Understanding The Trumpsters: Donald As Lord Of The Flies

08/04/2016 03:41 pm ET Updated Aug 05, 2017
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a campaign town hall at Ocean Center, Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2016, in Dayto
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump during a campaign town hall at Ocean Center, Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2016, in Daytona Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

There's a reason we want young people to read Lord of the Flies. In adolescence the hormones begin pumping, particularly testosterone, and the pounding beat is not necessarily one of cooperation and friendship. It is the tribal urge to join a gang of one sort or another, to be able to revel in the joy of the hunt and the excitement of creating, and then punishing, enemies. It is blood lust, dressed up in a variety of costumes, but psychologically, that is what it is. Blood lust.

Recent videos of the happy haters at Trump rallies show a very familiar, very human activity. It remains familiar because it is so human, it is always in us, just beneath the thin veil of civilization those British choir boys displayed until they crash landed on that deserted island. Reality television is fueled by the unleashing of emotion, the untethered rant, the threat of violence, and sometimes actual violence. And the legitimate child of all this is Donald Trump.

A lot of digital ink has been spilled analyzing his popularity -- it may be an inch wide but it is a mile deep. These are True Believers. From where does such devotion spring? Change in the world economy, a shift away from well-paid blue collar jobs, the insecurity of a society becoming more multicultural by the minute, where blue collar white guys are feeling left out as the parade of high tech and mocha-latte-drinking hipsters passes them by. Yes, all true. However, the way all this anger gets transformed into unqualified and uncritical devotion is when an authority figure, a charismatic figure, gives these people permission to wallow in their baser instincts. To enjoy their rage.

Staying civilized is not hard work if you're doing well. There's an incentive not to call other people names, to keep your resentments to yourself, even as there are fewer resentments to restrain. Staying civilized is hard work if you see yourself on the bottom or near it, and stuck there. The greatness of the American experiment has been in the belief that if you are on the bottom, you have an opportunity to rise before your resentments take over. But if you see yourself as a victim without opportunity, where is the incentive to restrain your rage?

The great genius behind the African American civil rights community was understanding they did not want to light a match to resentments, no matter how much evidence was before their eyes every day that they and their ancestors had been subjected to inhuman cruelty. Instead, with the power of the black church, they lifted people up. In the words of Michelle Obama, "When they go low, we go high."

The opposite is happening with Trump and his loyal legions. They go low, with gusto. And just when you think they can't go any lower, they go further into the muck. They do so because they have been given permission by a leader who revels in the sheer joy of pushing other people around. You can hear it in Trump's voice, you can see it in his face. It's the same face as Mussolini and Hitler and every other demagogue who found himself growing ten feet taller in front of a crowd. In private, like other demagogues, Trump can be charming and funny. Give him an audience, and he's the man who wants to punch people, bully people, deride and dehumanize his many enemies, and in the words of Shakespeare, "cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war."

Here's the thing about Trump supporters. When you interview them alone, away from the herd, away from permission to lose all their inhibitions, they seem like normal people. They will sometimes sheepishly remark to a reporter that they wish Trump could tone it down. They are embarrassed by the extremes. But the minute they are back in the rally, or in their own homes in private in front of the TV, they know why they are totally devoted to Trump. Because it feels good to be free.

Trump cleverly says he frees people from "political correctness." And it's true that some of those mocha latte drinking hipsters can sound pretty funny when they seem to be wallowing around in white guilt for their white privilege. But what Trump really frees people from is societal constraints. And the people who should be most afraid of this are actual conservatives.

Finally, the media is starting to notice that Trump is not a conservative, that he is completely unlike any Republican nominee in American history, that he is unhinged, urging his supporters to enjoy the fun of reveling in prejudice and hate. The Republican Party is in a crisis of its own making, and it's up to the leaders of what remains of that Party to deal with Donald Trump, Lord of the Flies. Enough with pretending that he's just a different kind of Republican. He's the boy leading the pack, dancing around the fire, pumping up the worst impulses in the human race, taking joy not in the art of the deal, but in the art of the kill.