Donald Trump: The Psychology of Making America Great Again

The election of Barack Obama, our first black president, was an amazing thing to have happen in a nation founded on segregation, slavery, and the marginalization of people of color. Unfortunately, it created a never before seen level of resentment and social strife that is currently playing out in our political arena, where he is accused by some mainstream Republicans of dividing society with his brand of ‘racialized’ politics, while others beat the drum and scream about having to “Make America Great Again” after eight years of Obama policies.

So, what is this “Great America” that Trump and his followers want to make again?

When Obama was elected President, it served as evidence to many Americans that we have broken through a barrier—that our society had moved past its racist past, and any past (or present) racial differences were wiped clean from our collective slate. By this measure, any new instances of institutional or implicit racism must be unwarranted. You see, White Americans tend to judge racial progress by comparing the present to the past. How can society be racist against blacks and other minorities when we elected a black president?

This bizarre factoid was recently examined by psychologists Clara Wilkins and Cheryl Kaiser in 2014. They found that some people view racial progress—such as the election of President Obama—as a sign of significant binary change that has suddenly turned the world on its head. Because America suddenly elected a black President, it must mean that whites must now be a minority themselves. Further, because whites are (as they feel) a minority, they are more inclined to believe that their own racial group is the marginalized one. As new “minorities”, whites believe that their put upon status negates and cancels out any claims of discrimination made by actual minorities. After all, Obama is President, so…

Even worse in this equation is the understanding that demographics are rapidly shifting in America. Knowing that America’s Latino/Hispanic population is growing, and that within 30 (or so) years, whites will no longer be the majority in America, has had a serious psychological effect. Merely thinking about this impending ethnic demographic shift has important emotional consequences for whites. Some see this impending change and growing ethnic diversity as a threat to the world they know, and this heightened sense of threat is expressed in increased negative feelings toward ethnic minorities and an increase in feelings of victimization and a threat to what it means to be America. It’s easy for people feeling threatened to grab hold of platitudes like Trump’s “Make America great again” and to cheer when he talks about building a wall to keep Mexicans out—after all, something needs to be done to stop this inevitable change from happening and to reinstitute the America they once knew.

Unfortunately, no matter how bigoted Trump gets in the campaign—silently accepting white supremacist robocalls or tiptoeing around the direct endorsement of Klansman David Duke—the psychological barriers created by the fear of demographic change serves as a buffer to his supporters who would previously have been horrified that their candidate of choice is backed by white supremacists. After all, if black people and other minorities can support a candidate like President Obama, who represents the gain of minority America at the expense of white America, they should be able to support a candidate who promises to change this back… to make America great again (for them), even if he is the worst candidate for America itself.

The White-Right Endorsement for Trump

Today, Donald Trump picked up a key endorsement from Chris Christie; an endorsement that Trump was very proud of: “Generally speaking, I’m not big on endorsements,” Trump said, adding, “This was an endorsement that really meant a lot.”

As he rolls forward in the primaries, let’s take a look at some of the other key endorsements Trump has secured.

Recently, Donald Trump received the much sought after KKK endorsement. David Duke, former Imperial grand wizard and current white nationalist formally endorsed Trump on his ‘David Duke Radio Program’ when he told his listeners that they must support him because “…voting against Donald Trump [at this point], is treason to your white heritage.”

Trump also has enjoyed the support and endorsement of the American Freedom Party, a white nationalist group that has been making robocalls on his behalf in each state days before their primary/caucuses. Their most recent calls in Minnesota make the claim, “The white race is dying out in America and Europe because we are afraid to be called ‘racist.’ Donald Trump is not afraid….Don’t vote for a Cuban. Vote for Donald Trump”.

He even received the endorsement of failed net-Nazi, white supremacist Craig Cobb, who posts videos and internet rants about his ‘crush’ on Trump. In 2015, Cobb once again attempted to get into the headlines by trying to buy condemned buildings in another small town, declaring his intention is to take over and change the town’s name to “Trump Creativity,” or “Creativity Trump,” in honor of Donald Trump.

At the Nevada caucus, at least a few Klansmen showed up, and a few other White Supremacists did too. One supporter, a young woman posed for a reporter’s camera and made the Nazi salute while saying, “Heil Trump”, then explained to the reporter why she felt Cubans are liars.

Even run of the mill Trump supporters seem to be drawn from the rank and file of the most racist elements of America. One poll, conducted prior to the South Carolina Primary found that Overall, 10% of Republican voters agreed with the statement that “whites are a superior race.” Additionally, 38% of Trump supporters polled wish the South had won the Civil War, while at the same time 70% of Trump’s were upset that the Confederate battle flag was removed from the state capital, and over 80% support Trump’s proposed ban on Muslims entering the United States. These supporters, mostly ignorant of their own racism, are a small subsection of Americans who fear the reality that America is getting less white (and more brown). They see the privilege of their white authority undermined in the media, their schools, and every time they move about in public and see signs in English and Spanish, or notice that the world around them is more diverse than ever before. These are the people who say, “I’m not a racist, but…”, yet feel that Trump is their last hope to return to some mythical antebellum America where they were in charge and “those people” knew their place.

In general, Trump has used some of the racist myths commonly spread on websites such as Stormfront to gain attention. When he (famously) claimed early in the primary cycle that illegal immigrants are ‘killers and rapists’, he was parroting the popular white supremacist theme that minorities and immigrants are violent criminals bent on defiling white women, a tried and true storyline used by White Supremacists to recruit angry young men who fancy themselves as knights in shining armor out to protect the fairer sex from miscegenation.

Sadly, the media has remained mostly silent on Trump’s white supremacist appeal, or if they do address it they do so from the standpoint that he’s unaware of the impact of his words on the racists of America. Even his rivals for the Presidential nomination have stayed mostly silent. Although Trump (and active tweeter) has been re-tweeting racist and white supremacist posts – some from the @whitegenocideTM (and others) – none of the major news outlets have made more than a passing mention of this fact. Some estimates found that over 60 percent of the accounts Trump has retweeted recently have white-supremacist connections.

This racist/white supremacist link would appear to be a wedge issue for one of his rivals to opportunistically exploit, unfortunately they seem to be too afraid to alienate the base that feeds off of Trump’s outlandish brand of bile. Marco Rubio came closest to making a statement about racism, but he pulled his punches at the last minute. He said, “Whether you agree with them or not, if a significant percentage of the American family feels that they are being treated differently than anyone else, we have a problem then we have to address that as a society and as a country. I do not believe we can fulfill our potential as a nation unless we address that”. Sadly, he ended this bold statement with a feeble disclaimer, “I’m not sure there is a political solution to that [race/racism] problem, but there are things we can do.”

If Trump does manage to sweep Super Tuesday and clear a path to the nomination, it seems probable that one of his opponents on the Democrat side will quickly make his white supremacist support and dealings a major issue. It remains to be seen if this will be the case, but one can guess that the neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and other abrasive racists will become more vocal as the election season progresses. The media will probably take a closer look if this happens and it could become a major point in driving some Republicans away from the party and to the Democrat alternative.

Racism hasn’t won an election for anyone yet. Let’s hope it doesn’t in 2016.