What in Donald Trump’s message still resonates among so many?
By Chris Honoré
During the four years of Donald Trump’s tenure, I found myself growing increasingly cynical regarding the American voter. I was stunned in 2016 when nearly 63 million Americans voted for him and he defeated Hillary Clinton (actually, he didn’t win the popular vote, but did win the Electoral College vote.)
What had those millions seen in this man? What resonating message had they heard? And I watched in disbelief as supporters soon stood in long lines, wearing those now-familiar talismanic red hats that all but shouted, “Make America Great Again,” four words that would soon become the now-familiar acronym known as MAGA.
At rally after rally, prior to and during his presidency, backers carried defiant Trump flags, wore in-your-face Trump T-shirts, embraced his every utterance, and cheered in adoration when he appeared on the dais, walking slowly back and forth, clapping, while the Lee Greenwood song “God Bless The US.A.” played in the background.
I puzzled and wondered: What did they see that I was missing? Why were they so eager to take a metaphorical knee? Hadn’t we watched the same “Access Hollywood” movie? Heard his declaration of being Putin’s BFF (“best friend forever”), and claimed he had received love letters from the pudgy North Korean with the bad haircut? Weren’t they paying attention as scandal after scandal rippled through his administration? Were they unconcerned by the Mueller investigations, two impeachments, the extortion of the president of Ukraine, the “deep state” conspiracies and disinformation, while initially insisting that COVID-19 was a Democratic “hoax?” Were they in agreement when he denigrated the Fourth Estate (aka the “fake news,”) refused to wear a mask and resisted any mention of quarantines, and championed the efficacy of hydroxychloroquine as a virus remedy? And what begged understanding was the reverence paid to him by evangelical Christians, despite the payoffs to two women for their silence, and the millions paid in rebates for the Trump University scam.
How to possibly comprehend that after four years of observing the Trump administration, which I considered a train wreck, 74 million Americans still voted for him? And when he lost to Joe Biden, he quickly resurrected his go-to word “rigged” which soon morphed into “the big steal,” and “voter denial,” all while questioning the legitimacy of the Biden presidency. And it was this fairy tale — the election was stolen and therefore should be overturned — that became the through line to the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection, an attack planned and incited by Trump and his cohorts, and one that, as he sat in the White House dining room watching the mob smash windows and fight a pitched battle with the Capitol police, he was not about to stop. Why would he? This violent mob, they were his people. Even hearing the chilling chant “hang Mike Pence” did not give him pause. After all, his intended coup was underway, and our democracy (meaning the peaceful transfer of power) was simply defined by him as a restoration of his power at whatever cost.
And now, some two years later, Trump again stood behind a podium, this time at his Mar-a-Lago resort, and before a crowded room lined with American flags and enthusiastic supporters, smart-phones held high, recording the moment, once again declared his third candidacy for the presidency. Though the speech was long, demagogic, and filled with victimhood grievances, it can be summarized in just five words, uttered with conviction at the 2016 Republican nominating convention: “Only I can fix it.” Will Americans once again believe him?
Email Ashland resident Chris Honoré at firstname.lastname@example.org.