Willing Victims: What would all those Americans in MAGA hats be left with if they abandoned Trump? Just the sick feeling of having been cheated. Just the knowledge that the man in the White House is nothing more than a shape-shifting New York grifter; and that they have always been his “marks” – the hapless victims of his con.
WHY DO THEY stay with him? What keeps all those guys with the rolled-brim MAGA caps coming back for more? Why is it that nothing: not facts, not ridicule, not the scorn of sensible women, hell, not even Covid-19, can break the faith of Donald Trump’s followers? The world keeps posing the question, but Trump’s people won’t, or can’t, answer.
The historian in me comes back with a question of his own: “Why did the working-class of the Soviet Union stay with Joseph Stalin? He’d laid them waste like a field of corn, but the surviving stubble kept cheering him on. Not the NKVD, not the gulags, not even all those pistol shots in the back of their neighbours’ skulls were enough to keep the workers’ tears at bay when the monster finally died.
Could it be that the story he told them, like Trump’s, was so compelling, so empowering, that they couldn’t let it go?
Stalin called them the most important people on the planet: the beating heart of a great experiment that was changing the world. No, they weren’t clever intellectuals like Trotsky. They weren’t ambitious climbers like the party apparatchiks. They certainly weren’t hard-hearted money-grubbers like the rich peasants. No, they were just the hard-working toilers of hand and brain – the ones left standing after the Party had shot all the others. Ordinary, decent proletarians: the soul of the Revolution.
And doesn’t all of that sound oddly familiar? Not all the stuff about Trotsky, apparatchiks and proletarians – the American working-class has never bought into all that socialist mumbo-jumbo – but the bit about being the most important people on the planet. That’s the key: Trump’s promise that, as hard-working White Americans they constitute the rock-solid core of the world’s greatest, most exceptional and indispensable nation.
They may not be as clever as all those talking pointy-heads on CNN. They’re not cold-eyed bureaucrats like the people on the other side of the welfare counters. And they’re certainly not crawlers like the guys who always seem to escape being laid-off when the economy turns sour. No, they’re nothing like that. They’re just the hard-working, hard-drinking, working-class sons-of-bitches who want to make America great again.
To abandon Trump makes no more sense to these good ole boys than abandoning Stalin would have made to the long-suffering Russian worker. Were they to do that it would mean that it had all been an almighty con. All those assurances about them being the soul of the revolution; the bedrock of the American dream; would have been lies.
It would have meant that all the clever people, the ambitious people, the successful people: the ones with the ideals and talents to transform Russia; the people the Party had murdered in their millions; had died for nothing. Just as, turning to the contemporary USA, it would mean that all the promises to bring the factories back from China – along with steady jobs, living wages and good health plans – were never meant seriously. That they were always just words rolling-up on the teleprompter of some obscene political game show.
What would all those guys in MAGA hats be left with then? Just the sick feeling of having been cheated. Just the knowledge that the man in the White House is everything seven-out-of-ten of the women in their lives have been saying he is for the past four years. That Trump is nothing more than a shape-shifting New York grifter; and that they have always been his “marks” – the hapless victims of his con.
And if they were forced to admit that, then they would also have to admit that all the cultural and racial furies Trump has aroused – mostly within people like themselves – were nothing more that the profoundly disreputable means employed to secure the Republican Party’s equally disreputable ends. Worse still, it would mean that 120,000 of their fellow Americans – twice the number that died in Vietnam – have perished needlessly. That the worst depression since the 1930s, into whose twilight their beloved country is fast descending, could have been avoided.
Like all those stunned Russian workers forced to watch their precious Soviet Union simply blip-off History’s screen, Trump’s working-class American followers would be left with an agonising existential choice. Give up the illusion, or double-down on the dream.
Russia chose Putin. Who will America choose?
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 26 June 2020.