Two Different Stories Being Told About Religious Folks Supporting President Trump (And Why It Matters Which Story We Tell)

Jacob Z. Hess, Ph.D.

If you’re breathing and living on Planet Earth, you know by now that Donald Trump has attracted the support of many Americans – including a surprising number of religious Americans.

But why?  Isn’t he living contrary (like, remarkably so) to much of what religious folks believe? If so, how could they possibly go along with his antics, let alone keep supporting him?  One evangelical writer, Warren Throckmorton, called this the “big puzzle” – namely, “Why would these moral crusaders fall behind a womanizer who bragged about sexual assault?”

That discrepancy is large (and consequential) enough, that is has generated seemingly endless theorizing and psychoanalysis to “figure out” this confusing move by many people of faith.

As Michael Gerson writes, “Trying to explain Trump voters has become something of a cottage industry, both for those who want to exploit them and for those who want to marginalize them.”

As one of those who been profoundly confused myself, I set out to ask religious people of my own faith who are (still) Trump supporters a simple question:  Why?  Help me understand…

Because I surely did not.

What surprised me was how much of a contrast their answers were to the prevailing narrative about those people.

Story #1. Trump supporters are motivated by a deep-seated hostility to minorities (right beneath the surface of their professed moral/religious sentiments).

Two scholars from Columbia University and the University of Chicago have recently summarized this prevailing view in recent essays:

  • Speaking of those attempting to explain Trump supporters, Sociologist Musa al-Gharbi likewise states: “Because [Donald Trump] violated their personal sensibilities so severely. They thought that the only way someone could vote for Trump would be if there was some something wrong with them: They must be crazy, sexist, racist, or just incredibly ignorant.”
  • Philosopher David Barr puts it this way: “From the perspective of his critics, [Donald Trump’s] ethos, rhetoric, and politics are so self-evidently evil, they cannot imagine how anyone could support him from anything other than depravity or ignorance.”

Based on this logic, Barr goes on to lay out what has become taken for granted by many as the “two obvious explanations” for the numbers of religious conservatives supporting Trump:  “1) they have abandoned their once-noble principles” and “2) those principles were only ever a smokescreen behind which operated racism, classism, xenophobia, and other forms of prejudice.”

 End of story:  Bigotry + Hypocrisy. 

As simplistic as that may sound, it’s very clearly (and very quickly) become the dominant storyline to explain what’s happening. Thus, one journalist writes, “The idea that it was economic anguish that fueled Trumpism is just not true. All of the social scientists who have broken it down said, ‘Look, the central determinant of why people became ardent Trump supporters, or Trump supporters at all, was racial animus.’”

More and more voices have thus insisted that underlying and endemic “white rage” explains Trump’s popularity. In this view, as al-Gharbi summarizes, “White Americans rose up in 2016 to dismantle the legacy of America’s first black president, Barack Obama — and to reclaim what is rightfully ‘theirs.’ Trump was elected primarily because of racial resentment, and he maintains his hold on power by playing to Americans’ latent sympathies with white supremacy.”

So, does this explain the situation?

Only if we selectively overlook contradictory data…so says Dr. al-Gharbit – a scholar famous for predicting a Trump victory long before anyone saw it coming.

Overlooked data.  In the year since the election, Dr. al-Gharbi has raised alarm at how other researchers have been so “disturbingly confident to declare an epidemic of racism among whites because 37% of eligible non-Hispanic white voters cast their ballots for Trump.” In a recent peer-reviewed paper, he argues that “the ‘white supremacy’ thesis not only lacks empirical support, it is confounded by the very data it seeks to explain.” In particular, al-Gharbi cautions against the widespread tendency to “conflate (often begrudging) tolerance for Trump’s racialized remarks and policies with active endorsement of his racial appeals.” In other words, al Gharbi is expressesing caution about drawing causation from correlation, aka, “(i) Trump repeatedly made racially/culturally inflammatory remarks. (ii) Trump won the white vote. (iii) Therefore, Trump won the white vote because of his appeals to white supremacy.”

He goes on to detail four statistics that contradict the white supremacy hypothesis behind Trump support.

1. Many supported Obama before they supported Trump. “First, many of the white voters who proved most decisive for Trump’s victory actually voted for Obama in both 2008 and 2012. Indeed, according to one Democratic political firm, the Global Strategy Group, these defections explain more than 70% of why Clinton lost.”

2. Whites didn’t vote in surprising numbers. “Second, Trump did not mobilize or energize whites towards the ballot box. Their participation rate was roughly equivalent to 2012 – and lower than in 2008. In fact, whites actually made up a smaller share of the electorate than they had in previous cycles, while Hispanics, Asians and racial ‘others’ comprised larger shares than they did in 2012 or 2008.”

3. Trump fared worse among old white voters than Romney. Responding to the common argument[1] that “Trump was ushered into power by old, white, economically-threatened men,” al-Gharbi notes that “at the very least the ‘white supremacy’ thesis would seem to entail Trump winning a larger share of those whites who did turn out to vote. In fact, Trump won a smaller share of the white vote than Mitt Romney did in 2012. However, he outperformed his predecessor with Hispanics and Asians, and won the largest share of the black vote of any Republican since 2004.”[2]

4. Obama remained widely (and increasingly) admired during the election. “In the lead-up to the election, Obama was far more popular than both Clinton and Trump – indeed, he grew more popular over the course of the 2016 cycle, even as the appeal of his would-be successors plummeted. According to Gallup, even a year into Trump’s presidency Barack Obama remained America’s ‘most admired man.’ This seems inconsistent with the notion that the election was an uprising against Barack Obama – as a symbol or a politician.”

In light of these data points, al-Gharbi notes that if the Trump election were a “referendum on Obama” (or race), the data is the “exact opposite” of what we would expect – and “challenges the idea that Trump ‘rally the white vote (again, Trump did not).”  Indeed, he concludes that all of the foregoing “seems inconsistent with the thesis that Trump spearheaded an ethnic nationalist uprising.” Even more, al-Gharbi speculates that “looking at whites’ stagnant turnout in 2016 and Republicans’ lowered vote share among whites as compared to 2012 – it could be that Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric was, on balance, a drag on his candidacy among white voters, rather than being the key to his electoral success.”

Dr. al-Gharbi continues, “Was race a critical factor in the 2016 election? Undoubtedly. But of course, this can be said of virtually every electoral cycle in American history – including the 2008 and 2012 races which resulted in the election and re-election of Barack Obama. The specific ways race influences politics are far more complex and unpredictable than the analyses of [white rage scholars] seem to suggest – even among those who voted for Trump.”[3]

Scholar David Barr agrees.  Citing what he calls a “crisis misunderstanding in American politics,” he writes that, “there is a deeper meaning beyond this apparently obvious one [it’s all about racism], and realistic political analysis requires that we recognize it.”

So, what would that be?

Story #2. Trump supporters are doing what makes pragmatic sense (within their worldview), given the growing fear and angst they have felt at becoming culturally marginalized. 

My own experience is that progressive friends consistently underestimate the degree of (existential) fear that was generated among religious conservatives during President Obama’s administration – not because he was black, but because of the way he was popularizing a reassessment of Judeo-Christian teachings about the world (especially around sexuality). Conservatives are, undoubtedly, making precisely the same underestimation right now of left-leaning Americans and the degree of raw, existential fear among many of them during this administration.

In both direction, the accusations continue to fly – and with greater intensity.  Maybe it’s time to look at the significant impact of these hostile-and-mutual condemnations on the dangerous trajectory we are traveling on together?

