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  • Reverend James Squire

Why People Follow Trump

“To cut oneself entirely from one’s kind is impossible. To live in a desert, one must be a saint.” – Under Western Lives by Joseph Conrad. One must understand a basic fact in America to understand such issues as why Trump has such a loyal following, the growth of unions in our nation as action coming from any group of people who have the same job, and why so many people are angry and are challenging American institutions particularly political ones who are part of our government. You don’t cut yourself from your kind during times of injustice and insecurity. Our identity is not living as a saint in a desert but in focusing our identity on our group, our kind.

What used to be more subtle is now tearing apart the fabric of our democracy. One statistic will help us to understand the anger and irrational nature of our political choices with Trump having his poll numbers grow with each indictment. 60% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. There is no money for a negative surprise. Philadelphia is the poorest city in the nation. One in six children do not have enough to eat and go to bed hungry. This is in spite of years of growth in population, jobs, and development in the city.

The anger and the loyal following of Trump are based in the division between the haves and have nots. The illusion is that the middle class still exists. It doesn’t the way that it used to which is why President Biden is attempting to grow the economy from the middle out and up. That will not happen soon enough to change the culture, but it is a start. The divide in Washington and lack of real government creating policy is what has caused our credit ratings to drop.

Two observations! One in reading several of Heather Cox Richardson’s books, a historian at Boston College who writes a daily blog, it is easy to see a theme in our history that you learn by seeing the complete breadth of our history as a nation. Remember that Lincoln was a Republican who freed the slaves. Our history is really a story of a group feeling that they know what is best for others who they look down upon. They tend to be interested in wealth and power as an oligarchy. The other group is concerned with all the people. Recall that the measure of a democracy is how the majority treats and is empathetic to the minority. This group is concerned with the ethical principle of social justice.

These two groups change hands, interests, and purpose as we look at our history. The titles just change from Democrat to Republican in our history and vice versa. The issues remain the same. Power and money have a byproduct of an authoritarian approach or oligarchy versus a democracy whose purpose is equality and equal access for all.

I have lived in two very different worlds, working class and the world of privilege. My own definition of the haves is that they never have to think much about money which yields choice. The have nots have money on the brain 7/24 even after you emerge from have not culture to a culture of privilege. It is the shadow that follows you around.

I have had students who missed school because their family couldn’t afford a bus/subway token. Another student would start his day in my office to get a simple breakfast catching up with me before going to his first class. A good many of my urban students had to change clothes, one set for leaving and returning to their culture and another to wear around school. Some felt that they were not accepted in either culture, but it was usually their “home culture” that mocked and belittled them. Hence, the change of clothing. The ones who would make it out of both school and home culture were usually those who said to me, “This is my ticket to ride.”

Trump’s people see him as their ticket to ride. Like my students and me who functioned with having to work harder than others being insecure about money (inflation), feeling as though there is no way up and out, your passion to have a better life makes you irrational to a degree that you would follow a man who has spent his life mocking and taking advantage of the have nots that he looked down upon and refused to pay them what he owed. Have you ever seen a Maga rally at Mar-a-lago?

Trump’s central principle is the Machiavellian notion that said that you should lead by having people in a state of fear not in a state of love and respect. The have nots in our nation are living in fear. Trump generates that and violence, division, and chaos with every spoken word. I was afraid while living in that culture, but I had no group or government to project that on as Trump does. Sometimes hard work does not get you what you want. I was afraid I wouldn’t be strong enough or resilient enough to do some of the working-class jobs I knew I had to do. I was also afraid that when I attended the most elite universities in our nation, that I wasn’t smart enough than the haves who surrounded me. “Not good enough” is a resounding mantra in have not culture which would engender anger in anyone. They were referred to as “the deplorables” by Hillary Clinton.

I live in the world of the haves now, a world of privilege. They are one of my kind. It is a world in which I am most comfortable. I was President of my high school class and love to get a group of us together at least once a year. We have a reunion coming up in September. I am so proud of what each of them has done with their lives. I spend most of the evening with them listening to their stories. I keep asking those, “and then what” questions of them.

I was talking to one classmate who was a fellow member of the football team. He retired from driving a truck and he seemed anxious when I asked, “What’s next?” He shared with me that he had just taken a test and didn’t know if he had passed or not. He really wanted the position. When I asked him, what he wanted to do in his retirement, he responded, “I want to be a crossing guard for children coming and going from school.” That meant as much to him as a gold medal would for an Olympian.

If you are living paycheck to paycheck and your child is going to bed hungry, you will choose any “ticket to ride.” Indictments won’t count! Only what he says he will do for you. That is why 70 percent of people are for Trump. They don’t care about the law or moral issues when “money” and “what’s best for my family” is really all that matters. Put those ingredients into a bowl of fear and chaos with no respect for others and you have a winning combination.

It better be addressed soon for the other side of Richardson’s themes in her observations on our history is that what lies around the corner is not pretty if we don’t address the issues of social justice.

“To cut oneself from one’s kind is impossible. To live in a desert, one must be a saint.”

We are a nation of kinds, haves and have nots. There are not saints to be seen.

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