When Donald Trump was elected president, there was an overwhelming sense of confusion. How could this have happened? How could it have been prevented? Yet, amidst all of this, one thing appears certain: Democrats did a terrible job of appealing to the uneducated, poor, or working-class white voters who swept Trump into office in blatant defiance of God's will and their own economic self-interest.
Part of the left seems ready to write off Trump's poor and uneducated white following as bigots beyond redemption. But this is a unhelpful, harmful impulse. I have been studying the uneducated white underclass for the past seven years from a rather unusual vantage point: I have been researching Insane Clown Posse and its notorious, overwhelmingly white, poor, and uneducated Juggalo fanbase for a pair of books: 2013's You Don't Know Me But You Don't Like Me and 2016's 7 Days In Ohio: Trump, The Gathering Of The Juggalos And The Summer Everything Went Insane.
There are a number of commonalities between Donald Trump, the world's most hated man, and Insane Clown Posse, who have damn near trademarked "The World's Most Hated Group." Trump and Insane Clown Posse each have an unusual connection to an unusually loyal, even pathologically obsessive, fanbase. They also share a number of carny hustles / psychological appeals that the left could learn from while trying to figure out how to appeal to the angry voters who made the nightmare of President Trump happen. With that in mind, here are six things I learned about Trump's appeal from many years in the field alongside Juggalos.
While it's fun to listen to Donald Trump and Insane Clown Posse communicate, in both written and verbal form, it's even more fun to make fun of the way they communicate. There's an awful lot to make fun of in both cases, whether it's Insane Clown Posse's loving use of outdated '90s hip hop slang like "wicked" and "fresh," or Trump's notorious abuse of "sad" and "shame" on social media.
Insane Clown Posse communicates like the part-time wrestlers they are. Like the WWE superstars they grew up idolizing and emulating, they have mastered the art of making fans feel like they're talking directly to them. Trump has a similar gift, to the point where if the media simply runs a clip of him talking at a rally or a transcription of his words, his supporters feel like they're still somehow distorting his message.
The president-elect's manner of communicating with the public isn't sophisticated. It isn't smart, let alone intellectual. It's sloppy, repetitive, crass, and self-aggrandizing. But that doesn't mean that it's not also extraordinarily effective. To his acolytes, it almost doesn't matter what Trump says. It doesn't matter to them that by just about every possible criteria other than his own, he might be the one of the most dishonest people ever to win a major party's nomination for president. No, what matters to Trump's die-hard followers is that Trump's casual, off-the-cuff style of speaking feels like someone speaking candidly from their gut.
The fact that Trump continuously seems to be improvising badly in the moment rather than working from a script or a teleprompter adds to the sense that Trump is "real" in a way polished veteran politicians are not. Even the infamous Access Hollywood recording fed into this conception of Trump as a guy who talks like an average guy, rather than one of the lofty elites who waste everybody's time and energy by "thinking" before they speak.
Insane Clown Posse's style of communication has similarly been mocked far and wide. Shaggy 2 Dope's insistence of inserting a "fucking" before the word "rainbows" on the single "Miracles" has been ridiculed since the moment it dropped. Yet Juggalos and Deplorables love the idiosyncratic ways their heroes communicate. They associate their bluntness and simplicity with honesty and directness, and the thoughtfulness and verbal sophistication of Trump's opponents and Insane Clown Posse's rivals with dishonesty and obfuscation.
For example, a beloved fixture of Insane Clown Posse concerts has long been the moment in "Fuck The World" when Insane Clown Posse shouts, "Fuck the Beastie Boys and the Dalai Lama." It's a hugely crowd-pleasing moment not because Juggalos hate Beastie Boys, but because by yelling "Fuck the Beastie Boys and the Dalai Lama," they're really saying, "Fuck the establishment, fuck pretension, and fuck people who think they're smarter and better and more spiritually evolved than you (even though they probably are)."
The irony is that the Beastie Boys and Insane Clown Posse actually have a lot in common, including doing a lot of charity shows and activism and unapologetically rapping about morality with an eye toward getting fans to be the best people they can be. To paraphrase another controversial figure with a unique way of expressing himself, people "misunderestimate" the effectiveness of the way Insane Clown Posse and Donald Trump communicate, which helps explain why these two weirdly simpatico cultural forces have soared beyond their perceived capabilities.
Even the enormous percentage of the population that despises Insane Clown Posse and Trump with a ferocity that scares them are liable to concede that, at the very least, Trump and Insane Clown Posse are not boring. And that counts for an awful lot in our tedious world.
If Trump was different and extreme in that he seemed to have none of the qualifications necessary to run for president, his fans didn't mind. And if Trump transformed presidential politics into a surreal cross between The Jerry Springer Show and dystopian science fiction satire, at least we were spared the tasteful boredom and low-energy mumbling of Jeb Bush.
