The Trumpocalypse began a year ago today. That means it’s time to check in with the working-class white voters who flipped the Rust Belt for now-President Donald Trump last November 8. As Michael Kruse’s report in Politico shows, Trump supporters in Johnstown, Pennsylvania still adore him. One even suggests he’s the Second Coming of Christ, a “savior” presiding over the end times.
The frank racism concerning the NFL protests expressed by a couple in the article will (rightly) get a lot of attention. But that “savior” comment stood out to me, too. It was made by Joey Del Signore, a non-church-going Catholic who offers round after round of excuses for Trump’s behavior. He then says people at his wife’s church think Barack Obama is the antichrist. If that’s true, then Trump is Christ, right? Del Signore, who’s 61, adds, “I think we’re going to see the end of the world in our generation.”
I don’t think that’s really a theological statement. I think it’s an expression of short-sighted, resentful narcissism, bordering on nihilism. Each and every one of us will see the end of the world—as we know it—in our generation; we all die.
The question is whether we think our death is equivalent to the end of the world, and whether we care what will happen to other people after we’re dead.
Friedrich Nietzsche argued that theological claims are actually expressions of ressentiment—envious hatred toward those we believe have oppressed us. He thought people created ultimate value systems, involving good and evil and heaven and hell, in order to put their enemies in their place. It’s a form of “imaginary revenge,” a self-consolation in the face of inevitable human limitations like powerlessness and death.
If ressentiment is what’s driving these voters’ loyalty to Trump, then it doesn’t matter if he delivers on his campaign promise to put Johnstown’s steel workers and coal miners back to work. He hardly has to accomplish anything to be a great president. He can just let the world go to hell.
Some of Trump’s policies truly have catastrophic potential, like the administration’s rollback of environmental protections and his provocation toward a nuclear-armed North Korea. His presidency also makes life measurably worse for immigrants, members of racial and religious minorities, women, LGBT persons, and many others.
Voters Kruse spoke to admit that Trump hasn’t made things better for them. In fact, some say they don’t really expect him to. The opioid-abuse epidemic that kills more locals every year is “not going to improve for a long time,” 76-year-old Maggie Frear said.
We’re all mortal. If you don’t care what happens to the world after you leave it, or to people alive now whom you never see—if all you care about is having your resentments symbolically gratified—then Trump 2016, Trump 2020, Trump for the Great Tribulation and Thousand-Year Reign is exactly the right choice.