For instance, it’s precisely these kinds of accusations that al-Gharbi first warned progressives about in May of 2016 when he first predicted a Trump victory (see article, “Donald Trump has an easier path to victory than you think”). At the time, he wrote, “Many Trump supporters may well be racist, xenophobic or misogynistic—but if the Democrats think that it will be a winning strategy to sling these kinds of labels at the Donald, then they are going to be in for a nasty surprise in November” – adding, “if the Clinton camp attempts to disparage people who hold these kinds of views as ignorant and bigoted, they are going to be alienating far more voters than they can likely afford.”  He continued (and this next part is especially important):

Exacerbating this trend is something I call “negative intersectionality”: progressives have done a great job framing racial inequality, feminism and LGBTQ rights as part of the same basic struggle. However, this association works both ways. Accusations of misogyny, for instance, are often heard in the context of a fundamentally anti-white, anti-Christian culture war—a zero-sum campaign waged against ordinary hard-working Americans by condescending and politically correct liberal elites. As a result, many conservative white women who may be disturbed by Trump’s remarks would simultaneously feel antipathy toward liberals when they encounter a pro-Clinton ad that highlights those comments. Some may even come to view Trump more sympathetically if Democrats attempt to paint him as anti-woman or anti-minority.

Did you hear that? These enormously widespread accusations of racism and sexism and lots-of-other-isms (against conservatives and conservative institutions) may well have solidified support for Trump.

But once again, why?  Is it just because those conservative bumpkins are all racist and sexist?

No – at least not according to his analysis.  Instead, al-Gharbi argues that Trump support gets solidified precisely because racism and sexism have been presented as a package-deal along with new isms like “heterosexism” – which essentially re-frames the entire Judeo-Christian canon as fundamentally bigoted.

Those, you see, are fighting words – and have been (accurately?) interpreted as an existential threat by conservative people of faith all over the country.

Fighting a real threat.  Rather than petty worries, I cannot emphasize how acutely religious conservatives have felt dramatic progressive advances threaten their own ability to live out their own faith – leading them to feel increasingly culturally sidelined and forced to the “margins.”

And if we’re being honest, that’s precisely the way some activists have wanted it, right?

David Brooks is one who has recognized and articulated this underlying angst: “The main reason Trump won the presidency is that tens of millions of Americans rightly feel that their local economies are under attack, their communities are dissolving and their religious liberties are under threat. Trump understood the problems of large parts of America better than anyone else. He has been able to strengthen his grip on power over the past year because he has governed as he campaigned. Until somebody comes up with a better defense strategy, Trump and Trumpism will dominate. Voters are willing to put up with a lot of nonsense for a president they think is basically on their side.

Michael Gerson writes similarly, “When liberals speak of gun control, many conservatives hear contempt for their entire manner of living. When liberals speak of diversity, many conservatives hear reverse discrimination and the promise of oppressive speech codes. To his supporters, Trump does not merely hold their views; he takes their side in a social conflict. Even if Trump betrays his ideological commitments, it is unlikely to undermine the support of 35 to 40 percent of Americans. Tribal loyalties are not broken over policy disagreements.”

Brooks added, “In any tribal war people tend to bury individual concerns and rally to their leader.” To Brooks’ point, Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council in a recent Politico interview spoke frankly, stating that evangelical Christians “were tired of being kicked around by Barack Obama and his leftists. And I think they are finally glad that there’s somebody on the playground that is willing to punch the bully.”

Reflecting on this Perkins comment, John Stackhouse writes, “This startling metaphor of schoolyard pain, humiliation, resentment, and vengeance goes far to explain why evangelicals would rally behind the ‘baddest hombre’ in the GOP bunch of presidential candidates.”

He’s defending us, so we’re willing to overlook lots of other stuff.  In all the people I’ve spoken with, I’ve never heard anyone tell Donald Trump was their first pick. They do, however, have plenty to say about the rationale leading them to make a compromise pick with President Trump.  For example, one woman told me:

In a perfect world, I would like a moral, godly person who understood the importance of limited government and individual freedom. But we live in a fallen world, and most people fall short of my wishes. When I vote for anyone, I think about the job I’m asking them to do: Will they protect my freedom of speech? Will they protect my freedom to worship? Will they do anything to make the huge, unaccountable government agencies less intrusive?….Will they try to create an environment where businesses can thrive? Will they encourage risk-taking and innovation for businesses? Will they try to move the country toward fewer abortions?

She continued, “The way I see it, I am hiring an executive to do executive things. I don’t need a moral leader in a president, because I have my own moral leaders already. Individual freedom and the ability to speak and worship freely are of supreme importance to me.  These principles are very much in line with my faith.  I will vote for people who champion those ideas. Trump fits the criteria for me. The economy is growing. Taxes have been cut slightly. Conservative judges are being appointed. This is why I support him.”