As a candidate, Trump didn't just promise something radically different; he delivered it as well. Instead of a conventional presidential campaign, Trump heckled his Republican rivals in a way that was equal parts old-school insult comedian and new-school troll. Instead of ideas and issues, he offered soundbites and tweets and infuriating provocations haphazardly hurled in every direction.
Trump was so endlessly entertaining, different, and, to use a word he angrily co-opted, wrong that the media could not stop obsessing over him. And throughout the campaign, respectable folks took comfort in the knowledge that Trump was too extreme, that his comments about Muslims and women and Mexicans and damn near everyone else rendered him unelectable. That turned out to be a false source of comfort. Extreme times call for extreme measures, and Trump really drove home the idea that we were living in end times, and that unless he was elected president, our country would burn to the ground and life as we know it would be over.
Insane Clown Posse has similarly benefited from our inherent fascination with extremes, and with people who break the mold in new and interesting ways. They are an extreme duo who appeal to extreme fans. These fans think nothing of covering their bodies with tattoos of Insane Clown Posse iconography or traveling halfway across the country to spend four days doing drugs and hanging out with other similarly tattooed people.
The extreme nature of Insane Clown Posse and Donald Trump is both alienating and seductive. Trump all but promises to send our country hurtling into oblivion in a crazy clown car of bad ideas and terrible people, but at least we have the consolation that the journey will be interesting.
A seminal moment in Insane Clown Posse's strange evolution occurred when Violent J decided to mess around with the title of an early song called "The Juggla" and accidentally ended up giving a name to his group's rabid fanbase: Juggalo. Insane Clown Posse fans were already unusual. They wore clown makeup to concerts where they were sprayed with off-brand soda as a strange benediction, and wore their hair in weird white boy/girl dreadlocks that suggested Coolio's signature hairdo after a candy-colored rave.
But by giving their fans a name, Insane Clown Posse also gave them an identity, a purpose, and a sense of community. They weren't just any music fans; they were Juggalos. The word "Juggalo" quickly became lazy pop-culture shorthand not just for fans of Insane Clown Posse, but for any group of uneducated white people the public was invited to look down upon. In non-ICP circles, "Juggalo" was a lazy insult. Within Juggalo circles, it became a source of pride. Rather than fight the "world's most hated group" tag, Insane Clown Posse and its fans embraced it.
Something similar occurred when Hillary Clinton referred to the most hateful element of Trump's supporters as a "Basket of Deplorables." Once again, the criticism was both understandable and merited, but Clinton's pointed criticism could not have backfired more dramatically.
Trump supporters now had a name of their own. They weren't just people who backed a man with extreme and disturbing ideas; they were Deplorables. The fact that Clinton, a woman the right sees as Satan's nastier sister, coined the phrase as a withering insult just made them love it even more. They could not ask for a higher compliment than Clinton's fierce hatred. They embraced their new name in a million poorly photoshopped memes and smug Twitter avatars, many featuring Pepe the Frog, the unwilling Mickey Mouse of hatred.
"Deplorables" became a badge of honor to such an extent that the "alt-right" is putting together a "Deploraball" to celebrate Trump's election and their own political and cultural ascendancy. It promises to be their answer to the Gathering of the Juggalos, only with more Nazi salutes, less facepaint, and a surprisingly equal chance that Tila Tequila will show up and be publicly humiliated.
As a shockingly successful core component of his campaign, Trump ran hard against The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the rest of the establishment press. He primarily did this on Twitter, where we learn on a daily basis that every publication that has ever criticized him is failing, on the verge of bankruptcy, biased, sad, and/or a puppet for Clinton. The Washington Post retaliated by running an endless series of scathing op-eds about Trump's seemingly infinite shortcomings as a leader and a human being.
But Trump successfully reframed the media's attacks as a corrupt, terrified, and bought-off press working in Voltron-like unison to try to destroy him and his movement at the behest of their corporate masters and the Clinton campaign. Seen through this self-serving prism, those unrelenting attacks from The Post began to seem less like important muckraking and more like part of a football pile-on from a biased press that was dead set on discrediting the underdog.
If an entire industry isn't legitimate, as Trump has argued of the media, then its criticisms by definition are not legitimate either. Trump has similarly ranted (with meth-head-on-their-27th-day-of-sleeplessness level of intense paranoia) that the media hates him. Which is mostly true, both because he is continually antagonizing them and because of the kind of man he is and the kind of campaign he has run.
