Donald Trump was a maestro at spinning a story that would be amenable to his target audience. He had an intuitive grasp of what the base of the Republican Party wanted to hear and relentlessly honed his message to appeal to the depths of their heart so that they would pledge their troth to him even to the point of voting against their own interests. Indeed, as he once proclaimed, he could shoot someone in the streets of Manhattan and their loyalty would not diminish. Even the day after making an insulting statement like that, his poll numbers increased. Trump not only knew what lurked in the heart of his base but his heart and their heart were closely akin so that I don’t think he really was totally conscious of what he was doing.
Paul Krugman, a New York Times columnist offered an astute illustration of this symbiotic relationship between Trump and one voter block, the West Virginia coal mining culture. Trump promised to “bring back coal mining jobs” by undoing Obama era environmental regulations which supposedly had hampered the coal mining industry. This evoked a populist appeal consistent with his call to “Make America Great Again” and any critical thinking was immediately suspended. Krugman applies critical thinking to this falderal, pointing out the future of the coal industry was already beyond jeopardy for reasons having nothing to do with Obama. Furthermore, the basis of the West Virginia of economy has not been the coal industry for decades. But, “bring back the coal industry” was an emotional appeal to a poverty-stricken state and coincided nicely with “Let’s Make America Great Again.” And emotional appeals, not reason, is what drives the electorate. “’Coal country’ is a State of Mind” is how the NYT headline read. (See Krugman op-ed at end of post.)
Krugman explained how Trump seduced the voters of West Virginia to vote against their own interests just as he did many other conservative voters. This does not mean they were stupid or unintelligent. It does mean they were and are “human” like the rest of us and make decisions based on things other than reason. But politicians…and many preachers…are talented at appealing to the subterranean dimensions of the heart where reason and its correlate, critical thinking, are foreigners. This election should be shaking our country to the core, further than it appears to be, bringing us to our knees. And by “bringing us to our knees” I’m referring to a meaningful approach to some mysterious dimension of life that we prefer to live oblivious to, finding perfunctory canned prayers more amenable to our need to appear pious and humble. My choice for describing this life-affirming and demanding “mystery” is from my childhood, “God.”
ADDENDUM—This is one of three blogs that I now have up and running. Please check the other two out sometime. The three are: