Democrats aren’t just dealing with intellectual or political differences with Donald Trump supporters. They have a much bigger challenge – an emotional hurdle. Emotions are much harder to discuss or overcome than intellectual differences.
Trump supporters, especially in economically troubled states, feel Democrats are out of touch with their needs. They see the Democrats with their multicultural coalition as biased toward minorities and hostile to the white middle class. That Democrats paid attention to cities and left rural Americans behind.
It is no coincidence that these groups have resolutely turned to the right and could stay there.
It looks like Trump can’t do any wrong. The fact that he often speaks rudely doesn’t bother most of these voters or that he disparages minorities and women. This does not alter their loyalty, as he is seen as both personally fighting for them and putting his finger in the eye of Washington’s authority. Many of his followers would like to do the same. Emotionally, the visceral connection is so strong that personality flaws are ruled out. He’s on their team, and they’re on his.
Trump’s polls reflect that dedication. When asked if they are likely to vote in the next election, the response from Trump supporters is consistently enthusiastic. Reviewing the 2020 election, Biden supporters were there but not with the same energy. Intellectual arguments are futile when intense loyalty is identity, as is the case with Trump’s hard core. Loyalty and identity make discussions very resistant to political persuasion, bordering on the argumentation of religious faith.
The analogy with religion has merit. Supporters of televangelists Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker were undeterred when Bakker was sentenced to eight years in prison in 1989 for fraud and conspiracy. In 2020, Jim Bakker continued to have a television show and ministry in Missouri, soliciting contributions from emotionally loyal followers. The government again investigated the legality of his actions.
One of the former president’s first political moves, bordering on genius, was to inspire the perception of “fake news“. Fake news makes it easy for its followers to dismiss different and critical thoughts. Coupled with the wholehearted support of the Fox News sycophants, the message is that Trump is the ultimate leader and his adversaries are the enemy not worth listening to. Not listening to opposing arguments leaves emotional loyalty intact.
The first act of autocratic rulers is to shut down or physically suppress media outlets that oppose them. Trump has largely achieved this through his skillful use of Twitter and the Fake News label. The Washington Post recorded 30,573 false or misleading claims during the four years of Trump’s presidency. This lie did not deter his followers and may have codified their loyalty.
It is telling that the Republican Party has not released a policy platform in the past two election cycles under Trump’s sway. Political platforms are intellectual statements. Trump’s approach relies heavily on emotions, bashing his enemies and loyalty to him. Discussing issues in depth is not his forte.
The Biden administration‘s handling of inflation, the pandemic, and our involvement in a foreign war would normally be high on the political agenda of a typical naysayer. Trump is no ordinary adversary. When he and the Republican Party shine a light on cultural issues, they eschew the traditional exchanges of opinions and combat policies. Instead, they focus on emotional concerns with significant success.
If Democrats are to succeed, they need to argue less and listen more. They need to hear the emotions behind the loyalties of Trump supporters and understand why supporters have drifted away from Democrats. Anything less is likely to fall on deaf ears.
After that, they must search for an authentic emotional response of their own.
Robert Pawlicki is a retired psychologist and frequent contributor to The Morning News from Savannah, Georgia. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.