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The Left Still Doesn’t Understand Trump’s Appeal

ANALYSIS--As I watch America wrestle with the task of un-electing an orange-tinted ball of insecurity and pettiness, I’m trying to figure out how to sum up my feelings in a way that does more than express frustration and/or despair.

Try as I might, I don’t think I can do it directly. So, let’s try an analogy or two.

A few years ago, I attended a lecture about alternative therapies. The doctor giving the talk spent a lot of time explaining that while many alternative therapies are no more effective than a placebo, many patients are convinced that they work miracles. 

The medical community wanted to understand why this was, so they spent years trying to figure out what these practitioners were doing that doctors weren’t. If it wasn’t the treatment that was making the difference, what was? 

The difference, it turns out, was the level of basic human care and attention the typical patient received. Doctors spend an average of seventeen minutes talking to each patient.  That doesn’t sound too bad until you realize that their patients have an average of six health concerns to discuss. 

The doctor and patient would typically spend about ten minutes discussing and diagnosing the main issue, leaving just over a minute each for the rest. A minute isn’t a long time to talk about something that’s worrying you. It certainly isn’t a lot of time to get an answer that will put your mind at ease. Maybe sixty seconds were all it took for the doctor to be convinced that the problem wasn’t anything serious. But their patients needed more time. 

Alternative therapists, on the other hand, give each patient a much higher degree of individual care. They take concerns that doctors might dismiss as trifling or petty, seriously. Their treatments are far more often in the form of personalized, hands-on therapy than a prescription for some pills. As a result, the patient feels valued, they feel heard, they feel like their problems are being taken seriously. And surprisingly often, that’s enough to make those people feel better. 

If you set aside the Trump supporters who voted for him because they want a tax break or because they’d never vote for a bleeding-heart Liberal, you find people who’ve spent a lot of time feeling as if they weren’t being heard. People who were so desperate to feel that somebody was listening, that when Trump said the things they wanted to hear and addressed the concerns they had, even though the insincerity dripped from every word, they felt better. 

When you’ve been feeling ignored for long enough, even if you have no good reason to feel that way, you’ll throw your arms around anybody who claims they care about what you’re going through. Say what you want about Trump (and there’s a lot to say), he made a large swathe of the American people feel acknowledged. Hillary called fifty percent of them, “Deplorables.” 

Biden might have learned from her mistake, but the votes show he’s been ineffective at making them feel heard. Maybe that’s because putting their minds at rest would require a degree of dishonesty he’s uncomfortable with. Maybe he’s unwilling to placate voters with promises of “clean coal” and “big, beautiful walls” when he knows he can’t deliver. I can respect that. But they don’t. They take his unwillingness to say the right things as a lack of interest in their concerns. The Left still hasn’t figured out a way to speak to these people so that they feel heard. It’s a gap that people like Trump will always profit from at the polls. 

The second analogy is a story about a friend of mine. This friend got herself into a relationship with a married man. For a year, he put his wife, his children, and my friend through hell, making promises to each of them which he failed to keep, lying to and gaslighting them, abandoning them, and then coming crawling back making promises that he’d break again almost immediately. 

In no way am I excusing my friend’s part in this. She was absolutely in the wrong to see a man she knew was married with children and had no right to consider herself a victim of the situation. I pointed this out to her in no uncertain terms. At the same time, I tried to be there for her as best I could. She was my friend after all. 

I appealed to her sense of self-preservation by pointing out how much the relationship was hurting her. I appealed to her sense of decency, pointing out that she was contributing to the breakdown of a marriage which would leave two children growing up in a broken home. Nothing made any difference. In fact, the more I urged her to be better, the more she treated me as if I was the enemy. She seemed to view the situation as a competition between herself and the man’s wife, and she was determined to win, no matter the cost. Eventually, we stopped speaking altogether. 

