Donald J. Trump’s persistent refusal to concede an election in which he earned 7 million fewer votes than his opponent and the unwavering legion of disciples who continue to back him demonstrate serious fissures in American democracy.
It’s not like we weren’t warned. Popular culture is filled with cautionary political tales from Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 novel “It Can’t Happen Here” to David Simon’s recent miniseries “The Plot Against America,” based on the 2004 Philip Roth novel.
And then there’s Elia Kazan’s eerily familiar 1957 film, “A Face in the Crowd.”
Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, played brilliantly by Andy Griffith, is a good-for-nothing drunk who uses his down-home country charm to morph into a national hero. Not until his discoverer, Marcia Jeffries, played by Patricia Neal, deliberately opens the microphone during his popular TV show do admirers encounter the real Lonesome Rhodes.
“You know what the public’s like?” he asks as the show’s credits roll. “A cage full of guinea pigs. Good night, you stupid idiots. Good night, you miserable slobs. They’re a lot of trained seals. I toss them a dead fish and they’ll flap their flippers.”
That’s where Lonesome’s populist hold on the public ends. Exposed as a faux “man of the people,” he’s done in by his own arrogance and self-interest.
Created at the dawn of the television age, Kazan’s film received scant critical acclaim at the time, too unrecognizable to the day’s nascent TV viewers. Today, it looks absolutely prophetic, as Lonesome Rhodes has become Donald Trump with just one glaring difference: Trump’s popularity has not budged an inch among his ardent supporters despite several of his own “hot mic” moments.
It began with the 2016 release of the infamous Access Hollywood tape, which reveals Trump desire for grabbing women by the genitals. It continued throughout his Twitter-saturated presidency, underscored by a 2020 interview with Bob Woodward that exhibited his knowledge of coronavirus’ dangers months before its arrival in America.
No matter what he’s said or done, Trump has never lost the confidence of his base. Even after losing the election. Even after losing 51 post-election lawsuits to overturn the result. Even after losing a lawsuit before the Supreme Court that 17 states and 126 Republican congressional representatives had endorsed. Still, the devotion endures. On Saturday, “Thousands of people gathered in downtown D.C. to show support for the president” one day after his Supreme Court defeat.
Why all of this delirious adoration for a deceitful sore loser?
Adam M. Enders, assistant professor of political science at the University of Louisville, and Joseph E. Uscinski, associate professor of political science at the University of Miami, theorize it’s not so much Trump the man that his supporters adore as it is the iconoclastic aura he brings to public life.
“Trump’s unique contribution to American electoral politics was harnessing anti-establishment views, imbuing them with legitimacy and making it advantageous for other politicians to voice such views, as well,” write the professors in a Politico article. “These sentiments remain a fixture of the American political landscape, lying in wait to be taken advantage of by the next strategic politician seeking to broaden his or her base and execute policy goals at any cost.”
Trumpism has taken hold in Connecticut, as well – particularly in the eastern portion of the state – as evidenced by a Hartford Courant article profiling the president’s many supporters who like Trump’s “toughness and unapologetic populism” and who appreciate his “willingness to put their interests ahead of the rest of the world.”
In short, the durability of the Trump spectacle is the result of a perfect storm: a suffering middle-class, a dysfunctional D.C. political system, and a polarized social-media landscape. According to the largely white, middle-aged and senior citizens who comprise his base, Trump is the remedy for this malaise – despite all of his irreverent bombast and dishonesty. So, even after Trump ultimately exits Washington, the sentiment he sowed will likely remain.
Until younger Americans take the reins.
As Melissa Deckman, professor of political science at Washington College, notes in the same Politico piece, “[The Trump] administration’s rejection of science, its refusal to address gun violence and its dismissal of youth-led racial, gender and LGBTQ equality movements have been wholly out of step with the priorities of [Generation Z], who are growing up with existential concerns about systemic racism, the well-being of the planet and mass shootings in their schools and on their streets.”
Adds Noah Pransky of NBC News, “Exit poll data indicates adults under 30 favored Democrat Joe Biden over Republican Donald Trump by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, with young people of color leaning significantly more left.”
Put simply, while the older, whiter supporters of Trump yearn to bring back an insular, homogenous, factory-model America, younger citizens view this vision as one of denial and regression that can be fixed only with diversity, technology, and globalism.
Generation Z and younger Millennials, in other words, know that Donald Trump is nothing more than the latest Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes. That’s why they’re more than willing to kick him to the curb. Doing that, however, also requires dispensing with Trump’s stubborn band of supporters. It’s a task much easier said than done.
Barth Keck is an English teacher and assistant football coach who teaches courses in journalism, media literacy, and AP English Language & Composition at Haddam-Killingworth High School.
The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.