Allow me to explain.
First, the ideal self that Trump offers is really the gold standard of American commercialism: a larger-than-life personality, grandiose expressions of wealth, an indefatigable confidence in his own abilities, a fearless dismissal of anyone who disagrees with him, a joyful disregard for any facts that might get in his way, a boisterous and frequent display of “the art of the put-down” against any competition….It’s all there in one shiny package, everything that has been tirelessly promoted in salesmanship seminars for decades – and everything that poorly educated worker-consumers have been conditioned to believe equates a distinctly American flavor of success.
Why am I so familiar with this ideal? Well I worked in sales early on in my career, and later became a senior IT manager in what was primarily a sales company. I’ve been tricked into attending Amway rallies, have been pitched every imaginable multilevel marketing scheme, and years ago read countless books on sales techniques. I was so immersed in sales culture and philosophy when I was young because I did not have a college degree, and selling stuff was the easiest and fastest way to earn a decent living. In fact, at age twenty-one, I purchased my first home in Seattle from the proceeds of sales commissions. Then, one day when walking home from selling things people didn’t need to people who couldn’t afford them, I found myself looking down at my feet for the entire length of that journey. I felt demeaned, small and dirty for having become such a good salesman; in fact I was beginning to earnestly hate myself for it. Why? Because a salesman will do anything, believe anything, say anything, agree to anything, present themselves as anything, indeed invest their whole being in pretty much anything – no matter how unpleasant, unethical or inimical to their own core beliefs and values it may be – if it will just facilitate a sale. On that long walk home, my very nice shoes, expensive raincoat and uncomfortable suit and tie seemed to be taunting me with these simple truths.
On the front lines of a sales force, salespeople will joke easily about “hiding the stretch marks” around their mouths for the things they have done to close a deal. Higher up in the food chain, however, the investment in a product, company or brand is so complete – the sales beliefs and self-talk so absolute – that such jokes are frowned upon. These higher level managers become the priests of an unquestioning huckster religion, and the flames of zealous conviction radiate out from them as they inspire the soldiers of their chosen faith at morning company pep talks and regional sales conferences. So it is really no surprise that many of the various pyramid schemes have looked to fundamentalist churches to recruit new believers to their brand: the wiring is already there to believe unquestioningly, and then fervently proselytize. Again, I can also relate this to my personal experiences…for I, too, was swept up in a fundamentalist religious experience, not coincidentally as I arrived at the height of my sales training and abilities. The philosophies, narratives, self-justifications, objectives and trajectories of fundamentalist religion and American salesmanship are, in my view, functionally inseparable. They are cut from exactly the same cloth, as organizations like Amway have elegantly illustrated (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amway#Religion).
And so we arrive at the real self that Trump also embodies. In my twenties, I abandoned both sales and fundamentalist religion, and quickly regained a more authentic compassion for my being – along with a more realistic self-perception and self-worth. But a large number of rank-and-file Republicans, indeed the ones who seem to most devotedly praise Donald Trump, are still stuck in that self-deceiving delusion. They have rationalized and internalized an enormous body of lies that supports their chosen value system, and done this so completely that they no longer recognize what a lie looks like – or what the truth looks like. Thus they must fully invest themselves in bizarre or farcical inventions: that climate change science is a hoax, Obama was born in Africa, liberals want to take away everybody’s guns, homosexuality and welfare have destroyed the American family, Saddam Hussein had links with Al Qaeda and 9/11 (and/or there was evidence of WMDs that justified invading Iraq), capitalism has saved the world, immigrants and foreigners abroad have taken the best U.S. jobs, every failure of the market has been the result of government interference, the Postal Service and Medicare aren’t socialism, the U.S. Constitution was grounded in Judeo-Christian ideals, competition drives innovation, consumers are rational but voters are not, corporate monopolies are more ethical and efficient than government, unions are the reason American companies fail, that voter election fraud is rampant in the U.S., that corporations are people and Citizens United wouldn't corrupt the political process, and so on. An endless chain of unfounded lies, building one upon the other, to prop up profoundly distorted and destructive beliefs. And so identifying with Trump is a perfectly natural next step for these Republicans - because, at his core, Trump operates within the same fractured, self-deceiving reality that they do. Like attracts like.