It was almost a year later that she reached out. She’d finally broken things off with him. When I asked her why she’d stuck with him for so long, ignoring the advice of and alienating every single one of her friends in the process, she explained that as crazy as it was in hindsight, at the time, she resented that we had made her feel bad about following her heart. The only person that told her that what she wanted was okay, was him. And so, as she felt attacked by her friends, she felt drawn towards him. She felt understood and validated in her behavior because she had somebody who was willing to support her selfishness. Who encouraged it. 

Donald Trump, for all his flaws, no, because of all his flaws, allows his followers to embrace their worst instincts without any guilt. His supporters love him for saying the things you’re not supposed to say because they’re the things they want to say. He makes them feel legitimized because he never, not a single time, appeals to their better nature or asks them to sacrifice something for the sake of others. “America First”, is shorthand for “Me First.” “I’m a selfish, misogynistic, racist cheat too!” he cries proudly. And his supporters feel vindicated by it. 

This aspect of Trump’s appeal is what I think the Left has never really understood. Every time he does or says something despicable, they call for his supporters to join them on the moral high ground as if they weren’t already aware of the kind of person he is. Holding the moral high ground is all well and good, but so much of the politics of the Left has become telling people how they should behave and what they should value. Trump never does that. He is awful by example. And his followers love him for it. 

So why does any of this matter? As the votes continue to be counted, it looks increasingly likely that Biden will win. There might be some kicking and screaming, but Trump will be ejected from the White House, and then, well, that’s just it. What then? 

Even after four years of lying and corruption and incompetence, somewhere damningly close to fifty percent of Americans want Donald Trump to continue lying, corrupting, and competing. Those people won’t go away just because Trump does. And anyway, he won’t go away. I’d bet everything I own that he’ll continue to erode the already shaky standards of respect, compassion, and decency in political discourse from the sidelines. 

Meanwhile, the Democrats have once again managed to nominate a candidate that the public isn’t voting for because they want him to win, but simply because they want the other guy to lose. Even AOC is voting for him grudgingly. Say what you want about the Republicans, and the delusional state of mind the following point requires, but most of them believe in Trump. They trust him. They respect him. They admire him. If elections were decided by how many people actively want their guy in charge, Biden would already have lost decisively. 

The Left is so busy laughing knowingly as late-night comedians nod and wink them through all the ways that they’re smarter, better, harder, and faster than those they disagree with, that they seem to have forgotten that the first rule of making presidents and influencing elections, is nominating a candidate that people want to vote for. Why is this? Is it arrogance? Are they so certain that they’re right that they don’t think they need to be liked? Was Obama just a fluke? It was only eight years ago people! Just do it again for God’s sake. 

The only thing that’s going to prevent the rise of another Trump in four or eight or however many years, is a leader who appeals to all, or at least most of America, not just the parts that the Left doesn’t consider deplorable. To his credit, Joe has repeatedly promised to be a leader who represents all Americans, but old habits die hard. And frankly, it remains to be seen whether he has anything even approaching the charisma required to unite such a divided nation. 

But uniting the nation is what Biden needs to do, because — and I want this point to land very clearly — Donald Trump is not the problem. Donald Trump is only one bombastic, orange-tinted voice among tens of millions. Focusing all our anger and disdain on him makes no more sense than focusing it on any one of the people who say and think the same things he does. Trump’s prominence rightly makes him a focal point, but the people that made him president, and may yet do so again, will still be there when he’s gone. 

The lack of a Biden landslide is a crystal-clear message that the cracks that allowed someone like Trump to ooze into power are still very much present. Millions of Americans still feel that he understands them better than anybody else. If that’s going to change, a genuine attempt is going to have to be made to understand them better. To listen instead of telling them how repugnant and stupid their views are. It’s not a job that anybody wants, but nobody ever said that being president would be easy.

(Steve QJ writes about meditation, content creation and personal development. But don’t let that fool you. https://steveqj.com. This appeared on Medium.com. Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.