Trump’s Speech: An Appeal to His Supporters’ Id

Donald Trump’s speech last night had the fact-checkers geared up to overdrive. He threw out a lot of numbers and made a lot of claims. In summary, most of them turned out to be distortions and/or lies. You can check out the results at Politifact, Vox and the Washington Post. Overall, he proved Stephen Colbert to be a modern-day prophet by coining the word “Trumpism,” meaning, “If he doesn’t ever have to mean what he says, that means he can say anything.”

The other thing you might have noticed about Trump’s speech is that he didn’t offer any real solutions. Here are just a couple of examples from Peter Suderman:

In addition to terrorism and criminality, Trump stoked anxiety about jobs and the economy, lamenting bad trade deals and the loss of manufacturing jobs. As president, he said, he would take our bad trade deals—especially NAFTA—and turn them into good ones. He did not say one word about how, or even what a “good” trade would look like, only that he would fix the problem. Trump promised to bring outsourced jobs back to America, and, as he has in the past, threatened unspecified “consequences” to companies that move operations overseas.

So what it boils down to is that Trump provided a collection of lies to define a set of problems to which he offered no solutions. That would be the kind of analysis that comes from people who are reality-based. But Frank Rich identified what that misses about what was going on last night.

Last night Trump emphatically answered any remaining doubts about whether he will pivot to a general election message. Obviously he won’t. Either Trump doesn’t realize that he is speaking to his limited base of support or he doesn’t care. His speech last night was quintessentially focused on what drew them to his candidacy in the first place. And it’s been obvious for a while now that they don’t care about facts or solutions. What they love about Donald Trump is that he speaks to what psychologists sometimes call their id: “the part of the mind in which innate instinctive impulses and primary processes are manifest.” The id of his supporters is brimming over with fear and anger at the way their world is changing. Trump points them to the villains they should blame and reinforces that they should be very angry and afraid.

What is important to keep in mind is that this is what authoritarians always do. They capitalize on fear as a way to get people to give them power. That is why so many people have zeroed in on what might have been the most important line of Trump’s speech.

I am your voice, said Trump. I alone can fix it. I will restore law and order. He did not appeal to prayer, or to God. He did not ask Americans to measure him against their values, or to hold him responsible for living up to them. He did not ask for their help. He asked them to place their faith in him.

My natural inclination is to remain calm and avoid hyperbole. But even from that frame, I have to say that this is the root of fascism. Here is how Suderman described it:

The essence of that argument is that America is unsafe and decline, and that as a result it should be cut off from the world, plunged into fear, and managed by a simple-minded strongman whose ego and bluster know no limits. This was the argument that Trump made last night. It is his pitch for the presidency. And it is a lie—a fictitious, nightmarish vision that a power-hungry narcissist invented for the purpose of acquiring power for himself by being elected president.

The one thing that keeps me from giving in to panic over that prospect was captured by a short simple tweet from Hillary Clinton last night in the midst of the speech.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.