Much ink has been spilled over the dilemma that is Donald Trump. Some people love him, and some people hate him. Some people try to explain why people love or hate Trump. What unites them is a lack of clarity about why they or anyone else love or hate him.
Regardless of how you feel about Trump, the fact remains that he wins. He won the 2016 election fair and square. Yes, he lost the 2020 election fair and square, but he turned that into a win, as evidenced by the slavish devotion he still receives from a segment of the US population. Trump still possesses considerable social power.
Neither academia nor the right-wing (dis)information sphere can accurately explain the phenomenon that is Trumpism. Why is Trump popular? Why does Trump win? The answer is deceptively simple.
The Greatest Power in Politics
Love is the greatest power in the universe ✨️ (If that isn’t a song it should be.) But in politics, love is meaningless. (And if you think otherwise, bless you, but be real here.)
The greatest power and the most effective motivator in politics is fear. The politicians who can most effectively distill fear in people and most effectively exploit that fear will win power. Plato understood this fact 2,400 years ago when he wrote about politics and the danger of society falling into tyranny. Many other things have changed since Plato, but the power of fear and fear as power have not.
It should never be forgotten that Adolf Hitler and the Nazi political party were elected by popular vote. Sure, they engaged in voter suppression and intimidation, but they won power because they effectively distilled fear in people and effectively exploited that fear. “We will protect you from the socialists and Bolsheviks and Jews,” the Nazis said, and they convinced enough people that the socialists and Bolsheviks were a threat to the Fatherland, and the Nazi party would save them. Then the Nazis locked up all the socialists and Bolsheviks and repressed and eventually murdered the Jews.
Sound familiar? It’s a pattern often repeated across history. Yes, currently by Trump. It usually works, so why not use it? Trump may not be the cleverest con man, but he isn’t a complete idiot. “I will protect you from the socialists and Bolsheviks,” Trump says. Some people believe him.
Trump wins because he is a master bullshitter who knows how to distill and exploit the fears of a particular segment of the population. He clumsily but effectively harnesses the victimization complex of the reactionary right. He sufficiently understands how to turn the MAGA fear machine into a political hate machine. Fear wins.
Actually, yes, Trump doesn’t win — fear wins. The politicians who can best exploit fear gain power. That’s why Trump uses fear as the main plank of his campaign platform. It is also why the feckless Democratic party uses fear as the main plank of their campaign platform. The current presidential campaign isn’t Trump versus Biden, it’s “Fear Biden” versus “Fear Trump.” I fear the outcome.