Trump’s Supporters Want to Be Told What to Do

Many of the businessman’s supporters are looking for a savior who doesn’t care what other people think.

Businessman Donald Trump makes a speech in Derry, New Hampshire, August 19, 2015
Businessman Donald Trump makes a speech in Derry, New Hampshire, August 19, 2015 (Michael Vadon)

This website argued in January that Donald Trump’s supporters tend to be Americans who have been on the losing side of major economic and social battles and want a strong hand to set things right.

A Quinnipiac University survey released on Tuesday backs this up.

As reported by the Brookings Institution’s William A. Galston, the vast majority of Trump’s supporters feel they have been falling behind economically. 80 percent say the government has done too much to help minorities (as opposed to them). 91 percent agree with the statement, “My beliefs and values are under attack in America these days.”

The first sentiment is not altogether wrong. Trump’s supporters tend to be low-educated and working-class. They are the sort of people whose jobs get displaced when companies outsource manufacturing to Mexico or Vietnam.

The second sentiment helps explain why so many Republicans have been flummoxed by the businessman’s success in their presidential primary. Ideologically opposed to big government, they are shocked to find that a sizable minority of right-wing voters are perfectly fine with government largesse — so long as it benefits their own tribe.

The third part, about beliefs and values, goes to the argument we made, which is that these voters have lost ever major political argument of the last twenty years, whether it is feminism or gay rights or free trade or globalization, and have yet to come to terms with that.

Summons to Caesarism

George Will, a conservative columnist, has argued that Trump appeals to those Americans who, “understandably disgusted by government,” can be “beguiled by a summons to Caesarism.”

Quinnipiac’s figures bear that out as well.

95 percent of Trump voters agree that “America needs a powerful political leader who will save us from the problems we face.” 72 percent agree that real leaders “don’t worry about what other people say, they follow their own path.”

Leading Galston to observe that Trump’s followers “are literally looking for a savior who will solve our problems singlehandedly.”

To achieve this monumental feat, he must ignore the sentiments of those who disagree with him and be unconstrained by any limits — including moral limits — on the means needed to achieve his ends.

This conception of leadership, of course, represents everything the framers of America’s constitution feared and tried to avert, as Galston points out.

Don’t trust the big man

It is not uncommon, though, nor is America unique in having people who would rather be told what to do.

We cautioned last year against admiring the “big man” in politics. That was before Trump, but the argument holds for him as well.

Countries that need a strong leader have a problem. A healthy society doesn’t need “strong leadership”. It needs a strong citizenry and strong institutions: a capable bureaucracy, an independent judiciary, a confident news media and representative government.

Some of America’s institutions clearly aren’t working well. The federal bureaucracy has grown too expansive and is overwhelmed. So is the judiciary, which — as we reported last month — has grown increasingly politicized because politicians refuse to do their jobs. And that’s because the Congress has become so partisan that it is no longer representative of the country at large. Much the same could be said about the media.

These are enormous problems for any country, especially one as vast and diverse as the United States, that no single person can solve, least of all a know-nothing like Donald Trump. But when institutions fail, there are always people willing to listen to a potential strongman who maintains that he alone can escape the normal constraints of politics and uproot the old order through the sheer force of his personality.

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