FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

True Believers and the U.S. Election

One thing that Donald Trump has done is brought the U.S. version of “true believer” to the political forefront. This group of people was best described by Eric Hoffer (1898-1983). Hoffer was a largely self-educated, working-class, American social philosopher. His best-known work was entitled The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements, published in1951.

Hoffer made the following points about true believers:

— They consider the social conditions under which they live hopelessly corrupt and alienating.

— They feel that these social conditions rob them of self-esteem and render their lives worthless.

— Only by submerging themselves in a larger movement demanding radical change can they regain self-worth.

According to Hoffer, being part of a mass on the move is more important to such individuals than the goals of a particular movement. This means that the movements that attract them are interchangeable. That is why they can be Nazis or communists, fanatical devotees of a religion, or part of an aggressive movement to, supposedly, redeem U.S. greatness.

Mr. Trump’s True Believers

Donald Trump has recruited this demographic element for his campaign to become president. Indeed, it appears to be his core constituency.

Thomas Donlan, writing in Barrons, puts it this way:

“Trump voters … are angry about being losers in the modern economy. It’s harder than ever to make their way forward without the advanced education or skills that are in demand. … They blame elites and the establishment for casting them loose. … Trump has taken their cause to the political stump and set himself up as their winner.”

To get an even better sense of the emotional drive behind Trump’s true believers one should read Dana Milbank’s piece entitled “A Day with Trump’s True Believers,” which appeared in the Washington Post on 14 March 2016.

“I watched Sunday night’s rally here [Boca Raton, Florida] …  up front, in the crush of the crowd. … Once Trump arrived, they [the crowd] became ominously transfixed and aggressive. They pumped their fists, flashed thumbs up, mouthed ‘Thank you,’ chanted ‘Trump! Trump! Trump!’ and hung on the candidate’s every word — often with looks of ecstasy and some visibly trembling.

“Trump captivated them with words that were alternately desperate and violent: “Our country is going to hell. . . . We’re sitting on a very big, fat, ugly, bubble. . . . We’re like the lap dog for the world. . . . Drugs are pouring across. . . . They’re chopping off heads. . . . You see so many people being killed. . . . The jobs are being sucked out. . . . We’re losing with everybody.

“Twice he said that in a Trump presidency they could “relax” while he defeated the Islamic State and beat the world in trade. ‘We’re gonna become rich again,’ he promised. ‘We’re gonna become great again.’ From the passionate cheers sounding around me, I knew they believed him.”

Allied Groups

The true believers are not the only people who will vote for Donald Trump. There will be some Republicans who will vote that party ticket not really knowing or caring who is representing it. They are “knee-jerk” party loyalists whose family and friends have been Republicans for generations and vote that way, literally out of habit (the Democrats have their own version of this phenomenon). There are allied constituencies of fanatics such as fundamentalist Christians who hate alleged Democratic atheists and there are neo-anarchists who hate the federal government. And then there are those who are just confused. They have their complaints that seem never to be addressed, they witness repetitive scandals and corruption, and all of this tempts them to vote for the candidate who promises to bring “real” change. All of these allied groups will vote for Mr. Trump.

However, Trump himself seems most bonded to his true believer supporters, and this makes him all the more dangerous. Perhaps the source of that bond is the fact that the true believers don’t care about constitutional protections and the rule of law, and one gets the sense that neither do Mr. Trump and his close advisers.

Will all these discontented people be enough to get Mr. Trump elected? Perhaps. The probability goes up or down to the extent that the Democrats do or don’t manage to turn out a sufficient number of their own supporters on election day. In other words, the contest is Hillary Clinton’s to lose.

Consequences

There is the question of just how much damage can Trump (and his followers) do regardless of whether he is elected. If he is elected he may be able to enact his destructive policies or he may be hemmed in by a Congress that will be less radical and by governors who are more cautious.

If he is not elected, how much of a reaction will there be? There will certainly be accusations that the election was stolen from him, that the fix was in and the Democrats cheated. The true believers will truly believe this. They will grumble and maybe take to the streets in a scattered, uncoordinated way. There might be some intermingling here with supporters of Bernie Sanders, some of whom can also qualify as disappointed true believers. But then, most likely, the true believers will retreat back into the fringes of society to await the next charismatic leader who can rally them. And, given both traditional parties’ (Republicans and Democrats) historical inability to reform the country’s capitalist, imperialist and racist ways of doing things, that next time is bound to come.

More articles by:

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history at West Chester University in West Chester, PA.

April 25, 2018
Stanley L. Cohen
Selective Outrage
Dan Kovalik
The Empire Turns Its Sights on Nicaragua – Again!
Joseph Essertier
The Abductees of Japan and Korea
Ramzy Baroud
The Ghost of Herut: Einstein on Israel, 70 Years Ago
W. T. Whitney
Imprisoned FARC Leader Faces Extradition: Still No Peace in Colombia
Manuel E. Yepe
Washington’s Attack on Syria Was a Mockery of the World
John White
My Silent Pain for Toronto and the World
Mel Gurtov
Will Abe Shinzo “Make Japan Great Again”?
Dean Baker
Bad Projections: the Federal Reserve, the IMF and Unemployment
David Schultz
Why Donald Trump Should Not be Allowed to Pardon Michael Cohen, His Friends, or Family Members
Mel Gurtov
Will Abe Shinzo “Make Japan Great Again”?
Binoy Kampmark
Enoch Powell: Blood Speeches and Anniversaries
Frank Scott
Weapons and Walls
April 24, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russia and the War Party
William A. Cohn
Carnage Unleashed: the Pentagon and the AUMF
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
The Racist Culture of Canadian Hockey
María Julia Bertomeu
On Angers, Disgusts and Nauseas
Nick Pemberton
How To Buy A Seat In Congress 101
Ron Jacobs
Resisting the Military-Now More Than Ever
Paul Bentley
A Velvet Revolution Turns Bloody? Ten Dead in Toronto
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Left, Syria and Fake News
Manuel E. Yepe
The Confirmation of Democracy in Cuba
Peter Montgomery
Christian Nationalism: Good for Politicians, Bad for America and the World
Ted Rall
Bad Drones
Jill Richardson
The Latest Attack on Food Stamps
Andrew Stewart
What Kind of Unionism is This?
Ellen Brown
Fox in the Hen House: Why Interest Rates Are Rising
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
Ted Rall
Stop Letting Trump Distract You From Your Wants and Needs
Steve Klinger
The Cautionary Tale of Donald J. Trump
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Conflict Over the Future of the Planet
Cesar Chelala
Gideon Levy: A Voice of Sanity from Israel
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail