Capitalism Hits Home: Why do 38% of Americans support Donald Trump? - Part 1

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In this part 1 of 2, Dr. Fraad takes on the question of why so many Americans still support Donald Trump despite the fact that he has shown himself to be utterly incapable of helping Americans to recover from the coronavirus pandemic. Americans are just 5% of the world's people and yet we have fully 25% of the world's COVID-19 victims. Other countries like Taiwan, China, Scandinavia, Vietnam, Singapore, and Cuba (nations both rich and poor) have protected their citizens from the pandemic and massive unemployment. 

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 Capitalism Hits Home with Dr. Harriet Fraad


This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Hello, this is Dr. Harriet Fraad on Capitalism Hits Home, an interpersonal update. This is a show about the intersection of capitalism, class, and our personal lives.

Today I'd like to talk about the question that baffles me, and perhaps many others, which is why do 38 percent of the population of the United States support Donald Trump now? And it vacillates a bit around 38 percent – sometimes 41, sometimes 37 – but let's say 38 percent. That's an awful lot of people – millions. Why do they support him? Why do they support him in light of the fact that our economy has lost a third of its value, that over 50 million Americans (about a third of the workforce) has applied for unemployment, that evictions loom, that people are desperate around us?

There are more expressions of extreme desperation. In May there were 59 mass shootings. That's shootings of four people, in which there were injuries, not including the shooter himself (because it's always a man). In June there were 260 mass shootings. Things are clearly out of control. Mass shootings are an expression of male desperation and wish to take power over an uncontrollable situation, and to at least go down in a blaze of glory, and certainly go down.

So we're in terrible trouble. Anyone can see that. And yet, even looking at the statistics, where we are really in the midst of Trump's biggest challenge as president, the coronavirus epidemic, we've utterly failed. Even Brazil and India – poor, disorganized countries with lots of conflict –together don't have as many cases as we do. We have a new case of coronavirus every second in the United States. Other nations which have leadership at the top – all over Europe, Scandinavia, and poorer countries like Vietnam, Cuba, Singapore, Taiwan – have all gotten control of this virus. And China, of course – have all gotten control of this virus.

Most virologists and epidemiologists, the overwhelming number, say that if we want to conquer covid and stop 150,000 people – actually, it's up a little bit more than 150,000 – more people from being dead and millions infected, we have to follow the example of the Chinese. The Chinese had a reinfection in Wuhan, which is the place where, the city where, the virus started. They had conquered it, and then there was a resurgence, which happens with covid. In two weeks the Chinese tested 11 million people, and then tracked and treated the virus so it no longer threatens Wuhan at all. No new cases.

We haven't tested our population. They tested more people in South Korea proportionally than we have in the United States. And Trump stopped the federal funds for testing. It's an utter failure. So why would people support Donald Trump? Even now?

I think there are several different responses and explorations that shed light on this topic. One has to do with the authoritarian family in the United States, in which people identify with the leader – the father and mother, the dominators – rather than themselves. Another is that a good deal of the country believes in authoritarian religions, where you obey the minister, or the priest, even if he sexually molests you. And also, authoritarian education, in which children learn that being, quote, "good" means being quiet and obedient, not asking difficult questions, not contradicting the teacher, even when she or he is wrong. Not making trouble for the authorities. Another is a kind of rage, a nihilistic rage that Americans have because they trusted their government and it has betrayed them. And so they voted for alternatives.

They voted for Obama because he was – although his liberal politics, his neoliberal politics, were similar – he was brown. Maybe he would be different. He advocated hope and change. He didn't produce class change. And even among the black community – although they had a very nice symbolic leader, of an educated president and his elegant family – they did worse economically than they have ever, since after World War II, where they did do better. And so they're angry. A good deal of the population is enraged, in a nihilistic rage, where they're glad to break protocol, to disrespect government.

Another is the idea that the corporate, capitalist sector has very successfully transferred people's rage and blame from themselves, who pay for and operate our government, since we have "the best government money can buy" in our moneyed elections. They've transferred that onto the government itself, which has less and less power to regulate, as the corporations take over and occupy much of the government. And so they have a nihilistic rage against the government, which they feel has betrayed them.

I want to first look at family. After all, I am a psychological explorer, although I do look at the intersectionality of people's personal lives and what's going on with the economy, with politics, and with the culture. Because obviously, if you get evicted, it's not just in your head, you know; it's other problems. Or if you're racially picked on, or if your gender makes you vulnerable, or if your refugee status makes you vulnerable, your problems are not all in your mind. So I'm looking at this intersection, which I do in my practice, and I do in this show.

So the first thing I'd like to look at as a reason to try to explain why people so passionately still support a leader who has betrayed them on every level – in terms of reality, not in terms of his pronouncements, but in terms of the reality of their lives – I want to look at the irrational, authoritarian family. In the authoritarian family – and every other family in the United States, where families get so very little support – the family is everything. Children learn that parents are their survival.

Partly we know this intuitively, because until about the 1800s birth control meant killing the children you didn't want. So children witnessed their siblings being killed and got the idea that, hmm, it could happen to me. Babies have even more mirror neurons than adults, and mirror neurons allow you to mirror the moods and happenings in those people around you, on whom your survival depends. We have to remember that until the 1800s, and even beyond, it was okay to kill the kids you didn't want. Or you could bring them to the market. And if people didn't want a child for something, you left them there to die, or to be picked up by somebody else, the way some heartless people do for kittens or puppies these days. Or you drowned them. And when you had a new marriage, like with Hansel and Gretel, and all the other Grimm's Fairy Tales, the stepmother kills the kids, or sends them into the forest, or something like that. That wasn't imagination; that was common practice.

And so children learn to cleave to their parents, their primary caregivers, who ensure their survival, because we are the least independent of any other newborns. It takes American children a long time to be able to fend for themselves. Elephants are the second-most dependent animals, and it takes them until they're about two years old. So, whoa, we're really talking about dependency.

And so children pick up what is needed by their authoritarian caregivers. And even if their caregiver is a totally irrational and often brutal person, they learn they better identify with that caretaker and not be thinking about themselves, but him or her who controls their survival as a person, as a human. And Trump embodies the authoritarian father/mother leader who is highly irrational, who claims that he wants you and cares about you, while he's utterly selfish and cruel, and hypes his power. That's why he had that photo op with the military where he gassed and ousted legitimate protesters – so he could have a photo op. He's the ultimate abusive parent to whom many people cleave.

He also calls on the authoritarian impulses of the most authoritarian religions, which in the United States are the fundamental religions which have the most punitive of all child rearing. Dobson, who wrote all sorts of books about taming the child's will, and who was the best-selling child development author in the evangelical community, advocates physically and psychologically humiliating children to show them who's boss, to break the child's will, and advocates some pretty terrible physical punishments, although not annihilating the child, but to show the primacy of the caregiver and the subordination of the child, who dares not question, no less disobey.

So authoritarian religion trains people in that blind obedience which Trump commands. He punishes anyone who disagrees, no less acts against his wishes, and is free to contradict every expert, every scientist, and acclaim people like Selma Emmanuel, who believes that hydroxychloroquine works, and that if you have several diseases or ailments, they may come from having sex with demons in your dreams. Whoa. But he's the authority. And he takes on those other authorities and touts them, and people believe him because he is the authority.

And so the authoritarian family, with its tyrannical caregiver – who's associated with the almighty father in the sky, as interpreted by your pastor, your minister, your priest, who cannot be questioned – is very stern. And you learn as a child to identify with those parents and to hate the part of you that wants to rebel, that disagrees, that is bad. The bad child. And when other people disagree, they are bad. That's why in Christian fundamentalism, with the end times trilogy, Christians happily – fundamentalist Christians of that ilk, who are millions – happily identify that when Armageddon comes and there is a conflagration, like a nuclear war, which they believe will serve them, they will ascend to heaven, laughing at the writhing misery of all those other people who burn and are destroyed. Because they identify with the authoritarian voice, and the authoritarian parent, and hate the bad children who disobey and who will therefore burn in hell. And the good Christians will have no remorse when that happens.

Another factor of Trump's support, I think, is a kind of nihilistic rage – rage against a lot of things. Trump supporters are, by most studies, people who make about $72,000 a year – less than the $78,000 median wage in the United States – and who feel like their American dream has been robbed.

What they have left, if they're white, is their transcendent whiteness. At least they're not black. At least they don't live in the black projects.

If they're men, at least they're not women. And the orthodox Jewish community's daily prayer includes for the men thanking God that they are not born a woman, and for women thanking God that they were born in his opprobrium, which means his disapproval. And so they have to serve men, and be segregated from men, and really function primarily as breeders, the way in the Baptist convention on gender, women are to be subordinate to men. Men are to be protective, but women are to be subordinate, which means you can't be the boss of men anywhere – not only at home, but at work or anywhere else.

And many of those people are Trump supporters, because at least they can hold on to their primacy over women. And if they're women, they can hold on to the idea that if they're with a man, he will protect them, because he's stronger, and smarter, and better, than them.

Now, these beliefs have taken quite a beating, because in the mid-'70s, corporations outsourced white-male, well-paid jobs to low-pay places like China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, without any inhibition. Unlike Germany, France, Switzerland, all the Scandinavian countries, which outlawed outsourcing, we didn't. Our unions didn't stand up for us that way because they always felt that America would always do better in each generation and they'd get their proper cut. And they didn't fight for the liberation of all working Americans in a political way, the way the unions in all those other nations did.

So this mass group, who are white – because until the mid-1970s we were about an 80 percent white nation – feel unseated. The white-male wage – which used to support a family, and for a long time, the end of World War II into the mid-'70s, meant that every generation could do better than the previous one on a male wage, which was a family wage that supported a whole family of dependent wives and children – that went away with outsourcing, and mechanization, and robotization, and computerizing.

And those white males have been unseated from their powerful position, not only in the job but at home, where their women now have to work and don't necessarily want to serve them quite as assiduously when they get home, tired after contributing to the family's income.

And so they've lost that primacy at home. About 70 percent of divorces now are initiated by women, because women make our own money and don't necessarily want to be subordinate. And white women have suffered terribly. White women who didn't think they needed an education, who didn't think that they needed a career have suffered so badly that in these studies, done mainly in the South and parts of the Midwest, there's a phenomenon in which white women die even before black women or black men do, because they've lost hope, they've lost protection, they've lost hope. Their identity as I am a woman, I therefore bring up my children, keep house, do domestic labor and emotional labor for my family, and some small health-care services, and take care of my husband's families and his social connections – that's my role – are now completely adrift.

They're celebrated, in the right-wing propaganda of country music, and in the fundamentalist religion, but they're celebrated only verbally. They don't have the benefits that they do all over Europe and Scandinavia, where women get five-year maternity leaves and get their jobs at the same pay or equivalent jobs at the same pay when they get back. They don't have public quality education for their children starting at two years old. They don't have after-school programs, which are free in all those countries, or summer programs, which are free or can't be more than 15 percent of your income.

And so they're left with all these responsibilities and without support, and they're dying in hopelessness. Generally in the United States, the life expectancy rates are actually declining, rather than rising, the way they used to, as people's hopes decline.

And a lot of Trump supporters are wanting to make America great again, and whiteness great again, because in the mid-'70s, at the same time as outsourcing, and computerizing, and robotizing, and mechanizing were happening, both African Americans and also women fought for better wages and recognition – women because we were forced into the workforce, as well as wanted to go, and were encouraged by the CIA sponsorship of a women's movement that really pushed us back to work as the best thing, without the benefits that would have made that comfortable or possible. Not that I'm against working outside the home. I totally am for it, as an equal with an equal salary and support for domestic services.

And black people, who were tired of being terribly financially oppressed, demonstrated. And the civil rights movement, thanks to CIA and FBI intrusion, became a black power movement, a color-oriented movement rather than the class-oriented movement that they started to develop with Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, who were both killed just after they started pushing class unity.

So we have a whole group of white people who are dispossessed, who lost their American dream: women being protected in a home provided by a white-male wage, and men getting a white-male wage which entitled them to a servant at home, and support for their children, and a better future for their children. That's gone. The corporations took it away, but then encouraged blaming, as Trump does, on uppity women, and black people, and foreigners, refugees taking our jobs.

And so some Trump supporters are saying, wait a minute, we support Donald Trump because he will bring our jobs back. He'll make America great again. He'll return us to the post-World War II primacy we had, when all the other economies were destroyed but ours, and where white-male wages allowed white families to have a middle-class standard of living. They suck up and kick down. They want to identify with the corporations while they want to pick on the people beneath them in the social hierarchy: women, refugees, people of color. In that, they're just like Donald Trump. And so they identify with him.

And these are developments that Trump followers really don't want to understand. In their suck up/kick down, obey authority, they want to blame interlopers: women, refugees, black people – anyone less powerful than they. And they want to blame them, and punish them, the way Trump does. He's very punitive.

They also want to hate the government and destroy it, because the corporations really had a neat trick. They shifted the blame for their outsourcing, and their terrible policies that hurt working people, onto the government. After all, they are, more and more, the government, as corporate leaders rule our government. (Later on, or in the next episode, I'll talk about all those corporate leaders, from what Trump called "the swamp," who are running his government.) And so they wanted to blame government, and not corporations, encouraged by Democrat and Republican alike. I remember seeing a demonstration in which a woman had a sign that said keep the government out of my Medicare – forgetting, wait a minute, honey, who brought you Medicare?

It was a very neat trick that the right wing has worked on since World War II. People forget that FDR, the most popular president in US history – of many terms, re-elected – he had big government. It was big government who brought 11 million people at that time – which would be about, in our population now, 22 million – good jobs rebuilding our country, making artworks, building buildings, building highways, building dams, building transportation and safe housing. They forget that was the government they were supporting, big government – big government that had a lot of socialist and some communist influences too.

And after World War II, when Uncle Joe Stalin was our staunchest ally in the war, to win the war – and whatever terrible things they did, we have to remember that they suffered the most. Thirty million lives were lost during World War II as the Soviets fought hand-to-hand combat with the German troops in the streets, and were absolutely heroic in their sacrifice. They wanted to forget all that, and forget that America was allied with a communist, and wipe out the communists in the United States, because let's face it, what brought in FDR was an alliance between the CIO, big labor, millions of people organizing, with many organizers from the communist party and the two socialist parties, saying we want not only 10 cents more an hour, we want a say in the way we live. We are important, and our labor is very important.

They want to forget all that. And the corporations have worked on that quite consciously, to get them to hate government and not corporate leadership, which exported their jobs and has at this moment had about a third of the workforce apply for unemployment at some time or another, so that they can blame the government, as Trump's followers do.

And they're very angry. They have lost. They have a huge nihilistic rage. They lost the class war that was fought against them, and they didn't even know it, that exported their jobs and brought the billions home to buy their politicians, to buy their media, to control what they see and how they live their lives, and to immiserate Americans, as the unions lost the spark that was brought to them by the left. And we've gone from a nation of 35 percent unionized, influencing the others, to about seven percent.

Unions have been devalued, and also defanged, by and large. With all this unemployment, the AFL-CIO has not called a general strike. The only prominent union leader that suggested that was Sara Nelson of the flight-attendants union, who wanted a general strike when Trump wanted the flight attendants and other airline people to work for nothing, and as this covid has decimated employment in the United States and decimated our income.

And they are very, very angry. They identify with a Trump that says I will destroy our government. I will put in charge of each sector of our government someone who will destroy it. I'll talk about this more later, but you know in education, in which I'm very interested, Betsy DeVos is a multi-billionaire who says that her ideal of education is not the public education she's supposed to champion as the Secretary of Education, the cabinet member in charge of education. She champions private, Christian education – the opposite of the public schooling she's supposed to defend. The person who's in charge of our environmental policies has worked for the coal and steel industries and will destroy the environmental regulations, and so on. They get a kick out of that, that he has utter disregard for tradition, for law, for protocol, and for the institutions and practices of our government.

Partly they're angry for good reason. Their government has betrayed them. Both Republicans and Democrats have served the corporate elites who give the money to put them in. The new Justice Democrats are a new development: people like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who did not take corporations' money but got money from the people in her district and was just re-elected by 72 percent, even though Goldman Sachs alone gave $400,000 to her opponent. But people, the Democrats and Republicans alike, colluded with that, and took corporate money, and betrayed people. And so they are in a nihilistic rage against the government. But in their suck-up/kick-down way, they won't look at who's responsible. Who has the most money, and where did they get it?

The men who have been dispossessed identify also with the outrageous sexism of our president. Not only will I grab all the wealth I want, without any regard for what is fair, just, or the law. (That's why he's fighting against releasing his tax returns. He's had six bankruptcies, and he has endless fraud allegations for stealing.) And they admire that he grabs, that he doesn't obey, that he defies everything, that he grabs pussy and he glorifies in it because he has the power. And he doesn't care about that half of the population, how they might suffer. They love that.

They are in a nihilistic rage against their own privation. And they have been deprived. They really have been deprived. They lost their dictatorial powers over women, lost many of their dictatorial powers over people of color, and they are cowards who would rather suck up and kick down than stand up to the powerful. They want to blame whoever is weaker. They want to identify with Trump's self-aggrandizement. I'm the greatest. I'm the smartest, as he brags that he passed his dementia test, which is amazing. But his lying, his self-aggrandizing lying, they identify with it.

They operate just like Deutsche Bank and the other banks did. They want to look good for their support, even though they're getting cheated. They kept giving him money, even though he was wasting their money, because they didn't want it to be seen as the kind of thrown-away investments that they made. Only Deutsche Bank remained at the end. And there are some indications that he was reimbursed by the Russian government, who subsidizes the orthodox church, and who also subsidizes rich oligarchs who rule Russia.

They want to be able to get out there and cheat, and lie, and get away with it. Those men want to be able to grab pussy whenever they feel like it, disregarding women's rights. Bravado and self-aggrandizement are characteristics they admire, those cowards. They admire it undercover. They, like Trump, hate their powerlessness, and they want to cover over it with self-aggrandizing identification with the leader. They hate anybody who's less powerful, like they hated themselves as children for disobeying. They want to punish all of them: punish the Muslims, punish the immigrants, punish the refugees, punish people of color, punish women. And all of those things are cultivated by the Republican Party, or they have been.

These people who are supporting Trump, this 38 percent, don't want to know that they lost the class war. They are immiserated. They lost the class war, the race war, and the gender war. And they don't want to admit it. They're very, very angry. They won't admit that they made dangerous mistakes. They won't admit that they're ignorant and ill-informed and try to inform themselves.

They won't admit that they're in a declining empire. America hasn't won a war – hands down won – since World War II. In Korea, they were divided between North and South Korea. Same in Vietnam. We have just – after spending over a trillion dollars of our money – lost the war in Iraq. We've destroyed their countries, but we still lost the war. We can still destroy. We lost the war in Afghanistan. We have the most rich and subsidized military in the world – more than the other six countries who are underneath us in military spending combined – and we didn't win. They want to make America a winner, by declaring it in a self-aggrandizing, jingoistic way. They can't admit that they're in a declining empire. And they need the humility that all imperialists had: like the French had when they lost their last colony in Algeria, like the British had (although they hardly admit it), like the Germans, and the Belgians, when they lost their holdings, their colonial holdings.

They don't want that humility. They don't want to be people – people who need each other, people who are sharing a common fate and need to be together in reclaiming their country for them, not as the greatest-ever military might of the world, but as a country that shares, where everyone has a chance: that American dream.

And so that is another sad way that Trump's followers are in a nihilistic and denying rage, just like their leader, who denies that he got into business school by hiring Joe Shapiro to take his exam, that like Kushner – the great genius son-in-law he hired, who went to Harvard and whose father gave Harvard $2 million before he was admitted – that he got where he got through his father's endless millions, dished out to him to cover for him. Because his father, too, according to Mary Trump's book about the Trump family, put all his hopes in his bragging, self-aggrandizing, arrogant, spoiled son. All that's left is the swagger. He's a failure, but they support the swagger, and they identify with it.

That's the end of Part One. Part Two will continue to explore this very important question: Why do 38 percent of Americans still – even with all that has gone down – still support Donald Trump?

Thank you for listening. This episode has been brought to you by Democracy at Work. Please support our work. Visit our website at democracyatwork.info.

Transcript by Marilou Baughman
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Showing 1 comment

  • Martin Holsinger
    commented 2020-10-17 20:19:54 -0400
    Thanks for the insight, though this comment seemed a bit out of place: And there are some indications that he was reimbursed by the Russian government, who subsidizes the orthodox church, and who also subsidizes rich oligarchs who rule Russia.

    I have generally appreciated the way Democracy at Work steers clear of the Russophobia, and the Trump-Russia hallucinations, that have poisoned public discourse in this country, and was quite disappointed to see this, which is a wholly unsubstantiated rumor. Trump’s policies toward Russia are certainly not the policies of someone in any way beholden to the Russian government. In any case, it seems to be to be completely irrelevant to the topic of the psychology of Trump supporters. (I am not a Trump supporter.

    Are you going to delve into the complex and contradictory psychology of Biden supporters soon? Politically, the guy has a record Trump would be proud of, and yet every liberal in America is being urged to vote for him, and most seem to be getting with the program. WTF?

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