Exciting mutual resonance, the real and ideal Republican selves then intersect perfectly in Donald Trump: he himself is hopelessly lost in a thought-field of self-deception that makes him look fantastic, projecting a veneer of confidence and success over a long string of personal failures, propping up a flagging ego that is completely blind to its own inadequacies and delusions, while easily fixing blame on others. He is a poster child for the Dunning-Kruger effect (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect) that many Republicans so often seem to exhibit; a Great White Hope that will lead America back to the glory days that – as an equally distorted and revisionist view of U.S. history – further justify Republican beliefs. Trump is an almost supernatural expression of all the hallmarks of right-wing extremism: an immense tolerance for cognitive dissonance, the desperate reaching of confirmation bias, and a reflexive denial of any personal responsibility or accountability for past failures. The fusion of identities, purpose and conviction becomes complete. Trump emerges as a glistening Angel of Light, deceptively but artfully leading the deluded masses into the Bottomless Pit…all the while cajoling and assuring them with his glossy glamor of fake success. Thus the joyous marriage of Trump and the Republican electorate cradles itself in self-reinforcement, an ever-growing orgy of homogenous falsehoods that fortify self-righteous prejudice and arrogance.
Now I do know some thoughtful conservatives who are shocked and dismayed at Trump’s meteoric political success. They are appalled by his rhetoric, sickened by his character flaws, and bewildered that so many of their fellow Republicans have fallen under his spell. But as devout Republicans, they will still vote for him. Why? Because they have rationalized that he is the lesser of two evils. In other words, they are ignoring the clear signs that Trump is obviously much less suited to be POTUS than Hillary Clinton, and denying the excess of evidence that should warn them away from this immature, impulsive, megalomaniacal huckster having access to America’s nuclear launch codes.
Just my 2 cents.
7/23/2016 Update: I came across these Jerry Falwell, Jr. quotes in a recent NPR interview (see http://www.npr.org/2016/07/21/486854408/political-star-power-comes-out-for-day-3-of-the-republican-convention). It's a somewhat surreal example of the very behavior I describe in my post above:
"You know, it was funny that rank-and-file evangelicals were ahead of all the leadership. They saw for decades conservative Republicans had made promises to them on issues that were important to Christians and conservatives when they were running for office. But when they won, they didn't keep those promises. And I think, you know, like the song by The Who "Won't Get Fooled Again," I think they just decided no more. We want somebody who maybe makes mistakes and maybe sort of talks off the cuff and may not get it right all the time, but at least he's not bamboozling us."
"I just see how Donald Trump treats other people, and I'm impressed by that."
"He doesn't talk like we do as evangelical Christians, and so his way of describing his faith may not appear to line up with others. He just expresses his faith in a different way than many evangelical Christians do."
"Yeah. I've never seen any arrogance...I think he's very outspoken, and I think he is - what's the old saying? If it's true, it ain't bragging."
"But I - but I just - I just know you don't get where he is in life by not telling the truth or by being dishonest in business and by treating your employees unfairly. And it's just not possible."
And lest anyone doubt that Jerry Falwell, Jr. is approaching a full-fledged schizophrenic break with these bizarre assertions, here are two articles that go a long way to refuting every single one of them:
"Donald Trump’s Deals Rely on Being Creative With the Truth" (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/17/us/politics/donald-trump-business.html)
"Donald Trump is a unique threat to American democracy"(https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/donald-trump-is-a-unique-threat-to-american-democracy/2016/07/22/a6d823cc-4f4f-11e6-aa14-e0c1087f7583_story.html)
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