Commentary: The Fragility of the Trump Rebellion

Mar 30, 2017

During the 1991 Gulf War military commanders kept talking about a “target-rich environment” in Iraq and Kuwait.  And indeed it was.  And so is American politics in 2017.  There is no shortage of subjects for analysis.

So forgive me for returning to the same one repeatedly: President Trump.  My shorthand for explaining Trump – or at least describing him – I’m not sure anyone can explain him – still works.  In seven words: won’t change, doesn’t care, not a Republican.  Interestingly, this shorthand is also beginning to describe Trump supporters. 

We have long known they are a diverse group politically – by no means all Republicans.  His base remains solid at 35 percent.  They certainly put a fright into GOP congressmen last week.  On Obamacare repeal and replace many of them were much more worried about reelection in 2018 than they were about the Wrath of Donald.

So far many of them don’t seem to care about his behavior and bombast.  Trump supporters I know are pretty quiet but the cold fury is there when people mock him or are condescending about him.  They seem to take special, if not perverse, delight in their closing argument: “We won, you lost.  Get over it.”

They won’t change not because of Trump but rather because of what brought them to Trump: disdain for politics as usual, hostility toward identity politics and political correctness, and most significantly, a peculiar brand of populism.  Commentator David Frum describes it this way:

American populism has almost always concentrated its anger against the educated rather than the wealthy.  So much so that you might describe contemporary American politics as a class struggle between those with more education than money against those with more money than education.

So populist resentments are not about wealth.  This explains why Trump’s wealth, and even his vulgarity, are not concerning.

Where might Trump run into trouble with his supporters?  In rural America.  Donald Trump is a city boy through and through.  He knows milk doesn’t come from a carton and bread doesn’t come from a plastic bag, but I doubt if he’d appreciate the tractor pull or the 4-H displays at the Boone County Fair.  The secretary of agriculture was his last cabinet nominee.  I’m sure he meant no disrespect, but the optics of this were not helpful.

When rural Americans – some of his most fervid supporters at the polls in November – realize how little President Trump knows or cares about agriculture in particular and rural concerns in general, they may demonstrate at the ballot box that there’s life in the old countryside yet.  And Democrats will be the lucky, if not necessarily deserving, beneficiaries.