One man wrote me, “I’m aware that Trump is deeply flawed but what was important for me was the policies he supports which I find moral. I heard the analogy once about which doctor would you choose: one that is the nicest guy you’d ever meet but was incompetent as a doctor or an extremely competent doctor that had a deeply flawed character? It seems God has always chosen the ‘weak things of the world to do his work.’”  After citing this Biblical verse, he went on to cite another scripture talking about “a King that eased the burden on his people and did justice to his people but not unto himself. I guess that’s how I have experienced Trump.”

He concluded with this interesting comparison, “I think Obama was amazing politician even though I didn’t find many his policies moral. Maybe he has good character but I don’t believe he did justice by his people.”

Several people emphasized how some of the poor personal behavior was not abnormal in the history of American leaders – “His morals do bother me but many of our great leaders have had major moral problems – Benjamin Franklin, Kennedy, Martin Luther King.  For instance, Martin Luther King wasn’t faithful to his wife at all and was with many other women, yet no one focuses on that, they focus on the good that he did do.  I believe at the end of the day Trump wants to do good for America.”

Another man acknowledged:

I know he has a bad boy past.  Yes, he has said things about women and yes, he has had 3 marriages. But I’m not electing the prophet.  Andrew Jackson was a slave owner who raped and killed slaves.  Yet he was an important general who saved our bacon.  Clinton and, Nixon [had issues], JFK even slept with Marilyn Monroe.  Wilson had a private screening of a racist movie in the White House and so on.  To me there isn’t really a dignity of the office.  Each President is a human being.  They will do good and bad.

He went on to quote a leader of his own faith, who argued that people should “elect honorable men and women.”  He then added:

[But] repentance applies to presidents too. All the sordid past with Trump in my investigation was just that: in the past.  I saw no repeated behaviors that seemed to prove true.  Yes, he runs his mouth and his Twitter mouth.  But every New Yorker that I have known does the same thing and acts the same way.  Sure, I don’t agree with it all. Sure, he could react different but it seemed effective to stir the pot for change.

Another person told me, “Many would ask me how could you support someone like this?  Now I don’t support his morals at all & find that part of him very disappointing.  I did find that when he talked in terms of his vision for America & his policies – I largely agreed with him.  I believe what Ben Shapiro says ‘you can like Trump’s policies while admitting he’s character deficient.’”  This person continued, “I don’t look to Trump as my spiritual leader in any way or form.  Would I like the President to be the most moral person on earth? Sure, I would. But unfortunately, we didn’t have that choice.  It was Trump vs. Hillary and I, personally, thought that was an easy choice.”

These comments are more reflective of the nuanced, pragmatic reasons why religious conservatives have continued to support Trump. To paraphrase liberal commentator Van Jones, “Trump supporters regularly and forcefully rejected or expressed disquiet with many of his racialized statements or policy proposals, but voted for him nonetheless because there were other parts of his platform they found it essential to support, or because he was just viewed as the least-worst option relative to Hillary Clinton.”

Machiavelli on the rise. Are there problems with some of these conclusions and rationales?  Of course, there are.

While all people are more willing to forgive someone’s faults if they are “on their team,” that ends-justify-the-means willingness seems to be growing in troubling ways.   One recent survey showed remarkable decreases in American’s concerns about honest generally – with Republicans, in particular, more than than four times as likely today as in 2015 to say they would vote for a presidential candidate if they agree with him or her “on most issues, yet believe they are sometimes less than honest and would lie to cover up the truth.”

About these results, Monika McDermott, professor of political science at Fordham University wrote, “It’s not just about whether a politician is lying or not. It’s whether he’s lying on my behalf.”

So desperate are many religious conservatives to defend their tribe and way of life, that seem to matter anymore how that happens.  Speaking of this defense and advancement of religious conservative faith, Clemson sociologist Andrew Whitehead was recently quoted as saying, “How that project is achieved is of little consequence to them. They believe God can use anyone, ‘even a thrice married, non-pious, self-proclaimed public playboy.'”

