Anthony Marsella, Ph.D.*
15 June 2016
TRANSCEND Media Service – 5 Jun 2016 – Trumpism! No magic, no mystique, no charisma, no aura of invincibility! Just an astute and calculated recognition of the nation’s many discontents, assumed causes, and an appealing public persona fuel Trump’s appeal.
SOURCES OF VOTER DISCONTENT: “THE VICTIM SYNDROME”
Voters filled with (1) grief at the collapse and loss of their myths; (2) anger at failed and betrayed government; (3) resentment of outsiders who displaced them; (4) hatred for a society in upheaval; and (5) nostalgia for the past; These are the seeds of Trump’s success.
Trump embodies the alienation of citizens once proud and confident, now in feeling powerless and insecure. And what a great name for embodying the process: Trump! Trump! Trump!
Trump confidently mounts a stage with obvious boredom, contempt, and disdain for any competing candidates! Supporters and followers shout “Yes! Tell it like it is, Trump! Don’t mince words! Right! That is precisely how I feel.”
“Thank you, Trump! Thank you for communicating my anger, resentment, and grief with whole corrupt system that has disregarded my life and struggles. Thank you for speaking forcefully, without hesitation or doubt, about the obvious causes of my problems, the unanticipated struggles I am facing, my awareness of my government’s betrayal of our nation and Constitution.”
At last someone who speaks for me, the common man, not the big shots in Washington DC, Wall Street, and corporate and bank board rooms! They are crooks, all of them, and they are trying to stay in power.”
“They should be punished for what they have done! Stealing billions, in front of our eyes, as courts, politicians, and media offer explanations and excuses for their greed. Enough! We’re not going to take it anymore. You the man! Go Trump!”
“Their criticisms mean nothing to us! Reporters trying to insult you, taunt you, and ridicule you! We know the media pundits are part of the System! Same old tired faces! Same old words! They all look alike! Fancy clothes, confusing charts, first names, smiles! ‘Thank you, Katie!’ And we will be right back after this important word from our sponsors!’ (Sponsors: Part of the problem, corporations paying salaries and bonuses to lie and deceive on their behalf).
“I don’t even listen to them anymore! Can you believe that CNN group! Liberals! I don’t think so! Actors playing a part in a drama! Entertainers! There ought to be Oscars for TV pundits! ‘And this year the award for best pundit presentation and deceit goes to . . . (name a network).”
“They claim you, Trump, are part of the 1% who raped our country; big-shot investors, bankers, communication crooks! I say who better to know the System than an insider wanting to change it; someone wanting to be a hero for the working man! A savior . . . a redeemer!”
Many remain bewildered by Trump’s triumphant emergence as the presumed presidential candidate for the Republic Party. They are shocked! How can this be? Trump contests and insults all we held to be good and virtuous about our society and nation through the years. Trump’s generalizations, his sweeping stereotypes contest, challenge, and dismiss treasured assumptions, prized privileges, and sanctimonious beliefs.
Choose a topic! Trump has ridiculed, insulted, or smeared it with bile, ending forever conventional System views of the topic. Voters are shocked at his words; and then, slowly they start to say: “Right! That’s how I feel!” They start to talk with family, friends, and neighbors! They test the waters, to see if others share their views. Euphoria comes with agreement! A movement is born! It is frightening, but gratifying!
Yes, we are the people that made America great! Not the 1% group! And as for all those new races and faces with their strange dress, foods, and accents, who invited them? They hate us! They are freeloaders! Entitlements! We had no entitlements!
Trump appeals to the fears, insecurities, and xenophobia now found across the nation and world! Everywhere, tribalism is the refuge pursued to protect the onslaught! Stick with your own!
Trump is a provocateur! He loves to provoke, to incite, to assert contrary views, opinions, policies, and cherished social, political, and religious beliefs. He puts his finger on the most sacred of “holy cows,” the very source of our nation’s endless wars, foreign intrigues, and calls for patriotic fervor: Capitalism! “The system needs repair! And who better to do it than me! We don’t want socialism!” With these words he mocks Hillary and Bernie!
When all is said and done, Trump argues our government has gone to war for decades, sacrificing lives and wealth, to protect an economic system which abuses workers. Workers now know this! Soldiers know this! Work! Die! For who, why?
Trump knows appealing to victimhood is the key! He argues successfully: The USA is a victim! Our culture is a victim! The hard-working middle class is a victim! The whites are victim! The world is against us! But we will make America great . . . again. And with an aplomb born of a panderer, Trump uses words to claim blacks and Mexicans are also victims, even as he implies they are part of the problem! Amazing! Shrewd, however, from the point of view of appeal! Victims need heroes! Victims need causes! Heroes need victims!
