Braveheart Descending

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In the epic film Braveheart the hero Wallace challenges his outnumbered rabble of Scots to prevail against their mighty foe through their own will and grit.

“They’ll never take our freedom.”

To many of his followers Donald Trump is Braveheart incarnate. That once-in-a-generation awe-inspiring leader whom they’d follow to hell and back. Then do it again. A devotion so beyond the scope that those peering in from the outside can never really begin to fathom.
Anyone who has been to a Trump rally can attest that it was always way beyond the typical candidate vying with the throngs to propel him to victory. This wasn’t Bush or McCain or Romney. This was something different altogether.

“I felt like he was speaking directly to me” was a common refrain articulated by many. In the latter days of the campaign the crowd would even spontaneously burst into a chant of “We love you!”

Picture a crowd of thousands chanting that to George W, or even Reagan. You can’t. But with Trump the affection was omnipresent. They felt a personal connection, and a duty to go above and beyond for a man who would promise them the world, and sometimes actually deliver.

Not since Robert Kennedy in 1968 has there been anything like it. As with Kennedy, the adoration for Trump is heartfelt. It’s as real as it gets. Trump wouldn’t preach to them. He would speak with them, as if one on one. And they’d listen intently.

On the night of Martin Luther King’s assassination Kennedy implored the assembled to refrain from violence and go home. They did.

When he learned of the extent of the Capitol takeover Trump told his followers to stop the mayhem and go home. They did.

It’s a rare leader that has such powers of persuasion. Kennedy did. So does Trump.

Few presidents have been so revered during their time in office. George Washington was almost universally deified by the public. Between his election and inauguration he toured the northeast, stopping at countless towns and cities to throngs of rapt fans. He enjoyed it so much he made sure to do it again right before he left office.

Andrew Jackson and Teddy Roosevelt were, like Trump, charismatic populists disdained by the elites but loved by the masses. Like today, the divide between the elites and populace was stark, and bitter.

“Mr. Roosevelt has no idea that we look upon him with the same curious fascination as one would a monkey up a tree,” opined one pompous editor. The elites of that era could never deduce how he could possibly be president. They could not comprehend his broad appeal with the masses.

That the elite class has nothing but contempt for Trump is a given; that they can not understand his followers, or even try to, only adds to their confusion as to why so many millions support him. Even after the Capitol travesty, his popularity has hardly wavered, which further boggles their elitist mindset. So their only alternative is to dismiss his supporters outright as mindless automatons.

What they fail to recognize is that 75 million Trump supporters are hard to dismiss. Yet try, they will. CNN and MSNBC will continue to ignore flyover country all together. They rarely mingle there anyway, so why should they care?

Several years ago former Clinton Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers took a much self-promoted car trip through the heartland, as if on some peculiar anthropological mission to study the Trumpsters in their native habitat. Yet he at least got some inkling into how the rest of the country between the coasts live, and think, as well as some idea why these blue collar, rural, church-going types are so enthralled with Donald Trump. These are the people the coastal elites left behind.

William Jennings Bryan and Huey Long brought them into view long ago. But Donald Trump went much further. He prioritized them. He welcomed them into the limelight. And in a political phenomenon so rare they genuinely bonded with him.

Which makes his downfall all the more depressing, and disorienting. The shock has turned to anger, then bitterness, now despair. And they know there’s nothing they can do about it. Trump Nation at its wits end. Over 75 million people cast under a shadow of gloom, with nowhere to go, nowhere to turn.

At the end of Braveheart the mighty kingdom is about to swallow Scotland, when Robert the Bruce turns to the embittered Scots, pleading with them to follow him. They do. And win back their country, and their pride.

Braveheart prevails in the end.


Tom Mountain is Vice Chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party.