But once again, why are Christians so willing to do something so rash?  If we are to have more of an honest conversation about the reasons religious Americans are supporting Trump, the deeper disquiet and angst at play must be more seriously considered.

From fear to anger.  For many (especially religious) conservatives, the darker emotion they have labored with is fear – and anxiety of being marginalized at the fringes of society for their own faith convictions.  But it’s true that for most all conservatives (including many religious ones), that fear began to morph over time into a deeper anger and frustration at the liberal attack on what they held dear.

One younger man I interviewed said he was “so frustrated with politics” that he became attracted to Donald Trump as a potential “wrench in works.” He explained that it was “not as much love him, but how much I hate PC culture.”  He told me “we needed a break” in the progression of change that was “happening too fast.” He said, “What are we supposed to be doing as conservatives – with gay marriage, transgender bathroom…all issues hitting us left and right?” Despite some of these cultural shifts flying in the face of conservative morality, it felt to this man (and many others) like these changes were “rammed down our throat, with no outreach.”  Whether or not we were morally against something, the message was, “now ACCEPT it.”

He continued, “You either fall in line, or you’re a bigot – a piece of sh*. I’m afraid to be called a homophobic.  I should be able to question, without being a bigot.  But if you don’t fall in line with the program, you are left in the dust.”

In summary, he said, “I knew going in I wouldn’t like everything that would happen but American in my view needed a swift kick in the pants!” He went on to insist that a large percentage of Trump supporters are conflicted: “a lot of Trump supporters don’t like the guy” but see him as a regretfully necessary “grenade in the political system.” “That’s what Trump is – he’s simply a grenade.”[4]

Another man told me about being attracted to Trump’s willingness to say things without worrying about what was PC: “I loved how frankly he spoke. I like how he speaks whatever is on his mind …and is so transparent.” While going on to acknowledge “sure, he says some outlandish things,” it seemed clearly refreshing to this man (and many others) to have someone out front able and willing to say things contrary to progressive culture.

Another man told me, “I saw Trump as someone who spoke to the concerns of those so easily forgotten in our politics.”

Survival at stake. Here’s the way I would summarize this all:  When you’re backed into a corner, you do things you wouldn’t usually do.  You do things you might otherwise see as crazy or stupid.  You do whatever it takes to survive.

That’s how many conservatives felt leading up to election – and isn’t it exactly how many liberals are primed to act with the next one?

In both cases, desperation can lead to extreme decisions (and yes…bad decisions).  In this, I agree with Steve Almond, that “rage that has clouded our thoughts.”[5]

Doesn’t that apply to all of us right now?

If so, what would it mean to actually pay attention to that rage. That fear.  That hurt.

And talk about it….rather than doing what we keep doing:  ignoring the deeper, underlying feelings and painful states – instead, accusing each other of being inherently deficient kinds of human beings.

Joan Blades, the progressive founder of who I adore, recently asked in an open letter published on the NBC news site: “Do conservatives feel the same fear and embarrassment as I do over President Trump?” Joan went on to share her earnest curiosity, “I need to understand what my Republican friends see that I’m not seeing.”

I’ve asked her twice now, “Joan – have you heard from any conservatives in response to your question?”

“Not one, Jacob – except you.”

Joan is not the only one scared. And I think we can do more than helping her understand us.  I think we can work as conservatives to understand her concern – and that of minority communities living in greater fear right now, especially refugee communities getting families torn apart.

That kind of understanding has changed my life in every way.  My dearest friends do not share my socio-political-religious ideology.

They still drive me nuts sometimes.  But they’ve won my heart.  And I cannot help but want to understand their fear and pain.

Over and over, I have seen them willing to do the same for me too.

That is why this matters.  And it’s why the way we explain what’s happening – on the left and the right, matters too.  Depending on how explain things, we do different things as a result.

And we see different things.

We also might just not do other things – and not be able to see a large part of what’s happening.

What we’re seeing + not seeing. When you’re in survival mode, for instance, you’re hyper-focused on your own needs – and considering less the worries of others (e.g., those feeling marginalized and frightened by those in power at different times – minorities, immigrant groups, and religious conservatives themselves).

