Trump, Carson, and Cruz! Really??? Here is Why.
One issue clearly illustrates the political dynamic that gives center stage to Trump, Carson, and Cruz. From February of this year, the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) reported the results of a series of state surveys, which it funded, touting massive public opposition to something FAIR itself strongly opposes—the President’s “amnesty” plan for undocumented workers. In North Dakota, 72 percent of respondents opposed the plan; in Montana 71 percent opposed it. Yet, North Dakota’s state population is 2 percent Hispanic; Montana’s is 3 percent Hispanic.
It is also helpful to look at the percentage of Hispanics in the early primary states where Trump and his “anti-immigration” stance has him boasting about his double-digit leads: New Hampshire (2.8%), Iowa (5%), and South Carolina (5.1%). These data indicate that those most concerned about illegal immigration are also those least affected by it; people are taking extreme positions while they don’t really have “any skin in the game.”
What becomes clear at this point is that McTrump’s campaign focus on immigration is the latest and greatest wave of “symbolic politics.” Electoral politics becomes symbolic politics when a political entrepreneur (McTrump) uses very potent symbols (freedom, nationhood, liberty, etc.) to mobilize political support. This entrepreneur attaches these symbols to issues or problems that may, or may not, at their core be that important.
But, the symbols attached to these issues transform the issues. These issues become important because they are ‘symbolic” of some more deeply seated concerns of individuals. Thus, immigration becomes an important issue among potential Republican primary in New Hampshire.
It is not just the immigration issue with which Trump is toying. Trump is now the reigning master of symbolic politics in America. A glance at the Trump’s sound-bites below makes that clear:
Immigration is a terrible problem; immigrant crime is tremendous; a country without borders is not a country; I will build a wall; Make American great again (Ronald Reagan redux); Everyone (China, Mexico, Russia, and Iran) plays our country for chumps; we have become a nation of losers; The silent majority is back (Richard Nixon redux).
Or more recently, he will Win the War on Christmas. Trump also recently announced his favorite book is The Bible. This statement plays much better with the evangelicals who play a major role in some Republican primaries than his eat the cracker and drink the wine statements. (Trump says this, his supporters and everyone else clearly know that Donald Trump’s favorite book is—now and forever shall be—his bankbook).
Trump is not, however, alone in emphasizing symbolic issues. Cruz and Carson throw their baited hooks into the same pond. Cruz has followed Trump’s lead on immigration, but he too has now found an issue on which he can mobilize his voters and not just be an “immigration also-ran.” While Trump won’t commit to de-funding Planned Parenthood, Cruz is having calls with “thousands” of pastors and church leaders to garner support for his plan to shut down the Federal government over funding for Planned Parenthood.
Cruz knows full well that only 3% of that organization’s expenditures are for abortions. That fact does not matter. He also knows that far right evangelicals and Catholics who vote in Republican primaries see in Planned Parenthood all the “horrors” that they believe wrought by Roe v. Wade. So, Senator Cruz serves them up a big helping of a powerful symbolic stew.
In the same vein, Trump may, or may not, know that since 2012 the number of Mexicans coming to the United States is smaller than the number of Mexicans leaving the US to return to Mexico. So, a fence may not be such a grand idea, according to these facts. However, Trump knows that possibly the most important tenet of symbolic politics is that one’s pronouncements should not be constrained by pesky facts.
When it comes to Carson….. It turns out to be very hard to finish that statement. Suffice it to say that Carson’s interpretation of Black Lives Matter means demonizing Planned Parenthood for implementing some bizarre eugenics agenda by placing many of its offices in largely Black neighborhoods.
But, with whom do these symbolic issues resonate? Media commentators have been spending what seem like endless hours of chatter searching for the magic formula Trump and his fellow-travelers possess. One analyst decided that Trump’s main support (I would include Carson’s and Cruz’s supporters here as well) is among what the PEW pollsters call the “disaffected.” They are younger, less well-educated, more likely to be male, more likely to identify as Republican or Independent and definitely more likely to be white.
I think that commentator is partially correct. Trump et al. do pick up many of those whom PEW classifies as disaffected. But, to better understand Trump’s success, one must reach somewhat deeper than a polling category. Michael Kimmel, a sociologist who in his book, Angry White Men, looked at some men’s reactions to the women’s movement. His research led him to coin the phrase “aggrieved entitlement.” Those filled with this negative emotion:
“…feel they have been screwed, betrayed by the country they love, discarded like trash on the side of the information superhighway. Theirs are the hands that built this country; theirs is the blood shed to defend it. And now, they feel, no one listens to them; they’ve been all but forgotten. In the great new multicultural American mosaic, they’re the bland white background that no one pays any attention to…[and] they’re mad as hell.”
While Kimmel was discussing a specific social group, these kinds of statements are exactly the concerns we hear voiced when Trump supporters are interviewed by the media. What we see in Trump, Cain, and Cruz devotees is exactly that sense of “aggrieved entitlement” or what I prefer to call “a grievous sense of loss.” Those who support Trump, Carson, and Cruz see themselves as de-valued in our society, and they see the de-valuation of the symbols they hold dear. For simplicity, for the remainder of this essay, all these people will be identified as—The Aggrieved)
The Aggrieved are fed the idea that illegal immigrants live here and receive all sorts of imagined benefits that detract from the welfare of “real” citizens like themselves. They see themselves being continually forced to navigate treacherous economic waters; they also understand that they are the first generation whose children will not do as well economically as they did.
