(This article was reprinted in the online magazine of the Institute for Ethics & Emerging Technologies, October 19, 2017.)
In my last post, I discussed Eric Hoffer‘s 1951 classic: The True Believer: Thoughts on the Nature of Mass Movements. Naturally, the question arises as to the similarities between Trump supporters in the USA and Hoffer’s true believers.
There is a lot to be said here, but I’ll just mention a few similarities. Certainly, Trump supporters have responded to his diatribes against: Mexicans, women, politicians, opposing candidates, and reporters who ask him good questions. His followers share his love of authoritarianism, as well as his view that immigrants, people with darker skins, and women have stolen their jobs. (Even though the evidence that immigrants are a boon to the economy is overwhelming.) Moreover, his followers have no regard for truth, science, education, expertise, or knowledge. And they loathe the present and want to return to the past. All of the above are characteristics of Hoffer’s true believers.
Trump supporters are mostly white, native-born American males who do not have college degrees and are economically in the lower middle class rather than among the poorest. In short, they are very much like Hoffer himself (except for the fact that they aren’t erudite like Hoffer.) But Hoffer knew that “undesirables” weren’t the enemy:
That revelation occurred in 1934, when as a transient fruit-and-vegetable picker he was swept up and placed in the El Centro camp at the edge of the southern California desert near the Mexican border, and for the first time had to co-exist with 200 other men. Prior to that, he considered himself “just a human being, neither good nor bad, and on the whole, harmless,” but after a month at El Centro he realized he belonged to “a certain type of humanity, the undesirables.”
Some were lame, some were foreign-born, some were tramps, some were much darker-skinned than the rest but, he concluded, all were the same as the “undesirables” who for generations had fled from Europe and Asia and became American pioneers, the people who for 300 years had built our farms and roads and cities and institutions.
Throughout the rest of his life, Eric Hoffer continued to venerate and celebrate the “undesirables” as America’s real founding fathers.
But what I can say is the Trump’s followers are true believers. No matter what he does, no matter how unfit and unqualified, how coarse and vile, how angry and vindictive, how insecure and deviant, no matter his connections with Russia or the mafia, his multiple bankruptcies and money laundering, his and his father’s racist past, his lack of concern about his followers interests, no matter how horrific of a human being he is … they still believe. Most of them always will.