No one questions or denies Trump’s narcissism, arrogance, self-confidence, and vengeful disdain for critics and competitors. Indeed, Trump himself turns these attributions to his advantage. Hillary criticizes his character and competence, and Trump returns her comments with an assault on her character and demonstrated failures. One can imagine him saying: “You had the chance! We saw what you did! It isn’t pretty! But you made a lot of money!
Supporters admire his forceful presentation and presence, concluding a strong and transparent president is needed. Critics condemn virtually every remark he makes, impugning his personal character and intentions. The media assault on Trump is so extensive it confirms what he and his supporters believe: The System is protecting itself!
What is especially remarkable, amid these brutal exchanges, is Trump’s constant, unabashed, and unceremonious changes in views. Trump without warning, responding to his moods, the moods of his supporters, and the moods of the nation and world, revises his positions and words, explaining what he meant to say. It makes sense to supporters.
Trump wins new supporters everyday, and loses only a few. Trump, is constructed as an “Uber Mensch,” a powerful figure willing to use his powers to build a better nation. Trump is a human being. He is subject, as all of us are, to frailties, flaws, and failures. Yet he seems to be able to run with abandon from these limitations, turning them into victories.
“The terms “Uber,” has many connotations; it is in widespread use in our society as a noun and adjective. It implies power, ascendancy, beyondism! Uber cabs, uber cocktails, uber alles (nations), uber athletes. If you ain’t uber, you are a “loser” (verlierer). Trump will make us uber . . . again!
The Ecology of Trumpism: Problems and Persona
Trump’s success, thus far, is a function of two major sources: (1) the sorrowful state of our nation and world; (2) his persona. These two factors constitute an self-sustaining ecology. Many demographic sectors of our nation are longing for a leader who will voice their frustration, anger, resentment; someone who can speak forcefully about their loss of identity and pride. Trump, a shrewd observer of human needs, recognizes we are a society and nation grieving the loss of our “familiar” or “imagined” past.
For many, Trump’s recognizes and articulates the “victim syndrome.” Many white voters are deeply resentful of corrupt and biased policies and actions protecting the wealthy, powerful, and positioned. Consider the spectrum of issues: (1) bailouts, (2) corporate rights as individuals, (3) massive special interest donations, (4) political party delegate machinations, (5) electoral-college abuses, (6) lobbyist influence for industries and corporations, (7) lies and deception regarding 9-11, Kennedy assassinations, (8) surveillance and intrusions into privacy, (9) police brutality, and (10) empowerment of blacks, Latinos, and foreign migrants). Chart 1 offers a graphic display of issues fueling Trump’s appeal.
The Media Doesn’t Get It!
What is being missed by media analysts is “Trumpism!” Rising anger and distrust with the “System, combined with a voice speaking candidly and fearlessly about voter alienation. It no longer matters what Trump says or does, even the most egregious of statements are tolerated or ignored; there is no diminution of loyalty.
Indeed, Trump’s words and actions, especially his attacks on the System and the characters benefitting from corruption, cronyism, and white-collar crime, are now rallying cries. Down with the System! Many now recognize and understand the foundations of the System: government, corporations, and financial institutions constituted a “rigged” system. Policies, actions, laws keep corrupt people and institutions in control, pandering to each other, and ignoring those outside their boundaries.
The media “darlings” keep appealing to reason! Can you imagine what a Trump presidency would be like? We would lose foreign support! We would alienate minorities! We would build walls all around us! The “darlings” do not get it! This is not a matter of reason! This is a matter of primitive survival instincts. Trump supporters ask: What have I gotten from the System?
In many instances, cabals and secret societies acted with impunity, dismiss struggles and concerns of those neither sanctified nor included in their membership circles (e.g., Economic and Military Treaties, Philanthropies, favored-nation consortiums, Bilderburg, Davos Factions, Skull and Bones, Opus Dei, allied corporate board memberships, Federal Reserve Banks, and special political power groups including Council of Foreign Relations, Tri-Lateral Commission).
Trump’s persona is the other part of the ecology fueling his appeal. His behaviors reveal a pattern of characteristics which some find appealing and others find frightening! Psychiatry’s diagnostic and statistical manual (DSM-V) is already the source of many pathological labels. And yet, the more he is condemned, the more the condemners appear as self-serving and system sycophants. There is biblical imagery happening here!
In what appears to be an impossible alliance between a billionaire and disenfranchised voters, Trump speaks for the outsiders. An insider is speaking for the outsiders! He is criticizing (i.e., scape-goat) those who outsiders have long resented as they are toasted on biased-media programs, and hold offices claiming purity in purpose, nobility in thought, and morality. How rewarding, how cathartic, how triumphant for outsiders to hear Trump speak of System icons with disdain: insulting them, ridiculing them, staining them! Take that you bastard billionaires, you Hollywood and media moguls, you privileged offspring of the wealthy parents, now acting as if you deserve this inherited status.
