News & Politics

If Trump's Latest Gambit Won't Turn His Base Against Him, Then Likely Nothing Will

The president's newest executive order will hit his voters where it hurts most.

Photo Credit: katz / Shutterstock

Donald Trump has exposed what kind of conscience-free monster he is many, many times. Yet even I felt shock reading about his latest executive order, issued for the sole purpose of destroying the health care market. Sure, there were some half-baked lies about affordability, but the real purpose of this move is to drastically increase premiums as swiftly as possible, at least for people who buy individual insurance on the market — though these price hikes could reverberate through the employer-based markets as well. As Salon's Matthew Rozsa reported, Trump is barely trying to hide the fact that this is an open act of sabotage.

Well, our president may believe he's some Lex Luthor-style mastermind, but it's easy to see what Trump is trying to do with this diabolical plan: He wants to wreck the health care market, inflict financial pain on middle-class Americans and then pin the blame on Barack Obama. Trump really is a supervillain from a comic book at this point, so singularly obsessed with taking down a man he irrationally hates that he doesn't care who he kills or destroys in the process.

But this move is yet another sign that Trump's narcissism has reached lethal levels. He's starting to think like a cult leader who secretly worries that his followers might stop worshipping him, and is coming up with ever more elaborate and sadistic loyalty tests to see how far they'll go.

It seems Trump really did convince himself that the voters who got him into the White House are in love with him personally. That would explain why, as Gabriel Sherman reported in Vanity Fair, he cannot get over the fact that Sen. Luther Strange, whom he endorsed, lost the Republican Senate primary in Alabama to Christian nationalist Roy Moore.

“Alabama was a huge blow to his psyche,” a person close to Trump told Sherman. “He saw the cult of personality was broken.”

Trump may see himself as a cult leader and his voters as a flock — heaven knows his rallies had a cult-like vibe — but the truth is that he has always been more of a conduit for existing racist and sexist resentments than a charismatic and compelling leader in his own right. Like any good cult leader, Trump is angered by these signs of autonomy in his base, and now is going to test how much crap he will dish out to see if they'll keep on swallowing it and asking for more.

Experts believe the policies Trump plans to enact with the health care executive order will jack up premiums, both by ending insurance subsidies and encouraging younger, healthier people to opt out of more robust plans, which will cause companies to raise rates on older and less healthy customers. People aged 45 to 65 who make too much to qualify for Medicaid, especially those living in rural areas — in other words, Trump voters — will almost certainly get hurt the hardest by these shifts in the insurance market.

As I suggested earlier, Trump's plan is to dramatically raise premiums on his own voters and then blame Obama for it. It's obvious why he thinks that strategy will work. This is the same guy who said he could shoot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue without alienating his voter base. He clearly loves the idea that the suckers who believe in him are so invested that he can slap them in the face, and they'll still beg to vote for him again.

But will it work? That remains to be seen. On one hand, the common political wisdom is that the person in charge tends to get the blame for what happens. Trump can blame Obama until he's blue in the face, but if people feel the pain in their pocketbook, they may well turn on him.

On the other hand, Trump is an abusive personality skilled at messing with the minds of his victims, lavishing them with love one minute and then lashing out violently the next until they don't know which way is up. In this case, the attacks on health care affordability are being mixed in with showy attacks on well-paid black celebrity athletes -- and we know that for Trump's fans, having their racist urges massaged by their leader is like an aphrodisiac. This whiplash, where one minute he's giving the base the juiciest cuts of racist red meat and the next he's taking away their health care, might work to wear them into submission, where they quit asking questions about why they can't afford a doctor anymore.

If Trump is able to pull off this premium hike, it will pose an interesting test. Many experts on the psychology behind Trump loyalty have theorized that the one thing that could cause his followers to break from their leader is if he betrays them in a material way — and raising their insurance premiums should absolutely qualify. If anything can slap them into wakefulness, it would be this.

But if they stick by Trump's side, it's important to know that even then it's not really about Trump himself. It's about what he stands for, which is the ideology of conservative white dominance. It's entirely possible that the Trumpers will prioritize sticking it to the liberals over their own financial well-being. But that's not because they're in Trump's thrall, as the Strange defeat in Alabama makes clear. It was never really about him at all.

Amanda Marcotte is a politics writer for Salon. She's on Twitter @AmandaMarcotte. 

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