Why is the anger of Trump supporters so displaced?

displaced-angerIt takes a special kind of anger to be a Trump supporter. It’s not just that you might be frustrated with your economic condition or how you see yourself in the mix of a multi-cultural society. There has be something that motivates you to displace whatever anger you have to individuals who have very little to do with how you’re doing.

It’s hard to imagine anyone being a nicer, kinder person than Barack Obama. What he has stood for in his campaigns and his presidency is decency and trying to improve the lot of everyone. Yet Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said upon Obama’s election this his first job was to make Obama a one-term president. Why the vitriol?

If Hillary Clinton was someone who you sat next to on an airplane, you would likely find her to be warm and caring. She would take interest in your life and share her own experiences with you. As a politician and a public official, has she ever supported policies that are motivated by hate? I don’t think so.

Yet Obama and Clinton are among the personal targets of people who are angry about something, but not necessarily what either of them have done. The image I think of is a tornado floating around a town that finds a particular target and relentlessly gloms onto it. Then it won’t leave.

In 1998 when Hillary Clinton introduced the idea of the vast right-wing conspiracy, she got part of it right. That is the mean-spirited conservative activists like McConnell, Newt Gingrich, Karl Rove, the Koch Brothers and others who actually would manipulate situations to do harm to people not like them. What neither she nor most of the rest of us could see at that time was how fertile the ground was for plowing by the architects of the conspiracy. The 1968 supporters of George Wallace and Richard Nixon’s “Silent Majority” were just as open to demonizing politics in 2016 as they ever had been.

It’s not unlike the person who stubs his toe while entering his front door and then kicks his dog out of frustration. The dog is an easy target, but it had nothing to do with why the man was angry. So many Republican voters are angry and don’t know what to do with their strong feelings. When a largely innocent target is identified by others as the cause of their woes, many are quick to jump on the bandwagon to assault largely innocent souls like Obama or Clinton.

If the United States is going to embrace a progressive agenda, as it has done at various times in its history (think both Roosevelts and LBJ), then we have to address what it is that makes so many people like the Trump supporters so angry. That’s the easy part, and Trump in himself may unwittingly do some of the heavy lifting, if he and Congress can enact an infrastructure stimulus and other job-creating projects. But that only gets us halfway there. The tougher part is to learn more and do more about why so many people so readily displace their anger like the man stubbing his toe.

I can only begin to conjecture about this, but I hope that our psychologists, sociologists, and just plain observers of human behavior spend a good portion of the next four years trying to figure out why so many demonize the wrong target.  A good place to start might be with Thomas Frank’s What’s the Matter with Kansas and the role that religion plays in forming political opinions.

  • Stacy Mergenthal

    Arthur: this anger you speak of is a theme in Howard Zinn’s ‘A People’s
    History of the United States’. I recommend if you haven’t already read

    The ability to manipulate and stoke the fires of populace
    anger has long been a tool in Power’s arsenal. The scary part is that it
    is so easy for them to do and often against our better judgment. They
    hold the purse strings, we are at their mercy. They can raise or
    lower taxes, manipulate currency and inflation, restrict lending and
    control interest rates, keep the minimum wage long past its expiration
    date, gamble on the misfortune of others, create or destroy jobs, create
    and destroy markets, bring entire countries to their knees–and all
    while giving themselves raises.

    The key part is that we’re
    fighting each other, while they get away with all manner of things.
    We’re too busy trying to fit a square peg into a round hole to look at
    the big gaping round holes in D.C. and on Wall Street. If someone
    exposes the “man behind the curtain”, we toss them in jail or
    assassinate their character so as to marginalize and discredit them.
    “Shoot the messenger” type of stuff; more manipulation of our anger. We
    know better, but we do it repeatedly, over and over. How do we armor
    ourselves against this type of manipulation? The power players know a
    united people have the power, so they seek to divide us. WE know they
    are doing it but seem helpless to stop ourselves from reacting in
    exactly the way they want us to.

  • Arthur Lieber

    Stacy, I agree with so much of what you say. I am familiar with Zinn’s book and think that he did much to advance political dialogue in our country. What I’m looking for now is something that is perhaps less political and more psychological. Why does the guy kick the dog when he stubbed his toe? Why does the worker demonize Obama or Clinton when Republicans have prevented them from enacting policies that could actually help them? Why do we displace? I think that the shrinks need to join the progressive political junkies in trying to figure this one out.

