The following is another post from my friend Jerry Gramckow, who’s spent the majority of his life in the evangelical community. We value his insight and reflection. Thank you Jerry!
What is Trumpism?
by Jerry Gramckow
I’ve read several definitions of the term Trumpism. Some definitions, such as the one posited by Victor Davis Hanson in National Review, give it a mostly positive spin. Others, like this one in The Hill, are more critical. And some, like this one in the Los Angeles Times, pull no punches in making the term (and the movement) synonymous with dangerous, mind-numbing cultism.
Here’s my definition and analysis of Trumpism:
Definition: Trumpism is a movement made up mostly of willfully ignorant traditionalists whose self-centeredness makes them oblivious to the oppression or neglect of anyone outside themselves and their closest companions and willing to defy historic ethical norms to achieve their desired goals.
Analysis: Trumpism Is Energized by Willful Ignorance and Self-Centeredness
In 2017, an analysis from a group led by Emily Ekins, a Ph.D. researcher at the CATO Institute, a libertarian think tank, concluded that Trump supporters could be divided into five categories: 1. Staunch Conservatives 2. Free Marketeers 3. American Preservationists 4. Anti-Elites 5. The Disengaged
I suppose such classifications can be useful, but I think they might diminish a very plain fact: Trump voters are mostly ignorant and self-centered. For example, those in the first category, Staunch Conservatives, who support Trump violate several long-established conservative principles, such as support for free-trade and a balanced national budget, principles Trump has rejected in practice if not by proclamation. In addition, staunch conservatives are likely to call for “traditional values,” such as one man-one woman marriage and opposition to abortion. And while President Trump has spoken in favor of those policy agendas, he has done next to nothing tangibly to promote them. So these people continue to support him either because of ignorance or because they value his xenophobic promises more than those conservative philosophies.
Free Marketeers: Those in this category ostensibly hold some of the same views as the staunch conservatives, primarily regarding fiscal policies such as free trade and balanced budgets. However, they are less likely to be concerned about the social policies espoused by Staunch Conservatives. So, while they may not have been duped regarding those social issues, they are being conned with regard to fiscal policies. Again, this disconnect could be due to ignorance—or it could be because these people tend to fall within the upper income brackets that have benefited most from the Trump tax cuts. And abstract concepts like free trade and balanced budgets lose their luster when one’s bank account is soaring.
American Preservationists: These folks tend to be guided by the likes of David Barton’s Wallbuilders. They are convinced that God chose the United States of America to be the greatest nation on the planet. They’re equally certain that God and the founders established this nation as Christian; and, by God, it must remain so. The largest contingent of Preservationists is made up of white evangelicals, my alliance—I know them well. My observation of white evangelical preservationists is that the rank-and-file tends to be on the lower end financially. Few of them have more than a high school education. They tend to be hard-working and responsible, but because of their limited education (their ignorance) they’re easily led and manipulated. So, if David Barton, or their pastor, or a prominent evangelical leader tells them Donald Trump—despite his ungodly characteristics—is God’s Chosen One to preserve and defend America’s traditional values, they will support him with their dying breath.
Anti-Elites: One should expect to see crossover between the Preservationists and the Anti-Elites. Both groups tend to draw from the undereducated. These folks are proud of their anti-intellectualism and are suspicious of and often hostile to the nation’s educational system, which they believe promotes anti-Americanism and atheism. Like the American Preservationists, the Anti-Elites include many white evangelicals and tend to be easily manipulated.
The Disengaged: Some folks are too busy with their lives to pay much attention to politics—or really to anything beyond their small sphere of life. But they’re engaged just enough to hear the constant drumbeat telling them it’s their civic duty to vote. And because their friends or colleagues support Trump, they ride along, largely ignorant of who and what they’re voting for.
Brainy Barrack Versus Dullard Donald
The Obama era drove anti-intellectuals like those listed above to new heights of anger and frustration. They saw America’s first Black President as the ultimate liberal elitist. How dare a man like that dictate to them how America should be governed? Never mind that Obama was, like them, a self-professed Christian. Indeed, how dare a man whose political views differ so dramatically from theirs dare identify himself as one with them in the faith? So they falsely labeled him a Muslim. How dare a man whose views of America’s history differ so dramatically from theirs even call himself an American? So they falsely labeled him a pretend American with a phony birth certificate. Truth was increasingly succumbing to spin.
Barrack Obama was the ultimate intellectual, a Constitutional Law professor, exactly the kind of person the above-mentioned groups doubted and despised. And then along came Donald Trump. Yes, Trump often bragged about graduating from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business (though he was admitted only because of family connections), but he spoke like one of them: simple thoughts, simple words, simple sentences. Make America Great Again! Slogans are more memorable than soliloquies. Policies became more important than principles. Self-serving narratives were overshadowing plain facts.
America Enters the Trump Era (Trumpism)
Donald Trump did not create Trumpism; he simply gave it a name, a face, and large-scale legitimacy. Similarly, Trump is not the first politician to lie or to be the subject of lies. Even the tale of George Washington not lying about chopping down the cherry tree was a lie. The entire political sphere is oxygenated by the art of spin. But Donald Trump—with more than 16,000 stated falsehoods since taking office—has taken spinning, and outright lying, to a new level. Why does he lie so much more than his predecessors? Obviously he does so to achieve his goals. He also does so, I’m convinced, because lying and guessing is simply easier than working hard to gather and analyze verifiable facts. Laziness and ignorance are, often, like two sides of the same Trump three-dollar bill. And while Trump and his devoted followers might not be physically lazy, they do tend to be intellectually indolent, although they’d argue vehemently against that assessment.
And that argument would point to another characteristic of Trumpism: illogical arrogance. Trump and Trumpists embody the Dunning-Kruger effect: “The Dunning-Kruger effect is a type of cognitive bias in which people believe that they are smarter and more capable than they really are. Essentially, low ability people do not possess the skills needed to recognize their own incompetence.”
An example of this Dunning-Kruger-style disconnect can be seen in the fact that Trumpists almost universally state their opposition to the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) despite the fact that millions of them would be uninsured were it not for Obamacare. All that matters now is that their messiah has declared his opposition to the health care program that protects them.
So the most-powerful nation ever to exist on this planet has given over its leadership role to a man who eschews education and defies rules and even laws, and his loyal followers couldn’t be happier. It matters not to them that their savior has told, on average, nearly 15 lies per day since his inauguration day. Nor does it matter to them that this incorrigible liar knows almost nothing of the nation’s history or of its governing principles. Trumpists care only about Trump, Trumpism, and winning. Rules, norms, and even laws are antiquated in Trumpism. If Trumpism is not defeated, such will be America’s legacy.
The Cure for Anti-Intellectual Trumpism
I’d love to fill in this section, but I lack the answer. What do you suggest?