Trump condemns the System, even as he may inherit its structures, institutions, laws, and regulations if he wins the Presidency. He seems oblivious to the consequences and import for his words if he enters the oval office, now charged with defending the Constitution. How will he handles the situation? The Constitution is prisoner to corrupt office holders, and financial interests, scornful of its once treasured principles. Will Trump call for an absolute reading of the Constitution? Will he insist on legal and martial support for its “interpreted” meanings? Will his wife choose new dishes and table ware? The questions go from the sublime to the ridiculous! Chart 2 displays the second part of the ecology appeal.
Trump Labels the Problems
For so many outsiders, the rapid and profound intrusion of globalization events, forces, and policies left them reeling in discontent. It was not only job losses as manufacturing sector jobs were sent abroad, it was a total package, including: dehumanization, technological skill sets priority for employment and services, immigration of non-Western white people (i.e., Mexicans, Latinos, Asian Indians, Chinese, Africans), a Black President, accepts neo-liberal policies contradicting all he promised in his election campaigns, Wall Street crimes, failed government institutions. Who are these new faces, now empowered by law, privilege, crony ties deciding our future?
The seeds for Trump’s ascendancy have been planted for decades throughout the United States, although ignored or unrecognized for the fruit – tainted fruit – they could yield. Those previously in power, were now being dethroned. Many whites felt entitled by virtue of their race and ethnicity – white privilege! Now their lives were being determined by Asians, Blacks, Latinos, and women. What happened? One can almost say the words, “While you slept,” others were slowly becoming empowered.
We are surprised! Why? Did we think we could ignore the offenses imposed by those with wealth, power, and position? Do they not grasp the resentment we feel? Do they not see their privileges are seen as taking from our opportunities? Their corruption, cronyism, and connections destroy our institutions, forcing us to tear down the myths we believed to be true?
What Trump has grasped, and what is now the enduring source of his appeal is a “human principle,” long attributed to peasant cultures: “The principle of limited good!” Anthropologist Robert Redfield (1982) used the concept in his studies of peasant societies. He suggested that under conditions of want and scarcity, what emerges is a mentality in which anyone gaining advantage must do so at the expense of others. There is limited good! So be careful about its availability and distribution. Hmmm? Sounds a great deal like societies and nations today. Inequities in wealth, power, and position create grief, anger, resentment, and revenge. Perhaps we are all victims!
The Elusive Explanation
I have suggested Trumpism is a function of a complex ecology. One element is a perceived onslaught of problems among certain populations, creating a “victim mentality!” The second element in the ecology is Trump’s appealing public persona, his shrewd assertions identifying the sources of the problems, and ready solutions to them. Obviously, the problems are far more complex than Trump has indicated, and obviously, his stylistic presentation is filled with puzzling inconsistencies and questionable character qualities. But Trump and Trumpism endure! Endless criticisms of Trump appear to being little to reduce his appeal, although the criticisms to incite violence from those groups considered problem targets by Trump.
So where does this leave us? No one wants to talk about it publically, at the risk of being criticized. But, I feel it must be said. Trump supporters, and there are many, are responding to his criticism and condemnation of all the sanctimonious and hallowed leaders, institutions, and mythic traditions of our nation and the world. They respond with glee each time an individual (e.g., Hillary) or institution (e.g., the media, government, Hollywood) is his target. Many no longer fear the System’s appeals to rationality and enlightenment. Hillary says Trump is dangerous; his inept domestic and foreign policies will destroy the world. Followers do not care.
Trump’s supporters dismiss the alleged risks of Trump’s presidency. They know the risks of the current System. They would like to see the System topple and crumble. “Bring on the chaos! Thank you Trump, for raising consciousness about the corrupt System imposed on us.” They no longer believe our government and institutions exist to help them. Trust is gone!
Bring on the apocalypse! It was promised in the Bible! We have nothing to lose! The more you condemn him, the more we love him! It is Biblical! We claim you are dangerous. Every comment, every remark, every criticism you make, strengthens our resolve! If Trump wins, the System falls. So be it! We don’t want the old system.
*Anthony J. Marsella, Ph.D., a member of the TRANSCEND Network, is a past president of Psychologists for Social Responsibility, emeritus professor of psychology at the University of Hawaii, and past director of the World Health Organization Psychiatric Research Center in Honolulu.
He is known nationally and internationally as a pioneer figure in the study of culture and psychopathology who challenged the ethnocentrism and racial biases of many assumptions, theories, and practices in psychology and psychiatry.
In more recent years, he has been writing and lecturing on peace and social justice. He has published 15 edited books, and more than 250 articles, chapters, book reviews, and popular pieces. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 13 June 2016: TMS: “Tapping the Victim Syndrome!” Voters as Victims Fuel Trump’s Appeal!