Trump and the exploitation of right rage: It's not the economy, stupid, that's attracting angry white men to him

The brainwashing of Trump loyalists by right wing media is on display every day — and it's disturbing

Published August 13, 2016 12:00PM (EDT)

 (Reuters/Eric Thayer)
(Reuters/Eric Thayer)

We've all seen the videos replayed over and over again on social media and cable news. The past couple of weeks, however, featured two videos illustrating what I'd consider to be typical Trump supporters. Indeed, by now many of us can easily profile a Trump voter before they even have a chance to shout "Traitor!" into our not-surprised faces.

Generally speaking, Trump supporters are non-college-educated white men, ranging from younger "bros" to, more typically, white male baby-boomer retirees with plenty of spare time to be relentlessly irradiated by Fox News and AM talk radio.

While the lack of a college diploma binds most Trump supporters together, there are more obvious tells — ones that we can plainly see but that can't be fully measured by pollsters. Specifically, it's not easy to quantify the growing resentment of white males who believe they're slowly losing their millennia-long grip on societal power. Likewise, it's difficult to measure the brainwashing of Trump's loyalists by the Fox News and talk radio echo-chamber. Yet we see it on display every day.

Last week, a video of a Pence rally showed an Air Force Mom asking Trump's running mate about the Khizr Khan story and whether Pence will ever tell Trump that "enough is enough." The mom was interrupted by boos, along with a gray-haired older man who attempted to shout her down, only to be escorted from the venue by security. The man who was dragged away, as well as the crowd itself, all fit nicely into the demographic profile of Trump's base: older white male retirees with massive chips on their shoulders.

This past week, meanwhile, a similar incident occurred with an older white man who was filing out of a Trump rally in Kissimmee, Florida, but who stopped for a minute or two to completely humiliate himself by shouting incoherent bromides at the press. "You are traitors! I am an American patriot!" the man yelled, his eyes cartoonishly bulging out of his head. "I am a patriot! And your name is 'Traitor!'" he continued to the delight of his fellow Trumpeteers.

Before he opened his mouth, though, it would've been difficult to imagine this Trump supporter behaving in such an unbalanced way. Wearing a light blue golf shirt and white shorts, he looked like anyone's kindly Florida grandpa -- a man who we'd otherwise assume to be wise and centered; a man who's more likely let his grandkids win at a round of checkers than to scream like a madman at Noah Gray, a CNN producer who happened to catch the full force of the man's rave-out.

The disconnect between how we expect older men like him to behave and how they're comporting themselves today is, in a word, disturbing.

Context is, of course, vitally important here. The Kissimmee fracas occurred seconds after Trump finished another of his rambling blurt sessions, and the man was obviously wound up and affected by what he heard. But we don't expect older people to be this impressionable. It's like a kid who, after watching a superhero movie, straps a cape around his neck and jumps off the roof of his house. In this case, a seemingly reasonable older man -- and many others before him, each preserved with crystal clarity on YouTube -- fully revealed his vulnerability to the suggestions of a charismatic would-be dictator, and didn't mind his unspooled rantings being recorded and aired by the press. He didn't seem to be at all concerned, nor did it even occur to him how, to the rest of the thinking world, he came off as a crazy person. A laughingstock. Except to so many others just like him.

When discussing Trump's base, sympathetic words are often tossed into the mix due to the common wisdom indicating how they're frustrated with the allegedly awful economy, struggling to make ends meet. Therefore their anger is somehow justified. While there are surely stories of Americans who are suffering financial hardships due, perhaps, to the continued shockwaves of the Great Recession, a new study by Gallup shows that economic issues aren't necessarily driving Trump's base.

According to this new analysis, those who view Trump favorably have not been disproportionately affected by foreign trade or immigration, compared with people with unfavorable views of the Republican presidential nominee. The results suggest that his supporters, on average, do not have lower incomes than other Americans, nor are they more likely to be unemployed.

The study was careful to underscore how its conclusions are based on averages; therefore, and to repeat, there are certainly Trump fans who are having a hard time. Gallup went on to suggest that other factors could be contributing to the discontent among white working-class Americans, but the economy and immigration don't appear to be fully animating the mania that's so prevalent among Trump's people.

Trump isn't necessarily responsible for the behavior of his most activated loyalists, but he's certainly tapped into an existing cache of psychosis and he's exploiting it for political gain. Trump's base has been pre-tenderized by what David Frum calls the "conservative entertainment complex." Since at least the Clinton administration, white men have been slowly indoctrinated and, in too many cases, brainwashed by conservative media and its rather loose grip on reality. A recently released documentary by Jen Senko, titled "The Brainwashing of My Dad," covered this particular phenomenon: the poisoning of otherwise decent older white men by interminable doses of conservative entertainment agitprop. The film follows the life of Senko’s father, who was once a Kennedy Democrat and, through daily assaults by right-wing radio and television, transformed into a racist conservative zealot. Similarly, it’s not difficult to diagnose the Kissimmee man and his cohorts as having been similarly brainwashed by the extremist rhetoric of both conservative entertainment and the Republican Party itself, with its “Don’t retreat, reload” bumper sticker slogans and backed with the revolutionary predictions of conspiracy-theory profiteers like Alex Jones, himself a Trump supporter.

If you convince enough men that alleged outsiders (women, minorities, immigrants) are stripping them of their long-held power, as Fox News and others have done, there's going to eventually be a fight, especially when one of those so-called outsiders is a black president with the middle name "Hussein." Older white men don't intend to hand over power quietly, and they've been given the green light by irresponsibly influential leaders to bury their humility, their decency and their sense of reality. But based on recent video footage, I wonder if they're even aware of how ridiculously deranged they appear, alone or most often in large groups. My hunch is they won't fully realize it until they're lying in battered heaps in the shrubs directly under the awnings of their houses, their homemade superhero capes strewn awkwardly across their broken bodies.

By Bob Cesca

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon. He's also the host of "The Bob Cesca Show" podcast, and a weekly guest on both the "Stephanie Miller Show" and "Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang." Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Contribute through LaterPay to support Bob's Salon articles -- all money donated goes directly to the writer.


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2016 Donald Trump Elections 2016 Fox News The Brainwashing Of My Dad Trump Supporters