As I argue with Trump supporters — or at least watch as they stamp around like Rumpelstiltskins when the real identity of their hero is revealed — something about the Donald’s following is beginning to make sense to me. Despite all the talk about “Making America Great Again” and defeating his foes, foreign and domestic, Trump is selling a rather different product to many disaffected Americans: an opportunity for a glorious, thrilling defeat.
As a native Southerner, I am familiar with the appeal of this product. It’s what Lost Cause literature is about. Your cause is just, and not the cause that your enemies claim you are fighting for. But you are outnumbered. You are outgunned. The establishment is against you. You are better, you are more noble. But you will probably lose just because of sheer force of numbers. So you might as well go down fighting for what you believe in, defiantly and gloriously. In Trump’s case, I think the tell is all the talk about him being “politically incorrect.” That’s a relevant criterion for hiring a reality TV star or a talk-show host. But whether a potential president’s comments are provocative or transgressive seems to me to be much less important than what the president is actually proposing to do, and whether such programs will work as advertised.
Trumpkins often prove to be either blissfully unaware or manifestly uninterested in the details of Trump’s agenda. Liberals and commentators hold this up as evidence that large swaths of the GOP electorate are dumb. But I think many remain unaware of or uninterested in the details of the Trump program for a rational reason: they have no real expectation that their man will actually be president. They’ll say he’s a winner in public. It’s part of the braggadocio he purveys and they are getting to share in at the moment. In their heart of hearts, however, they know Trump won’t win. Don’t underestimate the attraction of the Lost Cause. It makes defeatism glamorous.