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How much pain will Trump’s base endure?



Much has lately been made of the negative impact of Trump’s trade wars on large parts of his base: farmers and industrial workers in particular and the adjunct jobs that depend on the vibrancy of those sectors of the economy.

I saw on T.V. yesterday a comment from a pundit who had been out on the road interviewing Trump supporters. He met many who have already been economically hit by the trade wars. Yet every one of them told him that they would stick by their man, because they figured that they’re willing to take a little pain in order to be good citizens and support their president.

That is a commendable attitude. Sacrifice is the essence of patriotism. As John F. Kennedy observed in his Inaugural Address, we Americans will “bear any burden” to support our country. That alliterative phrase is now becoming actually real to the victims of Trump’s trade wars: the nail factory employees who were laid off, the Harley-Davidson workers who are losing their jobs, the soybean farmers whose produce is no longer affordable in China—they’re bearing the burden.

The devotion of these people to Donald Trump personally is well-known: when he said he could go out onto Fifth Avenue and start randomly shooting “and not lose any voters,” he knew whereof he spoke.

I myself certainly was not one of them, and I confess to having a hard time understanding why anyone would support Trump, especially after being hurt economically by him in what is undeniably a trade war of choice. I do doff my cap at their devotion, though. And yet I wonder if it doesn’t have a sell-by date.

In the last two years, we’ve seen any number of Trump scandals that might have brought another politician down. The Access Hollywood tape, the Gold Star Family insult, the numerous adulteries, the Putin addiction, Charlotteville, Helsinki, the trade wars, the pathological lying, the crooked Cabinet members—I’m forgetting dozens of others, or perhaps I’m blocking them out because they were so distasteful. And yet nothing bothers his people. If anything, each time Trump commits another indiscretion they rally to him even more strongly.

But this trade war is hitting them in their pocketbooks. Trump now is asking them to “be patient,” and this will buy him a little time. It kind of reminds me of the victim of a physically abusive spouse. Every time he hits her, she threatens to leave, and every time she does, he promises to atone and change. “Just give me a little more time,” he begs. She does—and gets beat up again.

The psychological roots of this phenomenon are beyond my ability to explain. But many victims of domestic violence—and of cults—do eventually find the courage to leave. Often it’s because they discover a safe place to which they can escape, and where they will be protected. What safe place do disaffected Republicans have? There’s only one—and that’s the Democratic Party.

Trouble is, the rightwing propaganda machine has done such a good job of destroying the credibility of the Democratic Party over the last thirty years that even Republicans who are being devastated by this administration are loath to join it. “Democrat” is now being negatively associated with “democratic socialist,” as when Meghan McCain melted down on The View the other day.

She has rightfully been called out on social media for being a lucky-sperm hypocrite, worried lest evil Socialists come to steal her inherited wealth. But the word “socialist” has been used as an epithet by Republicans for decades, and for some reason it always resonates among a certain segment of the poorer residents of America, who have been persuaded by the Republican attack machine that universal healthcare, campaign finance reform, fair wages, clean air and water, marriage equality, tax reform, free trade and affordable housing are somehow inimical to their interests.

What Democrats need to do, heading into the 2018 campaign, is to talk straight to the voters and explain that “socialism” is not a dirty word, as Republicans pretend it is. Democrats need to stress their dedication to capitalism and free markets. But they also need to remind voters that the Republican Party stands for lowering taxes on billionaires and hurting ordinary people in order to benefit their corporate overlords. Is that class warfare? Of course. But the Republican Party and Donald Trump are engaging in domestic warfare of their own, pitting Americans against each other, and in war, you have to fight fire with fire.

Whether or not this economic issue will be enough for Democrats to take back one or both houses of Congress remains to be seen. By Election Day, those midwestern farmers and Rust Belt auto workers will have a much clearer understanding of how the Trump trade wars are impacting them. I don’t wish them to suffer undue economic harm, but I want them to hurt enough to have serious conversations around the kitchen table about whether or not the Trump party is really what they thought they were voting for in 2016.

  1. Bob Rossi says:

    “What Democrats need to do, heading into the 2018 campaign, is to talk straight to the voters and explain that “socialism” is not a dirty word”
    The problem is that those voters have to be intelligent enough to understand, and willing to listen.

  2. Some voters are too dumb to ever learn. But I have hope that, by November, enough trump voters and independents will have come to the realization that trump is an unmitigated disaster, and will vote Democratic.

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