The rise of Donald Trump has been both fascinating and frightening. Fascinating in that no one could have predicted the boorish billionaire would be such a political tour de force as a presidential candidate. Frightening in that the ferocity of his supporters has blurred the lines of logic and lunacy. We’re all familiar with how powerful a cult of personality can be, but the sheer fanaticism of many Trump followers is cause for alarm.
We all get it. Voters are mad as hell and they are looking for someone to channel their frustration through. In swoops Trump with his simple yet effective brand of Making America Great Again. It can mean different things to different people, but the common denominator is Trump’s uncanny ability to convince the masses he is uniquely their voice, their avenger, their change agent. But is he really?
For months, Trump has co-opted the fears and anxieties of a fed-up electorate to ignite a brand of populism so rooted in anger that it’s overtaking rational thought and common decency. In the beginning, the idea of a Trump candidacy was just a temporary novelty. A political side show—until he actually started winning votes.
Alex de Tocqueville famously warned against the “tyranny of the majority.” Trump’s candidacy is turning into the tyranny of the minority as he continues to rack up primary victories without ever amassing 50 percent of the vote. As a matter of fact, he’s only received an average of 37 percent of the GOP primary vote to date. Even with a winnowing field, Trump is doing more to alienate voters than to unify them. After Trump won Florida, knocking Marco Rubio out of the race, the conventional wisdom was he would make the presidential pivot. Based on Trump’s antics since then, it’s clear he has not.
Trump’s continued petulant behavior and willful ignorance on a host of critically important issues is scaring the bejesus out of more than just the political establishment. His latest spat with Ted Cruz over their wives, his bizarre obsession with discrediting a female reporter who was manhandled by his campaign manager even after he was charged with simple battery, and his most recent comments on punishing women who have illegal abortions are just the latest examples of why 73 percent of women have an unfavorable opinion of Trump.
Even with his litany of disqualifying remarks, Trump’s loyal followers are unwilling to hold him accountable for anything he says or does, no matter how outrageous or untrue. They are sending a message that they are sick of politics as usual and Trump is their populist conduit. But in that populist quest for retribution, Republican primary voters are investing in someone who represents everything they claim to despise—big-government intervention, fiscal irresponsibility, authoritarian tendencies, political hypocrisy, duplicitous tactics, and flat out disregard for constitutional constraints. The contradiction is breathtaking.
But so is the intensity of Trump’s support.
Many Trump supporters are quick to lash out, condemn, even threaten the rest of us who find Trump objectionable. Yes, threaten. All it takes is a cursory examination of the social media of outspoken critics of Trump to get a sense of the intense vitriol and attempts at intimidating non-Trump supporters into silence. Myself included.
The freedom to dissent has always been a hallmark of American values. After living under the authoritarian rule of the British monarchy, the Founding Fathers understood the importance of protecting individuals’ right to express dissatisfaction with their government, have a free press unimpeded by the influence of the government, and enjoy the freedom to assemble. Trump’s campaign has challenged every one of those sacred rights, but his acolytes continue to make excuses for him. It makes you wonder what attracts so many people to someone who exhibits the characteristics of an authoritarian in a country that was founded on opposing such tyranny?
Thankfully, our Founding Fathers had the foresight to create the framework of a constitutional republic instead of a pure democracy to protect us from ourselves. Pure majority rule can accelerate the destruction of an entire society if left unchecked. Look no further than ancient Rome.
At the time, John Adams’s suspicions of democracy were evident in his spirited exchanges with Thomas Jefferson. Adams warned that democracies had a tendency to ultimately destroy themselves because the passions that fueled monarchies could be similarly found in “all men, under all forms of simple government and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence and cruelty.” Our republic has many constitutional checks and balances for a reason, including the Electoral College. Time to brush up on American Civics 101.
This may be news to many Trump supporters, or even Trump himself, as they try to push the narrative that Trump should be the GOP nominee even if he has only a plurality of delegates and not the majority, despite the fact that every GOP nominee for president has been required to obtain a majority of delegates since the party’s first convention in 1856. It’s terribly disingenuous for Trump and his surrogates to peddle the false idea that the game is somehow rigged against him when this is the game he signed up to play. Whining about the rules and threatening litigation is juvenile but befitting of the vexatious litigant that Trump is. Then again, it’s much easier to take advantage of angry populists than it is to do the work of marshaling patriots who respect and understand the responsibility of protecting the republic for the good of all Americans.
Whether Trump’s candidacy is sincere or a massive ego-trip reality-show episode remains to be seen. But the American people ultimately determine the ending. Choose wisely.