This is my attempt to wrap my head around the appeal of Donald Trump. I have two different takes on this dealing with what I think are distinctly different sources of support. I'm going to be tying my anecdotal experiences to what I've seen of Trump on TV and what I've read in the news.
My first take on Trump comes from a certain type of business owner I've run into frequently in sales, both in person when I worked in Toledo and around the country when I've worked the phones. This is the type of guy that is going to buttonhole anyone he can to spout right wing propaganda and decorates his office with Ayn Rand books, Republican calendars, and Gadsden flags. Not to mention some of the more unsavory racist stuff I've heard a few of this type spout.
Something I've noticed in doing business with these types is that they always seem to make business very personal. Their business approach emphasizes personal relationships and doing business locally. They're the kind that prefers to do business with a handshake and dislikes the paperwork and formality associated with modern business. They're not the kind to have up to date ERP or CRM systems that are able to extract the maximum value from their knowledge base and business operations. Instead, their approach, which I personally find unprofessional and off-putting, is to try to establish a bond with the people they're interacting with. Their message is always that we're just like each other, sharing similar beliefs, political views, etc. and establishing the bond of being minor common criminals together through expressing anti-PC views, usually tinged with racism and sexism.*
In working with these folks, something I've often heard is how under threat they feel from big business. They often see the competition as unfair, they're firmly grounded in their communities and see the outside competition as an interloper. And they don't know what to do about it; they simply don't have the skill sets necessary to add value to their business beyond their personal relationships and their capital. But they don't see it this way. Instead, for all their talk about free markets, they seem to see business through a prism of personal relationships, while they may feel that they're a pillar of the community locally they seem to assume that all of business runs this way and that they're simply closed off from the important networks and that they'd be a smashing success if only they could get the right contacts.
Trumps rise has strongly reminded me of this kind of person. Trump seems to be this kind of small time operator scaled up massively. For this kind of person I think he confirms their view of business, it isn't the impersonal transactions of the market, using technology to leverage information, or efficiencies gained through careful planning that matter, instead it's the mano-e-mano cut and thrust of one on one deal making and the relationships made through a life time of business that matter. Trump confirms for them that they're right about how the world works, Trump knows the best people and he's successful because of his personal qualities, not because of running a tight business organization. Given these assumptions he must confirm for these folks what they "know" deep down, that they are falling behind because coastal elites have reserved the important networks for themselves and locked people like them out. They're pissed off because they see programs like affirmative action providing an alternate way into these networks that are closed off to them. They want access to these networks and they see Trump shaking things up enough that there might be some openings. Especially if trade is reduced, then those business elites will have to do business with them because they can't turn to Europe or China for suppliers and will have to turn to the small businesses in the US.
Just to make sure it's clear, I don't see all or even most small business owners as thinking this way. In truth, many of them are finding valuable niches in the modern economy. But these businesses are nothing like what I've described above. They tend to be professional, have skilled people able to leverage low cost technology options, and are able to work with people that aren't like themselves. One particular example I remember was a four man shop I walked into that specialized in doing custom work for China. These folks were the polar opposite of the kind of guy that would buttonhole me to talk about whatever Limbaugh has been going on about that day. So it isn't a small business thing, but if you're going to try to build your business on nothing but relationships with people like you its a given that you're never going to be anything but small. We live in a world that big or small you just can't get by acting like a Trump style business; our world no longer has a place for these people. And there's a lot of them and they're really, really mad about the fact that the world has changed to favor people that know how to work in an environment where trust is established through formal agreements rather than through bullshitting in a smoky back room.
* As a side note, this is a major source of white privilege. When I was in sales I had a lot of interactions where people told me really racist stuff shortly after meeting me just because I was a white guy in a suit willing to make polite noises while they told me terrible shit. These people universally considered themselves non-racist. To them, the key test would be that a person could pass a test of proving that they're culturally the same. For me, this would just be assumed and the person would feel they're in a safe space and spout off. But these people act a bit different if a woman is brought along on a sales call (in my personal experience I never had an actual minority member with me when meeting with these folks). Someone who isn't a white male willing to go along with their bullshit is being constantly tested. I'm sure they consider themselves non-sexist because they're willing to hire a woman willing to put up with raunchy jokes and maybe getting slapped on the ass; the same probably would go for an African-American willing to put up with rants about the difference between an African American and an N word (I've been subjected to this rant, just because this is the kind of thing these people feel the need to share with strangers). As long as you agree with them on everything, you're one of the good ones in their book, whatever the color of your skin or gender. I think the racism and misogyny here is obvious, but they see themselves as colorblind. Never mind that I never get tested because I'm a white guy while someone that doesn't look like me is tested every time in their presence. Never mind that there's no way they're promoting the woman whose willing to let her ass be slapped at work, no matter how good of a job they do. But to them, it's not racist/sexist because all they're doing is establishing that you share their culture (they'd say, being one of the guys), which is what is really important to them. I'm trying to be somewhat sympathetic in my writing above this note as a way to analyze this issue, but my personal feeling is that I'm glad I'm in a position where I don't have to put up with this shit anymore. Fuck these people, I have no fucking sympathy for assholes that act like this. Given how often I've run into them it's a terrible fucking thing that there are so many of these folks that run businesses and are certainly giving short shrift to hard working men and women who are better at their jobs then I could ever be. But I was the one getting appointments and sales with these assholes because I looked like them and could do a decent enough imitation of their bullshit to establish trust and close the deal. Left me feeling dirty every day I ran into one of them, but incentives in that field when starting out being what they are you put up with it and close the deal anyway.