From this vantage point, whether or not President Trump “says the right things,” matters less than his actions and steps that help protect a beleaguered (conservative) community. And admittedly, almost all conservatives feel that Trump has made some decisions (Supreme Court, taxes, health care) that give conservative communities space to breathe – and not face fierce attacks so relentlessly. As one man put it, “If the only thing he did as a President was nominate a conservative to the supreme court that would be better than anything Hillary would’ve done.  I actually think he’s done a lot more than that though with a great tax cut, etc.”

All this has led many supporters of the President to do what is baffling to many of the rest of us:  stick with him.  Indeed, for many supporters, this has led to a sincere and ongoing belief that President Trump is doing (or at least trying to do) what is best for America.[6]

So how have the rest of us responded to this surprisingly consistent support for President Trump?

More accusations.

Reactions engendering more resistance.  Rather than try to understand more deeply these deeper fears and frustrations shaping Trump support, the most common reaction continues to be more of the same:  accusations of racist, sexist intent among his supporter.[7]

Here, we return to al-Gharbi:Labelling Trump voters as bigots – simply because they voted for the Republican in 2016 – will likely stir up resentment against those who seem to be promulgating the charge (academics, journalists and activists – especially minorities). Voters may double-down on their support for Trump, when they might otherwise defect, simply in order to ‘stick it’ to those disparaging them. They may even come to believe, on the basis of experts’ ubiquitous racialized narratives, that Trump is the best candidate to promote white voters’ interests– despite whatever problems they may have with what he has said or done so far.”

He continued, “In other words, by demonizing Trump supporters as racist, social researchers may be laying the groundwork for the very negative externalities they wish to avoid (i.e. Trump’s reelection, increased resentment against the media, the academy, minorities, etc.).”

Another way to say it is this:  since so many conservatives have themselves either been called (or feared being called) “bigoted” or “sexist” or “racist” or “misogynist” – labels that so often feel unfair, unjustified, and extremely condemning – when they hear Donald Trump being called the same, it stirs up resentment of the people making the accusations, even more than the accused.

It’s kind of like, “These people (accusing Trump) are not on our side – and they will come for me next.”

That’s how many conservatives find themselves.  Thus, attacks on President Trump can feel like proxy attacks on his voters, “oh, so you’re saying I SUPPORT a racist took uh?”

All these dynamics serve to underscore and further calcify the convictions of President Trump’s supporters – and their resistance to outside attacks that have come to feel relentless. Indeed, from this vantage point, the fierce media reaction is just more evidence of liberal hostility towards conservatives in America – with Trump recast as an ongoing victim of this enormous media animosity.[8]

Can you see where all this is going?

As philosopher C. Terry Warner has pointed out, it’s often the case that our intense reactions to other people help engender the perpetuation of the very conditions that are driving us nuts.

Could this be happening in America right now?

Another way.  If Dr. al-Gharbi and others are right, the degree to which prevailing narratives of Trump supporters are taken for granted – accusing them of underlying hostility to minorities as a whole – reinforces (and potentially exacerbates) the very same dynamics that ushered President Trump into office.

If, by comparison, we make space to inquire into the deeper dynamics that have led people (including many in my faith community – and other religious Americans) to their surprising support Trump, we may well come away understanding how to begin addressing people’s deeper fears.

What if these kinds of fears could be heard on both sides right now?  What if the frustrations and anger could be acknowledged and understood on both sides right now?  How might it change things to have these deeper dynamics brought to the surface, examined and explored together….right now? 

We might well come away, from such a conversation, seeing very similar human beings on the other side of the divide:  with fears as real as our own, and honest-to-goodness disagreements about how the world works.

Neither liberals or conservatives seem to be seeing much of this these days. Can we change that?

Maybe not – at least, not on a large scale.

But maybe we can do something else:  maybe all those who do want this to change could gather together and find each other in this political moment.  Maybe this could bring together a new kind of Tribe – those who care about truth (the full truth), and equality (for all – left and right), and freedom (for all – left and right) – into a new kind of community.

