Published daily by the Lowy Institute

Trump's victim mentality strikes a chord with some

Trump's victim mentality strikes a chord with some
Published 24 Oct 2016 

Another debate, another good start for Donald Trump ending in a train wreck.

Media pundits are freaking out about Trump saying he won’t promise to accept the election result as legitimate. The system is rigged, he blusters. Blasphemy, they scream. The democracy’s foundation is built on a peaceful transition following a fair election. To not accept the premise is to disqualify yourself.

Election day can’t come soon enough.

America is poised to elect Hillary Clinton as its president, a bit of gender history unfolding before our eyes. But the challenges to her government will be many. Polls suggest Democrats will take control of the Senate but the House is likely to remain controlled by Republicans. Legitimate or not, that result would assure ongoing stalemate. The wild card is the continuing erosion of Trump's support as voters tire of his personality and his antics. Will it cause some Republicans to stay home, harming the party’s chances in down-ticket races?

Clinton correctly called Trump on his habit of seeing himself as a victim. He’s previously claimed rigged Republican primaries, rigged judicial processes in the matter of Trump University, rigged media, rigged polling, even a rigged process for deciding not to hand an Emmy award to his TV show. The good news for Trump (and the bad news for America) is that The Donald is not the only one who feels victimised. It is a trademark of the Rust Belt men who have seen their jobs go offshore, the Southern states still playing catch-up 150 years after the Civil War, the under-educated who see immigrants getting ahead of them. These voters form the backbone of Trump’s support.

They are troubled that their wives are often becoming the primary breadwinner. They recognise they lack the pensions and security their fathers had. They see the American Century slipping away. And they don’t like any of it.

For this cohort, time is moving too fast. They don’t need to roll things back to the 1950s, but the 1970s would be nice. Trump’s promise to 'make America great again' resonates here.

The question is about the size of this group. How many of their wives have been peeled away to support Clinton? How many of them will buy into the consequences of the rigged system they perceive and stay home on election day?

Trump has fanned the flames with his bashing of the North American Free Trade Agreement and other international deals. He says America is being taken advantage of by shrewd foreign negotiators. Looking at the closed plants in Flint, Michigan; Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; Youngstown, Ohio; or Birmingham, Alabama, these Trump backers just nod in agreement. They too see themselves as victims. The image of a firm leader who vows to enact nationalist and populist solutions is attractive. They believe a Putin-esque strong man would set things right. And on the morning of 9 November they’ll awaken to a nation led by a woman with a huge collection of political baggage who makes for a believable beneficiary of a rigged system.

Amid the instant punditry after the final debate, there was talk of Trump setting up his own television network after the election to institutionalise this victimisation world-view. There was even discussion that the effort to delegitimise the election process is really a plot by Russia to give America a dose of the same medicine it was forced to take in Eastern Europe and the Baltic States. The idea of Russian election observers is guaranteed to play poorly in the US, but may resonate better overseas, where Trump may still look more like a viable candidate than he does at home.

American democracy may be messy but it’s seldom dull.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user raymondclarkimages

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