People like Donald Trump because they like his brand.
Though they might protest, they might look for cover, it has nothing to do with them identifying as being conservative, Republican or American. It may not have much to do with the way he behaves in office, or the way he conducted his various businesses through the years. Some of them didn't know anything about him before he became a cheesy reality TV star. For them, his being a cheesy reality TV star wasn't disqualifying, but somehow evidence of his being "authentic."
They have an emotional connection to him and his brand. These connections are strong, sometimes more durable than bonds of blood. The heart wants what it wants.
This is just the way it is, the way we are.
Politics is mostly a species of show biz; it comes down more to marketing and branding than to art. And while we believe we aren't influenced by advertising, there's a $100 billion industry that knows better.
Advertising works, just not in the crass way that people who don't really understand it believe that it works. It works in subtle ways, eroding our objections through decades' worth of positive impressions. Advertising does its reps and over time transforms us into brand partisans, buyers of Red, buyers of Blue. Buyers who imagine themselves mavericks.
I don't think Trump likes being president, I don't think he likes much of anything other than the creature comforts he takes for granted. If you don't agree with that, I'm not going to change your mind.
We believe what we want. Our beliefs are driven by emotion. We know in an instant what tribe we wish to identify with, which face we want to vote for, how we would like to be perceived by our followers on the Twitter apparatus. We start out with a candidate, with a cause, and shore it up with "facts" we mine from the Internet and the talking heads on our favorite news channels.
Sure, there are consequences to our actions. We can work to incrementally improve the world. We have free will--or at least the illusion of free will--and most of us try to think things through and make decisions based on the best information available. I don't mean to suggest that people aren't capable of rising above their petty fears and committing acts of altruism. Most of us behave selflessly at times, most of us are capable of aiding others, most of us probably enjoy being kind as much as we enjoy being cruel.
But we all know that there are plenty of people who aren't like that, who subscribe to superstition, who follow their gut, who project upon the world their wishful speculations and fears. We all know people who don't believe in anything. We all know people who believe the wrestling is real.
We all also know people who know that wrestling isn't real but prefer to believe in it anyway. It is, for them, a source of amusement, or maybe more than that, a set of myths and legends that might serve the functions that myths and legends always have.
Marc Maron, the comedian and social critic, has compared the DC and Marvel comic book universes to religious tracts, and he's not wrong. We emotionally invest, and come up with our reasons later.
Trump supporters have an emotional connection to him and his brand. They don't care that he trafficks in demonstrable lies, that he is crude, cruel and unapologetically rude, or that he views the world in purely transactional terms. They like him because he is, like them, deeply unhappy.
Some of this is understandable. America has changed a lot in the past 50 years, culturally and economically. Voices that were once muted are now finding means of expression, old orthodoxies are being challenged. Late-stage capitalism has incentivized the cold-blooded assessment of the world as it is and will be at the expense of actual production.
It is more difficult to support a family on a middling income. The surest way to grow rich is by betting other people's money while charging them for the privilege of loaning it. It's become harder to achieve your way into the economic elite; more and more you have to be born into it. The game really is rigged.
Never a good businessman, Trump started out with a big enough pile and a certain shamelessness. He class-clowned his way onto TV, he let people like David Letterman and Howard Stern mock him, and whatever firewalls we might have imagined existed between America's cartoon celebrity culture and the serious business of governance failed to hold once the cable news channels got hold of what a rating booster pure unmitigated petulance could be.
Give him no credit for being intentional, but his candidacy was a kind of Stanley Milgram-type experimeny on the body politic. How cruel are you willing to be to when given permission to be cruel? When cruelty is re-branded as a virtue?
But even basking in adulation, Trump is profoundly incapable of experiencing joy. The closest he gets is a certain indignant would-be-righteous anger. He's tapped into the free-floating anxiety a lot of us experience, that manifests as perpetual outrage.
Trump is an American archetype, the bully who insists on his constant victimization. Despite all his advantages, all of the much-vaunted (though dubious, if you're paying attention) "winning" he has experienced in his life, Trump is a whiner--a font of nonstop grievance.
As such, he's become the champion of the disgruntled. It's that simple.
And what's important to know is that although these supporters may not constitute more than 15 or 20 percent of the electorate, they will never abandon their guy. They are different from the people who voted for Trump because they perceived Hillary Clinton as the greater evil, or who attached themselves to Trump's campaign for the sake of expediency or career advancement or some higher cynicism.
These people--these terribly unhappy people--will forever be his, however much he despises them.
Philip Martin is a columnist and critic for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and read his blog at blooddirtandangels.com.