The aftermath of the 2016 presidential election here in the United States has been... interesting. My friends and friends of friends on social media are losing their shit. The handful of Trump support friends I have are ecstatic. The libertarians and independents are cautiously optimistic. The Bernie supporters are bitter. And the Hillary supporters are suicidal. Most are asking some form of the same question -
"How the fuck did we manage to elect Donald fucking Trump?!?"
I have a crazy hypothesis about this, but first I have to mention I'm a liberal independent who voted for Johnson (in the hopes the Libertarians got 5% of the vote to get the Libertarian party access to federal election funds) because I live in CA, a state Hillary was definitely going to carry. A more competitive third party just might compel the Dems and GOP to do a better job nominating better candidates in the primaries. Bernie was my early pick.
Anyway, Trump basically used Internet troll methodology to appeal to a segment of voters who the Democrats and GOP have ignored for several election cycles. These people are mostly blue collar workers, mostly white, who have perceived their standard of living drop precipitously over the last decade or two. They fear for their future. More importantly, they fear for their children's future. Here's a short video explaining the hows and whys of Internet trolling:
I've been trolling on social media for a few years as an experiment (I have an experimental social psych background) and have found the exact same tactics he uses work exceptionally well on a particular audience. Specifically, it works on people who have been figuratively beaten down in one way or another. In many cases, they've realized people in power make a lot of empty promises. In other cases, they've been on the losing end of favoritism. In liberal terms, they've been "victimized."
Exit polling confirms this. Trump had phenomenal support among white males, which wasn't a surprise. The far left social justice warriors want to believe Trump and his supporters were racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, homophobic shitlords... just as they've been doing for the last decade or two. As a liberal white male from a blue collar area of the country, I can confirm this message pisses a lot of people off. We're overtly vilified because of our sex and race... the exact thing the social justice warriors are supposed to be fighting to eliminate. Worse, this disdain for white males is rationalized because we "deserve it" because of white privilege. As it turns out, many so-called "open-minded" liberals are really no more open to divergent ideas than the rest of the population.
Getting kicked in the teeth repeatedly kinda sucks. I can't count the times I've been called a racist because I'm white despite being in a biracial marriage and having moved to an ethnically diverse area for the sake of my children. I can't count the times I've been called a misogynist because I'm a male who is proud to be a male despite having created this entire SDMC project with the goal of promoting gender equality. The real kicker - I can't count the times I've been called homophobic despite having risked my teaching career to serve as the faculty adviser for my former high school's Gay/ Straight Alliance and frequent promotion of GLSEN. To the far left, none of that matters. All they see is the color of my skin. And the assumption that I have a penis.
Being labeled these things doesn't affect me nearly as much as it used to; I've managed to develop a combination of thick skin and a "these social justice warriors are fucking morons" attitude. And I can fall back on the fact that I'm actually doing something to make the world a better place instead of just curling up in my safe space and posting dumbass memes on Facebook. But political correctness and identity politics negatively affects A LOT of people in situations similar to my own. And this is the precise audience Trump targeted for support. Trent Lapinski wrote a nice article expanding on this idea.
This targeted trolling as a means of crafting a message that resonates with a particular audience is precisely what I do with my own social media experimentation, often to promote this very blog and our Facebook group. Ergo, I can vouch for the methodology's effectiveness. My messages are usually more directed at the failings of modern feminism and the dangers of beta males, but the techniques are the exact same.
What About Women and Minorities?
Going back to the exit polls, Trump shockingly received significant support from women and minorities. This has baffled most political pundits, but shouldn't be surprising. A couple of years ago, I proposed an idea called the Protection Theory of Gender Roles, which is actually a hypothesis. Theory sounds better, though, despite the scientific inaccuracy. I later expanded on this and applied it to the American concept of "conservatives" and "liberals." Anyway, the gist is that masculine personalities are more concerned with protecting and strengthening the tribe and feminine personalities are more concerned with expanding the tribe. Read both, though; the rest of this won't make sense otherwise.
If we consider the United States our "tribe", Trump appealed to conservatives because his rhetoric was mostly based on issues that people perceived as weakening our tribe and exposing us to danger. Illegal immigrants take our jobs and Muslim terrorists threaten our safety. Those are just two examples of the Trump rhetoric that resonated with his supporters. A certain percentage of women and minorities fall into this camp, and I would hypothesize these are the women and minorities that voted for him.
There's one apparent problem with this hypothesis, however. Hillary is also a war hawk, which was evident in her role as Secretary of State. How can this be explained? It turns out Trump used some nice psychological judo to undermine her potential as a protector of the tribe. One of the foundations of masculinity is knowing and trusting the other folks around you who are serving as protectors of the tribe. You have to trust they have your back when the shit hits the fan. So Trump undermined Hillary's trustworthiness with a lot of help from the Wikileaks emails.
As Lipinski noted in the previously linked article, those leaked emails weren't some grand plot by the Russians. They were news. Real news, unlike the biased news most of the mainstream media produced. Normally ideas like this trigger my "bullshit conspiracy" radar, but it's important to note Hillary's campaign never denied the authenticity of the emails. She really did "sell" special access to foreign governments in exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation. She really did have strong connections to Wall Street and was paid huge sums of money for pro-big bank speeches. She really did base her political ideology on her campaign's assessment of the positive impact on voters. She really had colluded with the media. She really had colluded with the DNC to rig the Democratic primary to assure she beat Sanders. And so on.
The net effect of all this? We learned Hillary cannot be trusted. To the folks concerned about protecting and strengthening the tribe, this is a mortal sin. This effect was amplified by Trump's brutal "I don't give a flying fuck about political correctness" honesty. The women and minorities who voted for Trump did so because they feel he will have their back when the shit hits the fan. Whether or not it's actually true is moot; perception is what matters.
I didn't make this connection until I was talking to a Mexican friend. His family came to the US when he was a small child and they went through the process of gaining citizenship. He's busted his ass to make a great living here in the United States. He supports Trump. Why? He hates that so many illegal immigrants don't do the hard work he went through to earn citizenship. He's a "sheepdog" (per the Gender Role Protection Theory.) Even though he's of Mexican heritage, he strongly favors a secure border for safety reasons. He hates Hillary because he feels he cannot trust her. He also believes people need to work to earn what they receive. He hates liberals (including Hillary) who insist on giving people shit without them having to earn it. I suspect he is a representative of the type of women and minorities who seemed to illogically vote for Trump.
Trump's Actual Strategy
Every single batshit crazy stance Trump publicly took during the campaign was intended to resonate with a segment of that disenfranchised population. The Mexico wall appealed to the victims of NAFTA. The Muslim immigration ban appealed to people who fear terrorism. His anti-gay stance wasn't really anti-gay, he just said it should be a state issue (which appeals to libertarians and conservatives.) Even his bickering with the GOP elite followed this pattern. And so on.
Each one of these positions were expressed with strong emotion, softened a day or three later, then reiterated whenever he needed to engage very specific audiences. His pattern of appearances and rallies roughly correlated with that pattern. His last-ditch seemingly random appearances in weird places supports this idea that he was very deliberately building what would become his march to 270 on election night.
In other words, Trump would say exactly what he needed to say at a particular time and a particular place based on that audience's current concerns. This isn't a revolutionary idea itself. Where Trump deviated, though, was the extreme emotionally-charged stances he took. That part wasn't meant for his audience of potential supporters. That part was intended to elicit an extreme reaction in his opponents' supporters.
Trump managed to win the election by spending about half of what Hillary spend, which is a Herculean accomplishment. While Hillary was organizing huge advertising campaigns, Trump was tweeting. While Hillary was traveling constantly and engaging small groups of loyal supporters, Trump was holding a few strategic rallies. We saw this pattern repeatedly.
Trump made this process even more efficient by stoking outrage with somewhat vague ideas that elicited a negative emotion in his opponents' supporters, who then amplified the message by making it sound far worse than what he really said.
