(AP/Carolyn Kaster)

The butcher's bill keeps growing: Donald Trump abuses his voters — and yet they love him

Trump's supporters are losing their cynical bet that they'd come out ahead, and they haven't yet accepted the truth


Chauncey DeVega
April 12, 2017 1:00PM (UTC)

The butcher's bill continues to grow. While he was a presidential candidate, Donald Trump promised to uplift his white "working class" voters, a group he described as the "forgotten Americans." As president, Trump has enacted policies that will hurt them. As I have written before for Salon, I have no pity for Donald Trump's voters. They have agency. They are adults. They made the choice to support a neofascist who has quickly made America less great before the eyes of the world.

It will be glorious to see Trump's voters continue on their highway to hell.

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The butcher's bill now includes Donald Trump and the Republican Party's efforts to end environmental protections for clean water that will disproportionately harm rural red state America, removing mandatory overtime pay for low- and middle-income employees and cutting back and ending programs that provide infrastructure, heating and fuel assistance for the poor. Again this will disproportionately affect those communities that voted for Trump. The president will also target the Americans he views as "useless eaters" by taking money away from programs such as Meals on Wheels, which feed people who are elderly or homebound. He will also remove support for programs that help the victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.

There was a momentary pause in adding another entry to the butcher's bill when Donald Trump and the Republican Party's effort to end the Affordable Care Act was derailed. Trump and the Republican Party, however, are continuing their efforts to take away health care from millions of Americans. It is estimated that if the Republican Party and Donald Trump get their way and the Affordable Care Act were to repealed, at least 43,000 Americans a year would die.

The jobs Donald Trump promised his voters continue to leave the country. And Trump's vow to "drain the swamp" has been replaced with an overflowing cesspool of greed and malfeasance. 

With the election of Trump, the American news media has discovered a new subgenre of pseudo-anthropological writing akin to stories from an earlier era about "dirty hippies" or how "hillbillies" had descended upon Chicago and Detroit.

The American news media now sends intrepid reporters out into the hinterlands of the Rust Belt and exurb America to speak with the denizens of Trumplandia.

What have these reporters discovered?

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Some of Trump's loyalists are dismayed and angry at how their champion has been exposed to be a liar and a fraud. Nevertheless, most of Trump's voters continue to support him. There are few voices of dissent. Even facts showing that Russia undermined the American election do not diminish their devotion. Trump is a Svengali. His voters remain beguiled by his gaze.

But even by the bizarre norms of Trumplandia, some stories stand out more than others. The New York Times' Nicholas Kristof recently journeyed to Tulsa, Oklahoma. There he spoke with Judy Banks. She is a senior citizen who is dependent on the programs that Donald Trump has promised to either eliminate or greatly reduce. Banks also voted for Donald Trump.

The New York Times explained:

Judy Banks, a 70-year-old struggling to get by, said she voted for Trump because “he was talking about getting rid of those illegals.” But Banks now finds herself shocked that he also has his sights on funds for the Labor Department’s Senior Community Service Employment Program, which is her lifeline. It pays senior citizens a minimum wage to hold public service jobs.

“This program makes sense,” said Banks, who was placed by the program into a job as a receptionist for a senior nutrition program. Banks said she depends on the job to make ends meet, and for an excuse to get out of the house.

“If I lose this job,” she said, “I’ll sit home and die.”

Yet she said she might still vote for Trump in 2020. And that’s a refrain I heard over and over. Some of the loyalty seemed to be grounded in resentment at Democrats for mocking Trump voters as dumb bigots, some from a belief that budgets are complicated, and some from a sense that it’s too early to abandon their man. They did say that if jobs didn’t reappear, they would turn against him.

Donald Trump is quite literally a threat to Judy Banks' health, safety, security, well-being and livelihood. Yet, she continues to support him.

It is easy to mock and laugh and enjoy Schadenfreude's warm embrace as Trump's voters are made to suffer at the hand of their chosen leader. But this does not explain Donald Trump's hold over his supporters and why they remain so loyal even while he increases their misery.

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His power is drawn from several sources.

Trump's voters have been conditioned and programmed by the right-wing news entertainment complex to believe disinformation and lies. As such, Trump has found a ready public for his fraudulent presidency. This is shown by how only 3 percent of Trump's voters regret supporting him.

Donald Trump leads a cult of personality in a celebrity-obsessed culture. For his voters, Trump is a type of personal avatar. This is demonstrated by how according to a recent poll, Republicans trust Donald Trump's administration more than the mainstream news media to be "truthful."

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The right-wing media news media has created an alternate reality for its public. As detailed by a recent report in the Columbia Journalism Review, this alternate reality is remarkable for how it circulates disinformation and talking points to its public (and affects the broader news media and public discourse). Bursting this bubble is very difficult.

Extreme political polarization and the phenomenon known as "information backfire" have combined to make Trump's supporters and other Republican voters hostile to empirical reality.

Conservative authoritarians are binary thinkers who view the world in simple terms. They are also highly resistant to change and new experiences. Conservative authoritarians also in-group loyalty and obedience to authority figures. Together, these factors compel them to support Donald Trump.

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Christian evangelicals are some of the most enthusiastic supporters of Donald Trump. Radical religion and radical politics combine to excuse and rationalize his failures in office.

The white rural and Rust Belt communities that elected Donald Trump are in disarray: they are suffering from high levels of social disorganization caused by drug addiction, declining life spans and an increase in suicide, a breakdown in family structure and high levels of economic anxiety. Ultimately, many of Trump's "white working class" voters are facing a crisis of meaning and value in their own lives. He offered them an elixir. It has instead been proved so far to be a poison.

And with almost every area of American political and social life, the color line's influence is great. Donald Trump's ascendance was fueled by white supremacy, nativism, racial authoritarianism and a promise to "make America great again" by punishing nonwhites and elevating (even more) white America. Trump's voters remain willing to pay the butcher's bill because they know and hope that he will hurt "those people" and take care of "people like us." This transactional politics of race and class was explained by W.E.B. Du Bois more than 80 years ago: 

It must be remembered that the white group of laborers, while they received a low wage, were compensated in part by a sort of public and psychological wage. They were given public deference and titles of courtesy because they were white. They were admitted freely with all classes of white people to public functions, public parks, and the best schools. The police were drawn from their ranks, and the courts, dependent on their votes, treated them with such leniency as to encourage lawlessness. Their vote selected public officials, and while this had small effect upon the economic situation, it had great effect upon their personal treatment and the deference shown them. White schoolhouses were the best in the community, and conspicuously placed, and they cost anywhere from twice to ten times as much per capita as the colored schools. The newspapers specialized on news that flattered the poor whites and almost utterly ignored the Negro except in crime and ridicule.

Trump's white "working class" voters in red state America are dead enders. They remain loyal to a man and a cause that has no use for them except as fodder. Trump's voters have not yet accepted this grim truth. When they do, the question will become against who and what groups will Donald Trump's white "working class" voters direct their rage and anger at having been played as useful idiots.

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Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

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