All these realizations are painful. That pain leads to anger. They are not getting what they want; their kids won’t get what they want. Why should these illegals get what they want, largely at the expense of “real” Americans? Immigration thus becomes an issue that symbolizes their broader and deeper distress about their lives, the lives of their children.
Adding insult to injury, they as individuals may have fallen on harder times, but they have always believed that at least they could claim membership in an exclusive club with a blindingly sterling reputation. They might personally be struggling, but they were citizens of the United States, that unstoppable #1 World Power. That was something they could claim as their own and something to make them proud.
We have all seen wax figures melt when faced with heat and flame. For the American public, the compelling myth of American invincibility began to melt on September 11. The stunning muddles we made of Afghanistan and Iraq led us to the growth of a potent new devil, ISIS. Even more shameful, America has to “negotiate with” rather than “dictate to” the leaders of Iran, whose favorite phrase in English seems to be “death to America.”
These people feel like a middle-aged White woman in the audience at what I think was a Tea Party town meeting in 2008. When she was given the microphone, she was battling back tears because (I’m quoting from memory here) “I don’t recognize this country any more. This is not my America.” In a very real sense, this statement encapsulates the worldview of The Aggrieved.
That woman was correct. A Black man was on a road straight to the White House. Young people, Hispanics, and Blacks were stepping into the voting booth and the public’s eye in ways that were unheard of since the days of the Civil Rights Movement, which was an earlier generation’s wake up call to a changing America. All those Stars and Bars coming down now across the southern states went up largely in response to the Civil Rights movement last century. They were that earlier generation’s equivalent of members of this generation calling the President a Muslim.
This bitter sense of loss, combined with a good dose of implicit racism, is why over a third of Republicans, and many who identify as Independents, still cling to the belief that our President is not a citizen. While we now largely eschew the explicit racism of a Jim Crow world, the “race problem” remains a major issue in America. Implicit racism remains a problem. It gives us different responses to identical resumes based on whether the person’s name sounds African-American. Implicit racism makes up uncomfortable with the use of the “N” word, but we still see Black men as more threatening than Whites. Implicit racism feeds The Aggrieved’s sense that the world is somehow “out of joint.” When a Black man holds the loftiest honor this nation can bestow, it has to be some kind of trick or dirty deal. For them, no other explanation suffices.
To top it off, even among the general population, Congress has a popularity rating that vies with that of a colonoscopy. The old joke, “Question: How can you tell a politician is lying? Answer: His lips are moving.” is no longer a joke. For many people, it has become a compelling political stance.
All of this is why we have “the Teflon Don.” He can say anything; he can say nothing. It doesn’t matter. Trump supporters love their man, but not really. What they truly love is finally having someone holding center stage and channeling their grievous sense of loss and waving their flag of angry resistance.
The Aggrieved want their nation back; they want someone who buys into, and loudly sells, the myth that America really was at one time invincible domestically and abroad and can be again; they want no more of those slick politicians with their stump speeches, complex answers to complex questions, or carefully-worded position papers.
And, Trump is all the more attractive because he continually reminds everyone within earshot that he has the “fuck-you” money that all of them (us) dream of having. McTrump’s braggadocio is the swagger that The Aggrieved American wants to have as he strolls down the streets of his city. The Aggrieved American heartily shares McTrump’s open disdain for professional politicians and the press. It is exactly what he or she would gladly display if anyone would just notice them and ask them.
The Aggrieved see a world around them that feeds into, and reinforces, that “bitter sense of loss” that motivates them. They often can’t really put their finger on the source of their distress, but they know something is deeply wrong. They feel it in their guts, in their souls.
They know they have lost something important, so they pat their pockets to jog their memory of what might be missing. They now know they have no need to go so far. Trump tells them often and loudly, in no uncertain terms, what is gone. He then points his well-manicured finger at the dastardly sneak thieves who let it be stolen away, and the crowd roars its full-throated approval.
Luckily, for those of us not among The Aggrieved, Trump, Cruz, and Carson’s campaigns largely resemble the path taken by infectious diseases. The most troublesome infectious diseases are those that allow the patient to linger and infect others before killing their host. However, most infectious diseases are self-limiting. They seek out the vulnerable; do their worst; kill off their hosts; then disappear.
McTrump, Carson, and Cruz have fashioned their electoral footholds among those Republican voters who are farthest to the right. They may have no traction outside that narrow world. They will flourish for as long as that sliver constitutes the most important segment of the contested ground. All the rest of us can only hope (admittedly somewhat sadistically) is that their disease spreads to other Republican hopefuls to the degree that its last vestiges remain active until a vaccine is administered in November of 2016.
FAIR survey. http://www.fairus.org/media/press-releases
Hispanic population by state in 2010. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_Hispanic_and_Latino_population
Kimmel, Michael (2013-11-05). Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of an Era. Nation Books. Kindle Edition.
Support for idea Obama is not a citizen. http://politickernj.com/2015/01/fdu-poll-34-of-republicans-think-its-likely-obama-not-a-u-s-citizen/