If you ask a Trump supporter why they voted for Trump, or why they continue to defend his indefensible actions, it will be an exercise in futility. Facts and reality are irrelevant to otherwise intelligent and decent people. This is not a phenomenon that can be understood intellectually. It is an emotional process, and if you ask the Trump supporter to describe how they feel and why, then you may begin to understand their decision – and quite possibly agree with them.
In Michigan before Trump, the Democratic Party stood for one thing: they stood up for the working people. That ended during the Clinton Administration when they abandoned the core principle of economic justice and put the Party in bed with Wall Street. Repealing Glass-Steagall sowed the seeds of a bitter harvest for everyone except Wall Street. NAFTA was negotiated without regard to the impact on labor. Abandoning economic justice as a core principle was a betrayal of working Americans and opened the floodgates to the corrupting influence of big money.
To disguise their betrayal of working people, Democrats adopted the liberal equivalent of Nixon’s Southern Strategy: identity politics. They divided Americans (and their own constituencies) based on socially defined identity, instead of uniting them on economic justice. The net effect in Michigan was that the Democratic base was fractured, and everyone suffered economically. Identity politics is the reason why otherwise tolerant, decent people are willing to accept Trump’s divisive rhetoric at times – it reassures them that Trump is still “anti-Establishment” – and it has been effective in diverting from the fact that our government (and media) is controlled by a few very rich people and corporations.
The implications of the Trump victory in Michigan is as profound as it is disturbing. The wide-spread belief that money has corrupted all of government and both political parties, and that our present government exists to serve only the richest Americans and Corporations has caused a rejection of the traditional Two-Party system. When decent, hard-working and patriotic Americans have lost any hope that government will serve their needs, then it is the beginning of the angry mob. When Trump fails, and he will, then it will be past the time to worry. It will be time to run for cover. Trump is a demagogue, and demagogues who gain power are a symptom of a malignant process that has historically led to social unrest and violence.
This is the real existential redefining going on: it is us against the government and both Parties. This is how the Trump supporters I know feel, and to my astonishment, it is also how I feel.