MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, , Md., October 25, 2016 — With only two weeks to go to the elections, Hillary Clinton’s lead is still surprisingly small. Most experts agree, however, that it would be an unprecedented upset if the election turned in Trump’s favor.
This election season has been turbulent with apparent career-ending events for Trump. Just his odd behavior in the last debate would have ended other politician’s aspirations. An odd and untimely squeal ended Howard Dean’s presidential ambitions.
In fact, Trump’s base has commended his many gaffes at the debates, including his interruptions declaring, “you are the puppet,” and “what a nasty woman”. Both brought junior high school, or even grammar school-level rhetoric into a forum that has in past elections been mostly a venue for a serious and respectful exchange of views.
By far the most surprising exchange took place when Trump was asked if he would accept the results of the election. He responded that he would have to evaluate when it was over. A few days later he doubled down by saying that he could only guarantee he’d accept the results if he wins.
This has not dissuaded the estimated 35 percent of voters in Trump’s base. They believe that he won the last debate. This is what is so surprising.
Or is it?
Those who have engaged in discussions with people who have strong opinions, often not based in facts, and who are convinced that they are right, know that this unshakeable conviction in the face of contrary evidence is common. People often see differing opinions as personal attacks and won’t formulate a coherent response.
They get personal: “Oh yeah? You are an idiot.” End of discussion. Many believe that their life experiences have made them wise and see others as fools who are not worth arguing with. Many uneducated people fall into this category. They see educated people as lacking common sense in the things that are important in life. This is a transparently self-serving defense mechanism.
Even the well-educated will argue on personality rather than reason. Personal mockery has never been rare in presidential campaigns. Then there is the famous exchange between Winston Churchill and MP Bessie Braddock: “Sir, you are drunk” she says; he responds, “Yes Bessie, I am drunk, but you are ugly. Tomorrow I won’t be drunk and you will still be ugly.”
Then there is the rank emotional appeal of George H.W. Bush’s Willie Horton ads.
If this were the extent of the phenomenon, all would be well. But this year, it is worse.
A mob mentality has sometimes taken over. Trump supporters have physically attacked hecklers at their gatherings (and have been attacked as well). Some have warned the hecklers that next time they would be killed. Some have rejoiced at the idea of someone killing Hillary.
This behavior has been paralleled in the Netflix documentary, “13th”. At the end of the film, a segment shows people beating black demonstrators at civil right marches in the 1960s interposed with people beating minority hecklers at Trump events.
Some phrases used at Trump’s events appear to be code for racial attacks. However, most of his pronouncements eschew code; they are overtly and aggressively xenophobic, racist and misogynistic.
Trump’s continued support reflects the personal, the angry and the unwaveringly certain in our political culture. That most polls show Clinton’s lead in single, not double digits is disturbing, but not surprising. The question now is whether in an election season so full of the unprecedented, that angry certainty can pull of an unprecedented upset.
Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, is a bleeding-heart liberal that cherishes election cycles. He is in Twitter (@chibcharus), Google+, LinkedIn and Facebook (Mario Salazar).