Many opponents of Donald Trump believe that his supporters are captives of a delusional Trump personality cult, unable to recognize the great damage he is doing to the nation and caught up in such hypnotic dedication to the man that it blocks critical thought about what he says or does, something akin to hero worship. The actual situation is quite the opposite. Trump’s success is evidence of how unimportant personality is to his supporters.
Consider first that worship implies emulation. Trump’s self-absorption – his boasting and narcissism – does not elude the notice of his supporters, nor is it imitated by them. There is no evidence that Trump’s caustic and vulgar language, especially toward women, is suddenly becoming fashionable or even more permissible. Trump’s comb-over hairstyle is imitated to amuse, not to honor. And you will probably not hear of knock-off gilded French baroque furniture flying off the shelves at Walmarts across America any time soon.
Perplexing as it may seem, Trump supporters are dedicated to Trump not for who he is but for what he stands for.
This begins with his policy objectives, especially building the wall, ending illegal immigration, curing the Heartland of maladies like opioid addiction, and bringing manufacturing back to America.
But just as important, the base forgives Trump for his legislative failures. They don’t blame him for Congress’s failure to repeal Obamacare. In foreign policy, they appreciate his America First stance and his military policies, which are helping to defeat ISIS, and they see that in a dangerous world — particularly with respect to North Korea — advisers like James Mattis and H.R. McMaster are no less wise choices than any Republican president might have made.
Regarding the daily tweet travesty, inevitably amplified by a hair-triggered media, Trump supporters are dismissive, blasé, or actively supportive. For example, they doubt that Trump intentionally went out of his way to insult a grieving widow’s fallen husband. They don’t believe that Trump is a white supremacist, and really can’t fathom him deviously underplaying the disgusting behavior of neo-Nazis for political gain. They don’t like professional sports figures disrespecting the flag, whatever their beef is. And they are rightfully worried about North Korea but don’t think that calling Kim Jong Un “Rocket Man” is likely to ignite the nuclear fuse.
Add to these things an economy that is cruising along nicely, a border that is growing palpably more secure, and a judiciary that is bending toward more traditional values, and the conclusion by liberals that those who support these values like Trump only because of his personality is mysterious indeed.
Mike Stopa is a nanophysicist who served as a delegate for Donald Trump at the Republican National Convention in 2016. He podcasts with Todd Feinburg at harvardlunchclub.com.