DemWritePress Contributor J.L. Whitehead, on how Donald Trump uses anger to keep his base in lock-step.
In the year following the election of the 45th president of the United States, I frequently wondered why he held so many campaign rallies. Why did he feel the need to continue to campaign even after he claimed the role of the most powerful and influential man in the world? I used to ponder this until certain ideas fell into place, and when they did, I began to understand exactly what was happening.
Mr. Trump campaigns because he has to. First and foremost, he has to identify his base. He must know who is behind him. In Trump’s mind, if you are not for him, you are against him. There is no happy medium or middle ground.
Supporting Trump only really requires one consistent ideology – loyalty to Trump. Our commander in chief requires loyalty above everything else; and it isn’t necessarily a two-way street. It is merely a way for him to identify people that he feels he can trust – people who he believes will have his back when times are not favorable.
He will never admit that he has done anything wrong even though he is very quick to point out the mistakes and shortcomings of his perceived adversaries. He is also a man who seems to thrive in chaos — the type of chaos which keeps his staff on constantly shaky ground and pitted against each other. He is in control of this effect – he must hold the reins at all times, and cannot tolerate any opinion, however expert, which challenges him. Because he holds these reins, he can and will call every shot. He can manipulate people into doing what he deems necessary, no matter the intent.
A few weeks ago, a friend mentioned that the atmosphere at a Trump campaign rally is mostly comprised of anger. With rabid fury the people chant, “Lock her up!” as if Hillary Clinton were still his opponent for the presidency. Realistically speaking, there is no need to down-talk your opponent when the office has been won – regardless of whether you believe it was won fairly. Hillary Clinton is not our enemy, but in Trump arenas, she always will be. He will bring her up repeatedly, over and over again.
To his base, Mr. Trump is an incredibly deft rabble-rouser. He is able to not only stoke, but also personify the anger that courses through the “working class.” In spite of his luxurious and privileged upbringing, he is successful in broadcasting a message that he is one of them; that he identifies with their feelings. He leads his base to believe that he is the only person that can right the wrongs many feel were inflicted upon them. He is unapologetically brash; sometimes even downright offensive in painting the image that he is one of the working class. Despite a past resplendent with private schools, golden toilets, and daddy’s millions — his base believes he is a man who understands them so well, he would sit down and have a beer with them.
The anger at Trump’s rallies is the main attraction. From my perspective, attendees come away feeling two things:
- Angered exhilaration. Someone is finally listening to them and speaking up for them; taking a stance in their defense and working to return what was lost.
- Confidence that Trump is the one who can fix things. He can fix what is wrong with the government and shake things up because traditional presidential tactics haven’t been helping.
But imagine for a moment there was no fury; no proverbial pot to be stirred. Would people still be chanting, “Lock her up!” as if it were a mantra which would crumble away if they didn’t? Would people still blame others for their woes, or would they do something to fix/change things?
Once the fury pot is sufficiently stirred, Trump gives the direction in which to point that anger. He has to justify the anger and aim it at a demographic which can be construed as the enemy. He must have you believe that a group or groups of outsiders are to blame for the perceived suffering you are enduring. Trump must fault the African Americans who are kneeling to protest the murders of black men and women by the police who swore an oath to protect them, while assigning no blame to the police themselves. He needs you to believe that the athletes kneeling in protest are disrespecting the American flag when in reality; it’s not about disrespect at all. He must keep you angry, because emotion prevents reason from opening hearts and minds. He needs you to remain angry; otherwise you may see the real reasons why the athletes protest.
Trump needs you to believe that people who seek asylum are animals and that they are coming to take the first fruits of this country away from you. You have to believe that the people arriving here – fleeing circumstances they did not create and have a right to be free from, are not worthy of safety or refuge. Trump needs you to be angry about this, because if you are, it will be easier for you to believe that they are breaking the law. If you are sufficiently angry, it will be easier for you to dismiss asylum seekers as subhuman. It will allow you to disregard their feelings, emotions, hopes, dreams and desires. If you are angry enough, you will see them as “other.” You will see them as a subclass of people so different from you that they couldn’t possibly imagine what it is like to be a patriot in this wonderful land we call home.
Similarly dehumanized by the American right, and Team Trump in particular, are members of the LGBTQ community who have diligently fought to earn the right to simply be. Existing in a world where our heterosexual counterparts do not understand everything that we think and do is rife with challenges. Trump needs you to believe that members of our community are less patriotic because some of us are transgendered. Despite the fact that many in the LGBTQ community are willing to lay down their lives and fight for our country, Trump demands that you be you angry at how we consider ourselves as able to serve as our fellow countrymen who were born heterosexual.
He needs you to be angry about that.
He needs you to be offended and angry because he knows that the viewpoint anger brings isn’t a viewpoint at all; it brings only blindness. Trump needs you to see people through the lens of anger, because if you see them through that lens, you cannot actually see them at all.
What Trump really wants you to possess is “Blind Rage.” For millions of Americans, his strategy has proven effective – he wouldn’t be where he is without it.
But imagine for a moment if you were not angry. Imagine if there were ways to address your concerns without strongly negative emotional connotations. What if someone else wasn’t the cause of your every distress? What if those stoking your anger are also the source of it?
And what will you do with that knowledge when it dawns upon you?