The polls suggest that Trump is losing badly, that he’s such a disaster he’s in a death spiral. Yet, there is only a five or six point spread between Trump and Clinton. If he’s so horrible, why do more than 40% of voters prefer him? The answer, I believe, is rooted in voters’ emotional reactions to the two candidates. Trump, for all his crazy antics, is an essentially empowering figure. Clinton comes off as disempowering.
It’s tempting to think of Trump supporters as stupid or uninformed, but 40% of the electorate cannot meet this criterion. Something much more profound is activating them. In terms of emotional impression, here’s what might be going on: Trump, despite his freakish demonstrations of unfitness for office, appears as if he cares about America and American people. Clinton, for all of her experience and mature leadership skills, comes across as if she cares mostly about herself. This may be unfair to her, but I believe it is an emotional truth that resonates with many Americans. I am going to vote for her but I am not pleased at the prospect.
Thus, when Trump gets up and makes a fool of himself daily, it is always with a fighter’s stance – he’s fighting for you and me. He’s pissed off at the way we’re all being treated, even if his comments are totally un-presidential and he’s even failing to act like a fully-formed human being. People like a fighter. He’s the toxic bully who’s on your side. There’s one in every high school. Trump plays this role on a national stage.
Clinton’s posture, on the other hand, comes across as rooted in superiority and unequal privilege. You can see this in the way she just doesn’t get why anyone would ever question her integrity when she has done so much to undermine it herself. And, while her nomination is the result of many thumbs on many scales, she seems to love basking in glory, arms raised in triumph at legions of people she considers her adoring fans – a spectacle that rubs many people the wrong way. In fact, recent polls reveal that Clinton has a 56% negative approval rating, which is considered extremely high for a major party candidate at this stage of the race. She’s more disliked now than at any time in the last 25 years.
She acts as if the rules do not apply to her, just like many of the other brazen, privileged people who now fill executive ranks and political office. She looms large as a symbol of much of this country’s grotesque inequality. She’s empowered. You’re not. If you or I set up a private email server for sensitive work emails, we would get fired. For her, this decision is beyond inquiry. If you raise the question, then you’re obviously intimidated by a powerful woman. Got it?
The Clintons earned over $100 million in speaking fees. Is it possible they owe some political favors to their customers? Hillary Clinton is shocked that people would even raise such a question. How clueless is she? So, when the government of Qatar, which funds Islamist terrorists in Libya, hires Bill Clinton for a $500,000 speech while Hillary is trying to resolve the Libyan civil war, all you get from the Clintons is a shrug. Clinton’s reaction to any suggestion that these blatant conflicts of interest were improper is “what’s your point?” How could anyone possibly think there’s something wrong with that? That is an attitude of entitlement that makes voters feel disempowered and distrustful.
To be fair to Clinton, she didn’t invent this inequality. She’s simply its biggest icon. She stands for the lack of genuine representative democracy that now prevails in Washington. Like Congress, she is not working for the voters. She’s working for herself and an invisible group of wealthy backers. Again, she didn’t pioneer pay for play politics, but her inability to read how it looks to the public makes people distrust her.
In this way, Clinton resembles a growing group of untouchables. This group includes CEOs who get tens of millions of dollars despite destroying companies and Wall Street Bankers who get bailed out after making trillions in bad loans – while the borrowers pay the price. These untouchables shall go forth and do their thing, free of consequences or accountability while you and I get nothing but consequences from their actions. A Clinton Presidency is likely to feature more warrantless surveillance, more endless, costly and useless wars, more corporate pay-to-play. And what can you do about it? Nothing. Because, you are nothing. You are powerless. Your son will die in her war. You don’t get to have a say in the matter.
Ultimately, my sense is that many American voters feel as if they have no choice. Just as they must work for a CEO who will pocket millions after shipping their jobs overseas, they must accept the candidate who represents unequal privilege. Resistance is futile. Trump, for all his flaws, offers a poisonous glimmer of hope that someone will stand up for American voters.
Photo by JAMES LAWLER DUGGAN/Reuters