Take the Muslim immigration issue. His idea was to halt immigration of Muslims until we developed a way to screen possible radical terrorists. While I don't necessarily like that idea, it's a logical, practical solution to the radical Muslim terrorist issue the mainstream media over-hypes. But the far left interpreted it as "TRUMP HATES MUSLIMS!"
Trump's followers, who legitimately fear terrorism (which is illogical based on probability but still a real fear) perceived this as "Hillary and her supporters do not care about our safety." When this message hits the echo chambers of social media, the intensity of the message is greatly amplified. This is where the trolling becomes frighteningly effective. The more the left lost their shit, the more effective the message became. It solidified his support while simultaneously eroding the possibility those folks would consider voting for her. This same pattern was repeated again and again with all kinds of issues.
Who is Donald Trump?
I always had a hard time believing Trump was who he appears to be, mostly because he was basically a Clinton-esque liberal for most of his life... right up to the point where he started the Obama birther rants (which was another trolling attempt to galvanize support.)
Long story short - I would be willing to gamble an uncomfortable amount of money that we're going to see a very, very different Trump in office. There are times when he's charming as fuck and exhibits exceptional control of situations. People who are filled with hate and anger rarely if ever possess this ability.
The people who support Trump despite the batshit crazy rhetoric do so out of desperation and fear for their future. Or the future of their kids. They're not racist, sexist, homophobic, or xenophobic; they just feel they've been painted into a corner and nobody gives a fuck about them. A small, vocal percentage ARE shitty people, but the vast majority are just normal people who have been disenfranchised for years.
More significantly, though, I think Trump genuinely cares about America and bringing the left and the right together in a way we haven't seen for a long, long time. I predict he'll charm the hell out of liberals throughout the first few months of his presidency, to the point where he will be on the verge of alienating the GOP-controlled Congress. His Supreme Court nominee will be a good test. If he nominates a moderate, this hypothesis is probably correct. If he nominates a judge with strong conservative leanings, I'm probably wrong.
Of course I could be completely wrong and we're going to burn. Trump might be a horrible person who is going to destroy our country and won because of dumb luck. But that would mean Trump did what he did due to a million random variables falling in his favor, which includes a series of fatal errors by Hillary.
I don't buy that.
I think we just witnessed the single greatest trolling event in history. A man with no political or military experience beat every one of his fellow party members, including GOP royalty (Jeb), pissed off women, Muslims, Mexicans, African-Americans, the political elite, and a host of other groups, got to the point where his own party considered canning him a month before the election, beat the first potential female president who intimately knows the office, served as one of two legislators for one of the three most powerful states in the country, and was our head diplomat, AND did so by spending half of what Hillary spent.
Very early in the election cycle, I noticed Trump's methodologies were a little too familiar. It took a few weeks, but I realized he was trolling exactly like I troll on social media, only on a far larger scale. He managed to beat some pretty good candidates to win the GOP nomination, then proceeded to beat a seemingly unbeatable woman to win the presidency. He did so by recognizing there was a huge, silent swath of the U.S. population that had been systematically ignored and/or vilified by both parties, then proceeded to court them with the surgical application of completely unorthodox techniques never before seen in politics. Even though I have serious concerns over the next four years, I am thoroughly impressed with his skill.
My sincere hope is that I'm right about all of this and he'll return to his far more moderate, liberal roots. The same skillset that won him the presidency can easily be utilized to unite the country despite the rhetoric from the campaign trail. Unfortunately, many liberal Hillary supporters will completely dismiss this idea (and probably call me a racist, misogynist, homophobic shitlord) because politically-correct culture demands irrational outrage. They'll stick to the "I know Trump and his supporters are evil so don't try convincing me otherwise" attitude. Sometimes my fellow liberals can be fuckheads.
We'll see. I'm confident enough in my own ability to read people to not freak out about Trump's victory just yet, if not for my own sake, for my kids' sake.
Let me know what you think. Does this idea have merit? Is it completely off-base? Leave a comment!
Like this post? Hate this post? Either way, give it a share. It's clear our country is deeply divided, and we need more folks willing to set aside their biases and stereotypes to get to know the other side. Hypotheses like this might help Hillary supporters gain a little more empathy for the folks who voted for Trump.