  • Marc Lee Bellucci

    Isn’t it more than just the angry pro Trump voter? The large percentage of no show registered voters are the major players in Clinton’s loss. There is always some percentage that won’t make it to the voting booth, beyond that number,there are those that were unhappy with either choice. I think in Clinton’s case negative political baggage kept them from backing her. Ultimately I feel Clinton’s inability to win over Bernie supporters was a key factor, in conjunction with a lack of support from past Obama voters despite the efforts of the President and First Lady. Even though it’s unrelated, it begs the question, what does it say about the Obama legacy when Clinton runs on a ticket of continuance vs. Trump the anti-Obama wanting to erase the past eight years?
    As far as kicking the dog, if you ask a Bernie supporter they’ll say the dog bit them first. The Republicans started gridlock but Democrats have returned in favor at every opportunity. People are mad, they have been victimized by the greedy.the banking industry, Wall Street, oil companies. People have lost their jobs, their homes, their savings saddled with record gas and oil prices. Then you throw Obama care on them. Corporate America now limits the number of full time jobs to avoid their healthcare contributions. Now people have rejoined the job market at a lower wage with fewer hours and are forced to pay their own healthcare. Meanwhile the people we’ve sent to Washington are too busy making the other party look bad to do something for the people that sent them there, all the while collecting a big fat check. The ones responsible for the hardship are the ones that are bailed out. People aren’t just mad their pissed off. We didn’t stub our toe we’ve been clubbed over the head and robbed. Then victimized by the establishment when we tried to report the crime. Clinton is seen as being greedy, the Washington insider, and running on a ticket of continuance takes ownership of this middle class outrage even if its guilt by association.Even the getaway driver is charged with murder if someone dies during a bank robbery. Trump is an outsider and I believe that’s the main point the main message from the middle class.

  • Arthur Lieber

    Marc, I love most of what you say. I like the perspective that the “angry person” says that the dog bit them first. I also agree with you about how Democrats have been enablers of gridlock, perhaps even to the degree that Republicans have. This is something where one party has to take the lead to try to compromise and collaborate. I would like to think that Democrats might be inclined to do a little bit of that now since they may get some good policy decisions out of it, particularly with regard to an economic stimulus.

    I further agree with you about so many of the people in Washington seem to direct the funnel of money to those who need it least and away from those who need it most. This all adds up to a lot of voters being pissed off because they are being screwed in so many ways.

    My concern is that many (not all) of the policies that Trump has supported will do further damage to the declining white middle class and will also take many minorities down for further falls. My only hope is that Trump really does not know what he believes and he’ll go in the direction of those who will cheer for him. Liberals may surprise themselves by cheering him on with certainly policies that conservatives disdain. Trump probably wouldn’t mind getting the Hollywood crowd behind him.

    But key to what I was trying to say is that we have to learn more about why people displace their anger. I tend to think that a lot of it has to do with the fact that critical thinking is not high on the priority list for most schools. If those of us who were at Crossroads when you were there played any role in the kind of critical thinking that you expressed in the comment, we can feel very good about it.

  • Marc Bellucci

    I worry about the direction Trump’s policies will have as well. I wasn’t a fan of either Trump or Clinton and my vote reflected that. There is hope in some of what he says, rebuilding the infrastructure should provide a number of good paying jobs for minorities and middle class as well as his wall. I feel Obama dropped the ball near the end of his first term, he should have put America back to work with the infrastructure, instead he discontinued unemployment extensions to drop unemployment numbers creating a false positive for his reelection run. NAFTA has proven to be a complete disaster to the middle class ( part of the Clinton baggage I spoke of ) Trump wants to end it. I’ve found Hollywood to be strictly Democratic I don’t think he could find enough support there to make a crowd.
    Displaced anger, lashing out at the innocent. The ability to rule your emotions vs. your emotions ruling you, this is battle I’ve fought all my life. According to my wife it’s the Italian in me coming out. It certainly can account for 99% of apologies she has received from me. In an effort of self betterment my episodes of displaced anger are fewer and farther between and I usually recognize it as soon as the words come out my mouth. Think before you speak.

  • Arthur Lieber

    Marc, I wish that Obama could have pushed through a stimulus at the end of his presidency, but the Republicans were just dead-set against it. Watch how quickly they support the infrastructure when it’s proposed by Trump. This is so reflective of the reflexive polarization we have. Somebody has to take the lead in toning it down. Sometimes I think that progressives can do it, but then I see rhetoric from the left that gives me great pause.

    I think that we all deal with anger and displace it. But once we’re aware of it and can name it, we are in a position to manage it. Sounds like your mind has control of your heart when things get intense.

    Hopefully there will be another Crossroads reunion in the near future. If so, I’d love it if you could come to STL and we could chat. Also, maybe I’ll make it to South Carolina. I know that it’s particularly beautiful in the spring.