoff refers to when he talks about frames and narratives that can be triggered. But in the fifties, another America was stirring, found in coffee houses and publishing houses and on the beaches of the West Coast, one that saw the underside of America in its racism and sad conformity. Vance Packard and Philip Wylie were excoriating Americans for this conformity and their inability to resist the insidious manipulations of Madison Ave. (advertising, for you young folks). That America saw brave young Black people storming the crenelated, hoary walls of racism; they saw the creativity in other cultures, other religions, alien art forms; and they began experimenting in myriad ways.
By the time the sixties arrived and careened toward the crisis laden year 1968, matters were rapidly coming apart and cherished practices were being shredded. Middle-aged matrons dancing naked on the beach to bongo drums….. you get the picture. I have yet to gauge the effect of the multiple assassinations of that decade and the conundrum of Robert Kennedy voters switching their support to George Wallace upon the former’s assassination. We were all pretty confused. But for me, the 70s and 80s were not good times, while the sixties were great. Others may disagree 🙂
So when Joe is operating in the world, he brings with him all those frames, frames which interact with each other to make up a system of thought. When we see and hear Trump make inexcusable comments about women, including his own daughter, and yet learn that Evangelicals support him massively, we are confused. When we see business men, corporate executives, supporting a much disrespected New York real estate operator, we are confused. When we see the military figures willing to serve him when he makes the stupidest and most disrespectful comments about military heroes and military power, we are confused; when we see respected foreign service and diplomatic corps members step up to make Trump look respectable in the face of his fifth grade knowledge of the world and his bullying approach to other nations, we are confused. I’m so confused, I’m going to eat breakfast now. I’ll be back.
OK. I was listening to MSNBC and the immigration issue is high on the list right now b/c Cotton and Purdue are proposing draconian legislation to cut immigration and make entry highly restrictive. Much is made of the immigration issue as the deciding factor for a lot of Trump voters who might otherwise vote Democratic. I’ll start with the images and then get behind the images.
An immigrant, to a Trump voter, is a Mexican, pure and simple. As one colleague on my job said as we were rewriting our registration form where it asked for ethnicity and some were suggesting more than one identity for Hispanics, “What difference does it make; they’re all Mesicans once they get here.” Immigrants as criminals and bearers of disease and, more recently, as leaches on our welfare system, has a long history, going all the way back to before the country’s founding. The nightly news has 2 stock images they play over and over: people “sneaking” over our border and Latino youth gangs lined up along a street handcuffed while big, burly White cops pace around them. That feeds a narrative that is contrary to fact, but facts do not matter. The right-wing media and the GOP has fed the narrative for years that there is no disconnect between “they all get on welfare” and “they are taking our jobs”.
So we Liberals throw facts at the Trumpers. Immigrants contribute mightily to the economy and illegal immigrants do so as well. Crime among illegal immigrants is especially low, for obvious reasons. Public health is endangered by budget cuts to health programs and research, not by immigrants bringing in diseases. This matters not in the least. Why not? Because it is all propaganda by the Liberal elitist media and pointy-headed college professors who hate America. Why do college professors hate America? Because their narrative of American history does not match Joe’s John Wayne narrative – Viet Nam and Iraq were good wars; America won WW II on its own; slavery was a favor to Africans and Blacks now get free money from the federal government (back to my old joke about still waiting for my Negro check after 53 years of marriage to a Black woman); immigrants learned English right away and adapted to American customs with no adjustment period (the Polish grandfather image); Hispanics do not share our civilization (the Black Legend, derived from England’s historic enmity with Spain); and many more such frames that have deep roots.
Another topic next, when I get to this on-going blog entry. As I watch the news, I’ll jot down topics and add them in here.