Like many a politics gawker, and like those who delusionally believe they control the Republican Party, I have been mystified, befuddled, and alarmed by the rise of Donald Trump, who appears poised to become the GOP’s candidate for the U.S. presidency. Much of the analysis in the news media focuses on the angry disillusionment of the Republican “base” with dysfunction in our federal government. People are mad and they are acting on their anger to protest against the so-called “establishment.” While this is a factor, it does not explain how a badly behaved, prejudice rich, policy poor, fact-challenged braggard has become as popular as he is.
I have a different theory, which may help to illuminate this bizarre and murky situation. Put briefly, Donald Trump behaves as the sexy beast, the enfant terrible, we keep buried within, yet secretly wish we could let out. And many find this enormously attractive.
A frequent reason given by Trump’s supporters for their support is that “he speaks what’s on his mind,” and “says what needs saying but no one else is saying it.” In other words, his supporters are turned on by his unfiltered candor, or put another way, he boldly says what we may want to blurt out at our most emotional moments but do not for fear of violating long-established social conventions. He regularly speaks in ways the rest of us only fantasize about. For many, this is very sexy indeed!
If Trump were simply attractive because he plays a middle-aged version of the ultra-cool bad boy from high school, then his abrasiveness and detail bereft big-promises might soon grow tiresome. What is cool today will be replaced with the new cool of tomorrow. But Trump is not growing tiresome to his supporters.
I believe that Trump’s continuing attraction to his growing crowd of supporters is down to two factors:
(1) He is hugely self-confident, giving no hint that there is anything he cannot do or that anything can get in his way. And, for everyone who is not a male between the ages of 12-34 (and for many who are), confidence is the most sexy attribute a person can have.
(2) His outrageous speech and behavior affirm and legitimize the speech and behavior many of us secretly wish we could indulge in but do not dare. His behavior gives us permission to indulge our frustrations, anger, dissatisfaction, disillusionment, and anxieties in ways that most of us have always believed to be immature, inappropriate, and sometimes reprehensible. This is seriously sexy (in a forbidden fruit way)!
We can blame anger born of dysfunction in Washington D.C for the continuing rise of Donald Trump, but until we begin to look inward and honestly confess and own and deal with the badly behaved schoolyard bully within each of us that he taps into and gives us permission to let out, his provocations will continue unchallenged.
Lord, have mercy!