Angry Trump, Angry Supporters

Five months into the Trump presidency, Donald’s erratic behavior has spawned an avalanche of “what’s wrong with Trump” theories. Rather than speculate on his psyche, it’s sufficient to label Trump: an angry man whose actions are fueled by the anger of his supporters.

For many observers, Trump’s psychological profile matches that of individuals afflicted with the so-called “Dark Triad.” (https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/darwins-subterranean-world/201608/donald-trump-high-in-the-dark-triad)  Writing in Psychology Today, Glenn Geher considered whether Trump met the three criteria:  “Psychopathy: The tendency to show little regard for the thoughts, feelings, and outcomes of others.  Narcissism: The tendency for one to show a particularly high focus on oneself.  Machiavellianism: The tendency to manipulate others for one’s own personal gain.”  Geher concluded: “Does Donald Trump demonstrate the features of the Dark Triad? … Absolutely and unequivocally.”

This opinion doesn’t help us cope with the facts that Trump is President of the United States and enjoys the support of millions of Americans.  Moreover, the Trump base doesn’t regard him as crazy; they see Donald as their last chance to save America.  What unites Trump and his base is anger.

There are two elements of Trump’s angry perspective.  Both were displayed in his June 1st speech pulling the U.S. out of the Paris climate accords.

The first is his belief that the U.S. is being disrespected: “The rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris Agreement.  They went wild.  They were so happy.”  Trump contends this happened because the rest of the world believed the U.S. had signed a bad deal.  “At what point does [the rest of the world] start laughing at us?”

This is the cornerstone of Trump’s perspective: The U.S. is losing everywhere.  The rest of the world is laughing at us.

When Trump talks about “the rest of the world,” he often implies people-of-color and non-Christians.  He’s overlaid “the world community outside the United States” with bigotry.  Trump’s racially-tinged xenophobia is shared by his base — which is predominantly rural, White, and Christian.

The second element of Trump’s angry perspective is his contention that the United States is being taken advantage of.  “We’re losing everywhere.”  During his June 1st speech, Trump frequently used this imagery:

The Paris Climate Accord is simply the latest example of Washington entering into an agreement that disadvantages the United States, to the exclusive benefit of other countries.

This agreement is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States… the obvious reason for economic competitors and their wish to see us remain in the agreement is so that we continue to suffer this self-inflicted, major economic wound.

The agreement is a massive redistribution of United States’ wealth to other countries… Our businesses will come to a halt, in many cases, and the American family will suffer the consequences in the form of lost jobs and a very diminished quality of life.

The same nations asking us to stay in the agreement are the countries that have collectively cost America trillions of dollars through tough trade practices and, in many cases, lax contributions to our critical military alliance.

Beyond the severe energy restrictions inflicted by the Paris accord, it includes yet another scheme to redistribute wealth out of the United States through the so-called Green Climate Fund… Foreign leaders in Europe, Asia and across the world should not have more to say with respect to the U.S. economy than our own citizens and their elected representatives.

Exiting the agreement protects the United States from future intrusions on the United States’ sovereignty and massive future legal liability.

These assertions are lies (http://www.factcheck.org/2017/06/factchecking-trumps-climate-speech/) but that doesn’t matter to Trump’s supporters.  They believe him.

Trump’s message is consistent: America is losing.  The rest of the world is taking advantage of us.  Trump alone can save the U.S.

One of the characteristic of a narcissist, such as Trump, is psychological projection: Donald takes an uncomfortable feeling about himself and attributes it to others.  Thus, Trump believes he is being disrespected and turns this belief into “the U.S. is being disrespected.”  Trump feels that others are laughing at him and projects “the rest of the world is laughing at the United States.”

It’s relatively easy to understand Trump’s dysfunctional behavior but more difficult to understand that of his loyal followers.  After the election, many polls noted that Trump supporters voted for him because they believed it to be their last chance to save the country and to regain power over their lives.  Many Trump voters are angry because they believe the American dream is slipping away.

In her landmark study, “Stranger in their own Land,”  sociologist Arlie Hochschild detailed the shared narrative, “deep story,” of Trump voters who feel that, in their pursuit of the American Dream, they have been pushed aside by “women, immigrants, refugees, public-sector workers…”  Trump has given voice to the resentment of his base.

Trump may be a narcissistic, Machiavellian, psychopath but that’s not what determines his support.  His base believes the American dream is slipping out of their reach.

Bill Clinton famously remarked, “I feel your pain.”  Trump’s motto should be, “I share your anger.”