It looks a lot more like a cult that a political movement. Trump himself marvels at the loyalty of his supporters. “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn’t lose any voters, OK?” Trump remarked at a campaign stop at Dordt College in Sioux Center, Iowa. “It’s, like, incredible.”
Similarly, at one point as his limo pulled away from an event, Trump commented to his communications director Hope Hicks “look at these people. It’s literally a little bit sad.”
And his friend Howard Stern pointed out that “the people Trump despises most love him the most. He’d be disgusted by them.” Stern pleaded with his audience “go to Mar-a-Lago, see if there’s any people who look like you. I’m talking to you in the audience.”
To the forty percent or so of Americans who simply refuse to think badly of him, nothing Trump does can turn them off. Not his calling our troops who made the ultimate sacrifice “losers” and “suckers.” Not his unpresidential behavior at the debate. Not his tax dodging. Not his lying about the coronavirus epidemic.
It makes many of us wonder, what would it take to turn off Trump’s supporters?
Unfortunately, the answer is clear. According to research done by the Pew Research Center, about 35 percent of Americans believe the legacy of slavery no longer impacts Black people. Similarly, 54 percent of Americans believe we have done enough to give equal rights to Black people, or that we have gone too far. Thirty percent of Americans believe Black people and white people are treated fairly by the police and the justice system, and 41 percent believe Black people are treated fairly in employment contexts.
All this data points to an undeniable reality: there is still a substantial percentage of Americans, likely somewhere between 35 and 45 percent, who deny that racism is a problem. That group tends to skew male, white, and older. In other words, Trump’s base of support.
From his comments after the Charlottesville protests saying that there were “very fine people on both sides,” thus defending the violent white supremacists who were present, to his defense of the naming of military bases after treasonous confederate generals, to telling American-born Congresswomen of color to “go back” to the countries they came from rather than “loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States” how to run the government, Trump has signaled to his supporters that he can be counted on to protect white supremacy. This is what his supporters fundamentally like about him.
The one thing Trump could say that might turn off his supporters then is something that would indicate an openness to addressing white supremacy. His claims that he is not racist to the contrary, everything about Trump screams white supremacy, a fact that is recognized by admitted white supremacists.
Fortunately for Trump’s supporters, they likely have nothing to fear in this regard. Trump has shown time and again that white supremacy might be the one value he holds dear. Consider the following:
- In 1973, the Nixon administration sued Trump for violating the Fair Housing Act by refusing to rent to people of color.
- In the 1980s, according to a former casino employee, Kip Brown, “when Donald and Ivana came to the casino, the bosses would order all the black people off the floor,” he said. “It was the eighties, I was a teen-ager, but I remember it: they put us all in the back.”
- In 1989, Trump took out full page newspaper ads arguing that the Central Park Five should be put to death. Despite DNA evidence exonerating them, he has refused to back off from this position.
And that’s just like his supporters. So arguing that racism needs to be addressed is the only way he could betray these supporters. But unfortunately for America, Trump’s supporters need not fear this possibility.