[OPINION] The lemmings

In the heat of the contest for the official Republican candidate for the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump boasted that he could shoot somebody in the middle of Manhattan and not lose a single vote. He subsequently went on to win in the Republican Party primary and then, the presidency.

In almost four years of his term, Trump has been vilified more than any other head of state that I am aware of. A recent article in the London-based newspaper, The Guardian, written by World Affairs editor Julian Borger, carried the headline: “Trump and U.S. global image plunge during pandemic, survey finds.”

The subhead was even more telling: “President is least trusted major world leader with 16% having confidence he would ‘do the right thing’ in world affairs.”

The article stated:
“The image of the U.S. and Donald Trump around the world has plunged from poor to the abysmal over the administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a global survey.

“A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center of more than 13,000 adults in 13 advanced economies between 10 June and 3 August shows international confidence in the US and its president sharply down across the board, reaching historical lows in several countries…

“The survey found Trump was the least trusted major world leader. A median of 16% of those polled in the 13 countries had confidence Trump would “do the right thing in world affairs”, putting him below Vladimir Putin (23%) and Xi Jinping (19%).”

In the U.S., among the many research companies tracking the approval-disapproval rating of the president, Trump has rated highest in the poll conducted by the Rasmussen Group at 52% approval vs. 48% disapproval as of September 1-3, 2020, with a respondent base of 1,500.

On the other hand, the Pew Research Center, with a much higher respondent base of 11,001 had Trump’s approval-disapproval rating at 38%-59% with 3% no opinion, as of July 27-August 2. In research, the bigger the respondent base, the more reliable the results.
Interestingly, a poll conducted by Fox, which has made no secret of its support for Trump, showed a 45% approval vs. 54% disapproval rating, as of August 2020.

While Trump’s ratings have consistently remained between 38% and 45%, and have been lower than those of other recent presidents, he has still managed an average of 40% for much of his seemingly chaotic tenure.

That is remarkable, compared to how the rest of the world regard Trump, and in spite of all the things said about and against him. One clear reason is the unbending support that he enjoys among Republicans at 87%. Not surprisingly, among Democrats, Trump has a dismal approval rating of 6%.

In sum, partisan rather than objective considerations are the basis for assessing Trump’s performance. This is particularly apparent among the base of voters whom Trump has boasted will stand by him even if he breaks the law.

It would be convenient and seemingly logical to attribute this loyalty to the educational and overall demographic profile of Trump’s supporters, reportedly non-college and working-class types.

But even among Filipino Americans, Trump appears to have a loyal following despite being branded a racist by the media. Some of these Fil-Am supporters are highly-educated community leaders. One such loyal supporter claims to have been a former novice Trappist monk, schooled in Philosophy and Apologetics.

Political pundits have been baffled by this loyalty to a man who has been branded the “Lying King” for racking up an unparalleled number of lies and misleading statements throughout his current term and who, while still a private businessman, had bragged about grabbing women by their “pussy” and his use of hyperbole in dealing with people.

This is reminiscent of the loyalty that then-presidential candidate Joseph “Erap” Estrada enjoyed in spite of his reputation as a womanizer, a college drop-out and a heavy drinker.
Erap won by a landslide over House Speaker Joe de Venecia whose educational and intellectual credentials were much more impressive.

The Estrada “phenomenon” has since been overshadowed by President Rodrigo Duterte, whose marital indiscretions, foul-mouth, uncouth manners and reputation as a Dirty Harry with a penchant for killing criminals, may have helped catapult him to the presidency.

In an article in the Journal of Social and Political Psychology, psychologists attempted to explain Trump’s seeming “political invincibility” by means of 14 factors that may be boiled down to psychological problems among his supporters, such as a contrarian attitude towards morality, a desire to “watch the world burn,” a sense of entitlement, narcissism, an over-estimation of “political expertise,” a desire to dominate others, racism and bigotry.

Trump’s authoritarian personality, his showmanship, and simple language are seen to resonate with his audience at the visceral level, “strongly engaging the brain’s attention.” Add to that his supporters’ perceived sensitivity to threats and to their mortality and vulnerability – factors that Trump has literally rubbed in with his scare tactics and alarmist rhetoric.

In fairness, while some of these factors may be true of some of Trump’s supporters, I do not believe that all of them are weighed down by all of this psychological baggage. In fact, supporters of any other politician or public personality are likely to possess similar traits.
On the other hand, some of these psychological flaws may have been true of the 912 People’s Temple cult members of Jim Jones who committed mass suicide in Jonestown in Guyana, South  America.

Jones was said to have had such a psychological dominance over his followers that they were willing to poison their own children and take their own lives on his bidding.

Of course, this is not to say that Trump is politically invincible. There are signs of cracks on his armor. His mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic and recent revelations of outright lies concerning the seriousness of the plague, in order to protect his reelection bid, have begun to stir doubts among his more enlightened supporters about the genuineness of his “concern” for their welfare.

A recent article in The Atlantic revealed that Trump had called war veterans, “losers,” and those who had fought in Vietnam, “suckers,” for not dodging the draft the way he did. That could have eroded his standing among veterans, a group whose support Trump counts on.

One indication is the way Trump and his camp have vigorously attacked the credibility of the report. But anonymous White House staffers have confirmed the story. Worse yet, a Fox News reporter, Jennifer Griffin, tweeted and stated in a TV interview that “unimpeachable” White House sources had confirmed the slur.

What Trump cannot deny is calling the late Sen. John McCain, a “loser.” McCain, an authentic war hero, was a prisoner-of-war in Vietnam.

Yet, there is no telling to what extent Trump’s supporters will stand by him. All the way, if we are to go by the fatalistic statement of one such supporter about the risk of contracting COVD-19 because of Trump’s refusal to require masks and social distancing at his rallies.

Said this Trump loyalist: “I’m with Trump. If I die, I die!”

God forbid that we should see the equivalent of the unthinking leap of lemmings to their death.

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