Here’s the thing, the audience for Donald Trump’s latest gaffe is more the problem than the joke itself, and neither are the least bit funny.
In the (very) best light, joking about “Second Amendment people” taking out their wrath on the opposition candidate for President, is the stuff of sad sack bar stool warriors four drinks into their cups. But a crack like that, to a hall full of … Donald Trump supporters … is about as close to yelling “Fire” in a crowded theater as you can get, to use the old saw about where the line of free speech lies.
The post-mortem on this astonishingly bizarre 18-month episode in American life will require several chapters just rise and to analyze the psychology of Trump’s core supporters. It’s already been well established that these people aren’t particularly ideological. Nor are they particularly religious. Hell, they aren’t even all that Republican, other than when they’ve voted over the past 40 years they’ve pulled the lever for Republicans the majority of the time.
But what they do believe in, and what has them by the throat pretty much every waking moment of their lives are two things before all others.
- A sense of existential despair for a quality of life their parents had and they haven’t been able to achieve.
And 2. A mulish, mutated determination to do something about it this time, by god.
Several studies in recent months have noted the startling increase in the mortality rate for under-educated, middle-aged-to-older white men. These gentlemen being essentially the only remaining demographic group among whom Trump’s poll numbers have held steady, and at unprecedented margins over a Democratic candidate. Put another way, they idolize the guy. These men are the precise sweet spot of Trump Nation. They are the crowd that packs his rallies for a sense of community and empowerment they usually only get from talk radio or their cronies at the bar … at mid-afternoon on a workday.
Alcoholism, drug addiction-related diseases, diabetes, suicide, you name it, it has spiked up among these people over the last generation, along with a general belief, shown in other surveys, that they feel — uniquely — that they have been unfairly victimized by immigration, affirmative action, globalization and conniving liberals. By contrast, mortality rates for blacks and Hispanics have declined, with both of those groups expressing generally more positive attitudes toward their standing in the world of today compared to that of their parents, 25-50 years ago.
“Deaths of despair,” is the indelible phrasing by Princeton economist Anne Case, wading through these facts overhanging the lives of white men who believe they’ve been cheated and grievously wronged by modern life.
Point being, creatures experiencing profound despair, never mind their ability to make caustic jokes at Moe’s Bar, are in effect psychological cornered, and therefore as unpredictable and potentially dangerous, to themselves and others, as any trapped animal experiencing a “do or die” level of threat.
It is also beyond obvious that this same, large, despairing group has a pathological relationship to guns, their precious Second Amendment rights being one of the very few means left to them to exert dominance in their lives. For all intents and purposes it is their primary religion.
So the problem with Trump saying what he said to his people is this: However life overwhelmed them, whether simple bad genetics or via an over-abundance of polluted role-modeling from lunkhead fathers to Hollywood “action flicks” to cheesy cop shows to their steady diet of junk information and pre-digested self-pity spooned out by the likes of talk show gurus like Mark Levin and Sean Hannity, these guys are sad, despairing soldiers of a by-gone era and a lost war.
The problem for us is they are also the type to take inordinate pride in their manly readiness to make a heroic, decisive stand against a symbol of everything that has reduced them to so little.
They’re the crowd that finds Trump’s “jokes” inspirational. And that’s why they’re not funny.