Long for America

Trump and the longing for catharsis

Donald Trump's supporters see themselves as victims. The real estate mogul shows them how and from whom they can regain their lost happiness.

Seasoned observers of the American presidential elections have become cautious over the past nine months. Hardly anyone dares to make predictions with confidence, because too many of them have proven to be wrong. Two phenomena shaped this election cycle in particular: the success of the lateral entrant Donald Trump with the Republicans and the enthusiasm, especially among young people, for the 74-year-old Bernie Sanders, whose task at the beginning seemed to consist primarily of not liking the inevitable nomination of Hillary Clinton to make it look like a crowning glory.

Trump as well as Sanders reflect deep problems of the two parties for which they are running for the highest office in the country: a pronounced distrust of the "establishment", the institutions and people who have shaped the politics of these two parties over the past two decades. In contrast to the Republicans, the establishment candidate at least managed to assert herself as the favorite with the Democrats. But just a year ago nobody would have dared to say that there was a real fight.

Among the Republicans, a noisy, undisciplined, but prominent self-promoter was able to beat an unprecedented number of rivals out of the field, including some exotic ones, but also incumbent and former governors with a track record and executive experience as well as aspiring or seasoned senators with national renown. Only two are left, Ted Cruz and John Kasich. Both can no longer succeed in the primaries to rally a majority of the delegates for the electoral convention in Cleveland. You can only hope that "The Donald" also misses the necessary majority and then the cards can be reshuffled in Cleveland.

Felt the mood

With unspeakable remarks and thoughtless talk, Trump has always made it easy for his opponents and the skeptics to turn up their noses at him and proclaim the end of the West in the event of his election victory. Sober observers come to the conclusion that Trump would probably not be a particularly successful cast for the role of the leader of the free world, but that the checks and balances of the American political industry would know how to prevent a catastrophe. That is not to say that a President Trump cannot plunge America into a deep constitutional crisis.

The fact is, Trump didn't create the mood at the Grand Old Party that made him the lonely front runner. But he recognized it and then stirred it up and used it to the best of his ability. His element are stages with television cameras that catapult him in front of an audience of millions, and major events. He is an extremely talented manipulator who arouses enthusiasm and directs crowds. But without the millions of Americans who voted for him in the primary and will continue to vote, Trump would also be nothing more than an entertainer. And that is the real problem with the Republican Party.

The establishment can still try to dispute him for the Cleveland nomination. But Trump's supporters will not simply go away with it. A part may withdraw into passivity again. But the rest will ensure that popular anger boils. It will only be a matter of time before someone else knows how to stir up these disappointed people again. You only have to look at what Trump has achieved so far with an amateurish election campaign to get an idea of ​​what a comparable figure could achieve, who is well prepared and organized into the race.

Sanders fans want to float on the back of a unicorn in a fairytale land where social justice prevails. Trump's supporters, on the other hand, want to ride a stubborn, fire-breathing dragon. The longing for a radical break, for a scandal, for a catharsis fires them on. Unrealistic fantasies, wild visions, the malicious identification of scapegoats, the deliberate violation of the rules of propriety in civilized discourse - that's what Trump does differently from the others.

What happened? Is it simply the case that after a certain period of time boredom takes hold and people prefer to plunge into an uncertain adventure instead of continuing to try in triple steps to get hold of the prosperity that has always been promised them? Or are there more solid reasons?

Of course, there are yesterday's supporters among Trump's supporters who dream of a return to a bygone era when they were better off. But Trump's voters are not just the idiots of America, they are often - especially if they do not appear in larger groups - completely normal Americans. They have one thing in common: they have given up the belief that traditional politics will take care of their concerns.

The tremendous economic restructuring, which accelerated immensely with the globalization of trade and the revolution in information technology, had a devastating effect in the USA, especially in the so-called rust belt - the former industrial centers on the great lakes - and in the coal regions of the Appalachians. These are the same areas that are suffering from an opiate epidemic today that spread in the slipstream of opium-containing pain relievers.

They used to be the pillar of American society: white and therefore privileged, not particularly well educated, but confident and willing to perform. Today this section of the population is in crisis. Especially white women and men “in their prime” - between 45 and 54 years old - are not only in poor health, but on average also die earlier than they should. Other whites, for example in Europe and Canada, or Americans with a better education, but also Latinos and blacks in the USA can still expect an increase in life expectancy. With the affected whites, it seems as if part of an entire generation has given up the struggle for survival.

Say how it really is

Various studies have shown that the same population group - white, not particularly well educated, in their prime - makes up the hard core of Trump supporters. What they have in common is that they feel betrayed. You worked hard. But the success that the “American Dream” promised them in this case did not materialize. Despite their commitment, they lost the job because the mine closed or the industrial company migrated to a low-wage country - or because the company simply went bankrupt. This is a monumental disappointment, and the temptation to seek scapegoats for such a blow is great. Donald Trump plays a key role here because he expresses what many of his supporters suspect.

It is a well-known phenomenon: Sections of the population who lose traditional privileges tend to blame those who, unlike them, are a little better off than they used to be. The reverse conclusion is quickly made: Precisely because the others - Latinos, blacks, gays, women, foreigners, Muslims, Chinese, whoever - are better today, «us» are worse off. Trump is not afraid to base his message on this fallacy. If “we” only put these others in their place again, “us” will automatically be better off, and “we” will make America great again.

Trump supporters, this emerges from many conversations and encounters, feel like victims. Conventional politics have not been able to give them the answers that make sense to them. For this, ideologies were thrown around their ears, the pure conservative doctrine preached, power games demonstrated in Washington. Trump's supporters are not ideologues, these are excellently represented by Cruz. Trump's supporters are not social romantics either, they have found their figurehead in Bernie Sanders. Trump's supporters suffer, so they want to turn down and accept that they will hurt others. Offering you an alternative will not be easy. But giving it up would be politically disastrous.