Donald Trump, to use the words of Winston Churchill, is a “riddle wrapped up in an enigma.” Underneath his gloriously orange comb-over lies either the most brilliant political mind of our time or the unbalanced brain of a deranged billionaire.
Either way, the American public is, mysteriously, buying what Trump is selling. Despite innumerable political gaffes and faux pas unseen since Herman Cain’s bid for presidency in 2012, Trump has steadily ascended polls across the nation as the Republican frontrunner. The latest CBS News/New York Times poll finds Trump leading with 27 percent of the vote. Jeb Bush, the once-presumed nominee, polled in at 6 percent in the same study.
Despite this epidemic of Trump fever, I could not recall ever having a serious conversation about Trump with a genuine supporter of his. As a UC Berkeley student, I couldn’t think of a single person on campus who wanted to “make America great again.” But that couldn’t be right. There had to be one of his very many supporters on our liberal oasis of a campus. So I set out to find one. I left the safety of my progressive echo-chamber and traveled into an unknown underbelly of campus.
I knew the search would be treacherous, but I hunkered down and went looking for a genuine Trump supporter on the Berkeley campus. But still, that wouldn’t be enough. I would have to follow him or her around, learn about his life. What makes him tick, other than hordes of immigrants destroying the fabric of American life? What excites him, other than beating China in the much-sermonized race for world domination?
But to find a Trump supporter, I had to first think like a Trump supporter. I studied the business mogul, trying to discover the root of his popularity. After watching dozens of interviews and videos, I began to understand the massive appeal: Trump stands out to the common American, who feels disillusioned and left out of the political process. But Trump also espouses messages appealing to those who want the country to return to an earlier, simpler time of low taxes and international domination. Why an absurdly wealthy magnate would be the messenger of the common man was still a mystery to me.
I began my search for a Trump fan by reaching out to a number of financial clubs, asking if I would be able to find a Trump supporter at their next meeting. Surely, I figured, the financial elites of UC Berkeley would admire Trump’s savvy business cunning. But when I revealed my intentions, I was met with resounding rejection. Some clubs did not respond to my messages, while many simply refused to allow me to visit.
Feeling rejected but still optimistic, I started brainstorming other organizations that might have a Trump supporter in their midst. I reached out to some Christian organizations. I was convinced that at least one student would be attracted to Trump’s adherence to the Bible (he even went so far as to rank the Bible above his own “Art of the Deal” as his favorite book). But once again, I was met with the cold shoulder. Nobody was dying to vouch for the most famous man in America.
Feeling hopeless, I turned to one final organization — the Berkeley College Republicans. I was graciously invited to its CNN Republican debate viewing party. Feeling intimidated at first, I entered five minutes late and was immediately greeted by cheering and snapping for Jeb Bush. The club members were a jovial bunch, but they were more concerned with the stern politicians and their calm answers than with Trump’s rants and squabbles. Despite Trump leading in the polls, the club seemed to ignore his politics. At one point, the members broke out into a spontaneous mockery of Trump’s pronunciation of “China.” I started a number of side conversations with members, hoping to find one who would reveal support for Trump. But whenever I would finally pop the big question, asking for whom these students would vote, they all said they supported the race’s other big names — Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz. Nobody mentioned Trump.
At this point, I was getting nervous that my journey had reached an end. In one last desperate attempt to find a genuine crusader for Trump, I reached out to the Berkeley College Republicans’ entire membership. Not only did I fail to find a fan, but I couldn’t find a member who knew any students who supported Trump. My search had ultimately failed. I finished the journey more confused than when I had entered. According to the figures, Trump is a champion of the nation. But not a single person I encountered on campus agreed with his policies and beliefs.
As I thought about my failure, a few important facts became clear to me. Trump’s popularity is fleeting, as many news outlets have insisted for a while now. It is also possible that I had begun my search too late, as the bombastic candidate seems to be reaching a national tipping point. But the pivotal cause of my failure seemed to lie in UC Berkeley’s culture and reputation. It is obvious that UC Berkeley doesn’t represent the country as a whole, and it would only make sense for the campus to stray from public opinion at times. In this case, the UC Berkeley I interacted with departed radically from Trump fever.
Statistically speaking, there must be a fair number of Trump supporters spread across UC Berkeley. My failure to find somebody voting for Trump does not indicate that no UC Berkeley students will vote for him but instead that the American public we read about in the news and discuss in classes can, at times, feel very distant from our own surroundings. How can we, then, engage with the facts of our national political climate from such a distance? Will a Trump supporter come forward and show me the way?