Why Voters Think Trump’s Act is Honest

Why Voters Think Trump’s Act is Honest


This piece will be appearing in newspapers in my part of Virginia.

According to a recent CBS poll

, voters see Donald Trump as different from his opponents in the presidential race because he is candid. He says what he thinks, and he means what he says.

But in two obvious ways, Trump is anything but candid.

First, much of what he’s saying now is the opposite of what he was saying not long ago.

Trump has taken a very hard-line position on immigration

. Yet only two years ago, he was telling advocates for immigrants, “You’ve convinced me.” He has reversed himself similarly on Hillary Clinton’s performance as Secretary of State. She has gone from doing a “good job”  to being the “worst Secretary of State in the history of the United States.” Likewise, he’s switched his position on issues like guns and abortion.

This is opportunism, not candor. This is saying whatever serves his immediate purposes.

The second reason for doubting Trump’s candor is that he often says things that he must know are false, or that anyone qualified to be president would know are false.

He has repeatedly declared that as president he would impose a “tax” (a tariff, actually) on goods imported from Mexico. A president can’t do that. The Constitution doesn’t allow it.

And Trump accuses the Mexican government of “sending” immigrants. What’s his evidence? He doesn’t say. Because there is none.

He characterizes the Mexicans in our midst as criminals, even though the data show their crime rate is lower than that of our native-born population. He tells us that the Hispanics “love” him; polls show the opposite.

Is someone candid who knowingly speaks falsely?

So what does it mean that this man is seen as authentic?

A voter who describes Trump as candid is really saying, “Trump is giving voice to feelings I’d express if I let myself speak freely.”

And what are those feelings? Trump is unlike any other figure we’ve ever seen in the presidential arena in how freely and powerfully he expresses:

• Hostility toward “the other” – especially people different from the traditional white majority. (White supremacists have expressed their appreciation at Trump’s bold rhetoric about the brown people crossing our borders).

• A lack of compassion for the vulnerable. (He sneers at “losers.”)

• Unbridled egotism, as manifested in extraordinary boasting. (Have we ever heard a candidate tell us — in so many ways  — how great he is?)

• Contempt for others in the arena with him.

(Ask Jeb Bush, Lindsey Graham, and Megyn Kelly.)

What emerges is a picture of an aggressive Me (both Trump as an individual, and the image of the nation that he proposes to lead) and a thirst for conflict.

There is a reason why people keep some passions under wraps – because they are ugly and dangerous.

But these are the very passions that have been encouraged by the Republican Party for a generation.  

What differentiates Trump from the rest of the GOP crowd is not the underlying posture.  As has been observed many times, Trump is in general (though not total) alignment with the Republican field on policy.

But what the GOP as a whole has conveyed through “dog whistle” codes, Donald Trump is expressing audibly and publicly.

That’s what makes him seem “candid” in comparison.

And that — his making visible the ugly set of passions that have been cultivated in a large segment of the American population — is also what makes him dangerous.

He’s a danger to the Republican Party because he’s making it obvious how the party has been cultivating the worst passions in its followers. But Donald Trump is a still greater danger to the nation if he should gain the power of the presidency.

Andy Schmookler’s new book is WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST: The Destructive Force at Work in Our World-and How We Can Defeat It.

  • Jim B

    Guess Trump had republicans figured out pretty easily. No matter how false your statements they seem to be believed. Kind of 1984, up is down and down is up. Instead of saying Trump is wrong his opponents just try to one up him.

    But, all in all it just shows how stupid part of our county is. That stupidity may just win the presidential election. It certainly has in parts of Va who have elected people like Dave Brat, Bob Hurt and so on.

  • Quizzical

    I keep watching Trump speeches to try to figure out what people are seeing in him.  I think it is simply because people are accepting his celebrity and wealth as valid proxies for all around competence.  

    Plus, he is basically promising to improve the situation of the middle class, by creating jobs and stopping the export of American jobs. In addition, he is ironically presenting himself as a populist, exposing the negative influence of big money on politics, and telling tales about how in the past he used to make political donations and would get favors in return.  Since he is a multi-billionaire, he says he would not be beholden to anybody.

    He does say politically incorrect things, but usually in the next breath, he is saying something that to soften his statement.  For example he will say negative things about the Chinese, but in the next breath he will say that he loves the Chinese and does a lot of business with them. He does a hell of a lot of backpedaling like that.  

    So I don’t think that demonizing Trump is going to work, as a political strategy, because he just doesn’t come across as being that evil.

    I think the danger really is Trump’s lack competence and experience, outside of the expertise he has acquired in real estate and real estate finance.  He’s a multi-billionaire, and that isn’t nothing, to say the least.  I wouldn’t be competent to even attempt to do his taxes for him.  

    But that doesn’t mean that Trump is competent or well-informed on any of the other major issues facing this country, both foreign and domestic.  Nor does it seem like he has made it his business to study the issues or to assemble “brain trusts” to advise him. This is most troubling to me where climate change is concerned.  He doesn’t have a clue and hasn’t even tried to get a clue, it seems.

    In a real debate, I think he would be mincemeat.  But he gets away with changing the subject all the time and blustering, and everyone seems afraid to call him out over that, because he is a multi-billionaire who carries grudges.


  • pol

    As a teenager, I found out first-hand how my friends never took responsibility for their actions. For instance, “Did I hurt your feelings? I didn’t mean to. I’m sorry.” Or,”Sure we’ll support you,” until you tell someone else your buddies are going to support you, and your buddies find out your position may be the right one, but an unpopular one. “I didn’t tell you that was a good idea.”

    They’d slap you on the back and tell you how much they like you, until you walk away, then they’d make fun of you and say what they really think about you.

    It’s interesting. Those folk haven’t changed a bit since I left home 43 years ago. Not long ago, they didn’t think there was a thing wrong with posting a racist joke about Muslims on FaceBook – when I called them on it.

    What I’m trying to say is, the Republican Party and its dog whistle politics fit right in with the way lots of people act and think down South. It never ceases to amaze me at how refined the GOP’s tactics have become.

    Donald Trump is a perfect match for them, because he says what they’re thinking.