I think I’ve experienced that in microcosm.  And it’s as sweet as anything I’ve found.

And I’ve met others, like Evan McMullin and Joan Blades, who are putting themselves out there to call for this radical gathering to take place.

The joy and peace I’ve felt in even attempting this work of “treasonous friendship” is what keeps me hopeful about the future.  No matter whatever else happens, those who care about these things will find each other in the end.

And we’ll build whatever we need to build after this moment of fear, anger and delusion passes.

For now, the work is to understand – betraying those who would only stir us up into an even greater agitated froth.

Please, don’t misunderstand Trump supporters.  And give them a chance to move past their misunderstandings of you.

It’s so worth it.  And it can make a difference for all of us.



[1] He cites this article as illustration, Brianna Provenzano. “Who Voted for Trump? Old White Men, According to Exit-Polls. Lots of Them.” PolicyMic, 10 November 2016.

[2] Al-Gharbi elaborates, “Trump not only garnered stagnant turnout and a smaller vote-share among whites relative to Mitt Romney – he was nonetheless able to win because he also received a larger share among Asians and Hispanics (who did turn out in higher numbers), not to mention African Americans. Should we assume that Asians, Latinos and blacks were also motivated primarily by racism.”

[3] The larger caution, above, is that in “many ways statistical and historical facts have been distorted to caricaturize Trump supporters as racist (not to mention ignorant, irrational, misogynistic, etc.).” Al-Gharbi summarizes: “Researchers have also tended to hold strong negative opinions about Trump and have approached research with uncharitable priors about the kind of person who would support him and what they would be motivated by.” In this way, “analyses of the roles of race and racism in the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election seem to have been systematically distorted as a result.” He concludes, “Ultimately, however, these are problems which all social scientists must remain vigilant against, and which we all have a stake in working to address.”

[4] Consistently, al-Gharbi writes, “a plurality of the public wanted radical change, even to the point of nihilism. They hated the establishment, including their own parties and leaders. They had no confidence that the kinds of solutions which have been peddled to them in election after election would ever be implemented—or would sufficiently improve their lives if they were. They found the status quo to be insufferable.”

[5] Steve Almond wisely draws a glimpse from Moby-Dick as guidance for this political moment: “It is this volcanic sense of grievance that fuels Melville’s saga, that binds the crew of the Pequod—a coterie of races and temperaments, immigrants and exiles, one for each state of the union—to their leader. ‘Ahab’s quenchless feud seemed mine,’ Ishmael tells us, rather helplessly. Who can blame the kid? Ahab is something like a natural force, a vortex of vindication as mighty as the beast he pursues. Not even the prophecies of his own mystical harpooner—who foresees the mission culminating in a hearse made of American wood—can moderate his impulses. After four years of maniacal pursuit, Ahab spots his enemy and attacks. It does not go well. The wounded whale smites the Pequod, drowning all aboard and rendering the ship a hearse. Melville is offering a mythic account of how one man’s virile bombast can ensnare everyone and everything it encounters.” He continues, “The great peril of our age is not that we have turned into a nation of Ahabs, but of Ishmaels, passive observers too willing to embrace feuds that nourish our rancor and starve our common sense. It is this Manichean outlook that laid the groundwork for the ascent of Donald Trump and has, as of this writing, sustained his chaotic reign.”

[6] For instance, one man told me, “I genuinely believe that Trump is doing what he feels is best for the country.” When I asked, “so when people say he’s not focused on the country” – and mostly focused on himself you would disagree?

He said, “well that’s the line you hear.”

Because he is threatening to the prevailing system, another man told me, “There is a worldwide effort to discredit him.”

[7] While there have been some legitimate attempts to probe these deeper feelings, even these often meander their way to similar pathologizing of conservatives. 

[8] Another man told me, “He’s doing a lot of good.  And he’s definitely not as bad as the media paints him out to be.  Because they, themselves, have felt so demonized and distorted in the national media, this makes sense. I think it’s amazing that he’s sticking with the job with 95% of the media all over him everyday, criticizing every word & action.  It’s pretty incredible that he can take that all on & keep ticking.”

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