The most terrifying aspect of Donald Trump’s persona is his unpredictability. Those who support him are attracted to and impressed by it, while his opponents fear the consequences of his volatile words and actions. During his campaign, off-the-wall speeches and offensive policy proposals were the height of his capriciousness. As President, his words and actions yield actual consequences.
To non-Trump supporters, his volatility was always frightening. His voters, by contrast, felt relieved to hear from a candidate who was so frank and forward. An article headlined “Why So Many Americans Hate Politics” in the Washington Post explains that the population’s widespread disdain for our governing bodies stems from feeling deceived or “shut out” from politics. Canned speeches and interactions with the public serve no purpose other than to deceptively and condescendingly campaign, benefitting no one but the politician in question.
Trump’s appeal to mild-mannered Midwesterners doesn’t make sense at first. Voters in the region value honesty and humility, and Trump sports neither of these characteristics. He frequently boasts about past business deals and exaggerates personal accomplishments. His campaign rallies emboldened raucous and rowdy behavior. He encouraged violence towards non-supporters, absorbed praise from the crowd, and spoke in a near-constant shout. His brash persona should offend the sensibilities of most people, especially those in the excessively polite Midwest.
Nevertheless, these supporters willingly eschewed their values for the sake of a candidate, and now a President, who ostensibly offers a contrast to the poise most politicians possess—his sentences fail to finish, his thoughts jumble, and his speeches frequently contain mistruths. Trump’s vocabulary is less expansive than that of recent presidents and notable candidates, and his grammar bests only George W. Bush’s. Yet, the simplicity of his speech also makes him comprehensible and trustworthy. His casual language and unfiltered statements subconsciously assure voters that they’re hearing the whole and honest truth. Under the perception that politicians’ words must be false when calculated and eloquent, Trump supporters take solace in their champion’s crude language.
But as they delight in the discomfort Trump’s words impart on others, they fail to realize that aligning themselves with Trump doesn’t ensure his reciprocation. A now-notorious cartoon out of The New Yorker captures this phenomenon perfectly, as a flock of sheep admire a billboard featuring a threatening, Trumpian wolf dressed as a politician. One remarks admiringly that he “tells it like it is.”
Trump also builds credibility with his supporters by confidently throwing around phrases such as “many people have said this” or “everyone knows that,” which instantly incite both insecurity in his listeners and trust in him. Why didn’t I know this? How does he? And most importantly, why hadn’t anyone told me this before?
Nevertheless, Trump’s rhetoric works so well partially because of the prejudices present in the region. His status as an older white man automatically grants him more leeway in his behavior than women or people of color—such as Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, whose choice to wear a tan suit in 2014 drew harsher criticism from Republicans than Trump’s lewd language ever has.
Additionally, part of Trump’s success in the Midwest stems from sheer flattery. Even in the states without economic turmoil or the loss of manufacturing jobs, Trump promised an uprising. Removed from the glamour of the east and west coasts, Trump’s campaign allowed rural populations to convince themselves of hardship they had never experienced, and that in the past eight years this hardship had particularly worsened. Things had been bad, or, to use Trump’s vernacular, “very, very bad,” but he would make it better.
Despite the massive failures and embarrassments embodying the first nine months of the Trump presidency, much of his 2016 constituency remains unmoved. They are still as unconvinced by facts as they were during the election, instead finding it easier to trust one man’s words than the warnings of political pundits, the media, scientists, academics, past presidents, and the majority of the country. These people will likely remain in the dark until Trump’s reckless governance touches them personally. Many of his supporters may be lucky enough to avoid this unnerving prospect, but others, particularly in poor, rural areas of the Midwest, may fall victim to the man they elected.
Kelsey R. Thomas ’20 is a Crimson Editorial editor in Eliot House. Her column appears on alternate Wednesdays.
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Imagining InstabilityCompared to other regions in the U.S., the Midwest more than adequately subsists on its economic output. Yet Midwesterners still feel as though they lack something in comparison to the rest of the country, and perhaps rightly so.