Seventy-three million Americans voted to give President Trump a second term, despite his 22,247 documented falsehoods, his deadly mismanagement of the federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic, his blatant disrespect for women and people of color, and his serial firing of dozens of high-level government officials who dared to speak truth to power and contradict his falsehoods. To be sure, he used incumbency to send Trump-signed COVID-19 relief checks to voters and Trump-signed letters to recipients of food aid. Most of his supporters, however, were white, middle class voters in rural areas. They have been genuinely mystified by how Democrat-led, dirty, crime-infested, red tape-burdened cities could generate 50 percent higher per-capita income than their clean, safe, uncomplicated small towns. They resorted to conspiracy theories to explain this conundrum. 

Along came Donald Trump, a wealthy urbanite, who publicly confirmed their conspiracy theories, defiantly embraced their small town values, and rejected the urban values of multiculturalism, interdependence and protection through government regulation. He told them that they represented the best of America and that urbanites were dirty, unpatriotic, godless, elitist globalists. He gave voice to their small town grievances and validated their self-pride. 

How could a New York City-bred billionaire develop a preternatural ability to make small town people feel proud? The answers, I suspect, lie in Trump’s indefatigable love of large political rallies and his dependence on Twitter. His closest advisers likened Trump’s enthrallment with large political rallies as his “oxygen.” Through interactions with his fans, first on “The Apprentice,” then on Twitter and, finally, in large political rallies, he learned the art of rural demagoguery: Tell the small town folk what they want to hear. He changed from an agnostic to a bible-carrying champion of evangelicals, from a supporter of women’s rights to being adamantly “pro-life,” and from a supporter of banning assault weapons to headlining National Rifle Association conferences. The Republican Party has become so dependent on small town voters that Trump will remain a political force for the foreseeable future because no other major Republican leader has so completely identified with small town values as he has.

William McCarthy

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