Juggalos have similarly discovered that the media continuously anoints Insane Clown Posse the world's worst group, and Juggalos the worst fans. These claims often come out of a toxic brew of laziness and the cynical conviction that articles making fun of Juggalos are going to get hits from people who enjoy the empty, addictive feeling of looking down on other people on the internet. They know that there isn't anything of substance to these snarky hit pieces, that they only encourage class-based mockery.
Juggalos and Insane Clown Posse know that they're not going to get a fair shake from publications that have been making fun of them since the 1990s without bothering to actually learn anything about the group and its world. The internet runs on snark, and few groups in any field have been the target of as much facile snark as Insane Clown Posse.
Trump and Insane Clown Posse have done such an effective job of delegitimizing the critical mainstream press to their fans that they have become, almost by default, primary sources of information on their activities. I know Trump would prefer if his Twitter account was society's central, if not exclusive, source of information on the activities of Donald J. Trump. I make sure to go to Insane Clown Posse's yearly "seminar" at the Gathering of the Juggalos to get news of the next 12 months of Juggalo life directly from the duo themselves. I know I'm not the only one. The world is full of anti-Trump and anti-ICP rhetoric, but for better or worse, Trump and ICP have conditioned their fans to not only reject that criticism, but also to write off the industries behind them as hopelessly biased.
In the lead-up to the election, the media was flooded with passionately argued screeds shaming Trump voters for supporting a candidate notorious for his all-around awfulness. This outrage was echoed on a million Facebook accounts. Indignant souls angrily announced that if you were one of those deplorable ghouls who supported Trump, then you were cordially invited to unfriend and unfollow them. And also to go fuck yourself.
The idea was to shame friends, co-workers, and former high school classmates into abandoning Trump out of peer pressure and public scolding, to let them know that supporting the president-elect could not be overlooked. How could reasonable people support a man who publicly mocked a disabled reporter, ridiculed John McCain for being a prisoner of war, and bragged about groping women's genitalia, on top of an almost endless series of seemingly unforgivable transgressions and mistakes?
The problem with this public shaming is that it assumes that the Trump voter, or potential Trump voter, being shamed is invested in wanting the approval of the people shaming them, to the point where they'd change their political affiliations and worldview. It seems safer to assume that the people being publicly shamed would respond to this public shaming by doubling down on their Trump support -- even if only to further antagonize all the self-righteous, judgmental scolds who'd announced on Facebook that anyone appalling enough to vote for that man is no longer entitled to the bliss of their online pseudo-friendship and regular thoughts on baking, fishing, and/or fantasy football.
It's tough to imagine even a single soul being persuaded by such judgmental condescension, but it's super-easy to imagine people being shamed for backing Trump repaying that shame in hatred and counter-judgment. A similar dynamic is at play with Insane Clown Posse. Fans and the duo itself have been shamed for decades for being so passionate and obsessive about something our culture has so conclusively deemed worthless. In their unintentionally hilarious "exposes" on the supposed murderous menace posed by Insane Clown Posse, Bill O'Reilly and Martin Bashir both try desperately to shame Insane Clown Posse for their lyrics, their words, and their message. These "journalists" only end up looking and sounding like people who should be ashamed of themselves.
Insane Clown Posse responded to O'Reilly and Bashir's attempts to shame them with trademark self-deprecation. They are, after all, guys who spray their fans with Faygo RedPop. It's more or less impossible to shame them, and foolish to try. They are incapable of shame, as is Donald Trump, as are many of their followers. There's a subversive power to that shamelessness that makes responsible folks' efforts to shame them for their unacceptable passions not only pointless but counterproductive.
Similarly, when people try to shame Juggalos for their musical preferences, whether in the form of a smug Vice or BuzzFeed list or in a mean-spirited Facebook post, Juggalos are more likely to direct their anger toward the knee-jerk hater than they are toward a duo that has given them much more than good times and some catchy tunes.
The astonishing resilience of Insane Clown Posse and Donald Trump poses a seeming paradox: How could two of the most hated mockery magnets of the past 50 years be so incredibly beloved?
In actuality, Trump and ICP's popularity and influence is attributable in no small part to the hate that is directed toward them by a huge swath of the media and the general public. In their own populist ways, both Trump and Insane Clown Posse tap into a fierce sense of skepticism and disillusionment with institutions and the traditional way of doing things.
Trump and Insane Clown Posse's popularity has historically represented a giant "Fuck you" to pretty much everything other than Donald Trump and Insane Clown Posse. Going to Insane Clown Posse's notorious yearly festival of arts and culture, the Gathering of the Juggalos, is a middle finger directed to police and the FBI, sobriety, clothes, musical snobbery, snobbery in general, Pitchfork, propriety, the mainstream, respectable people, maturity, adulthood, and anything resembling taste and decorum. Supporting Trump is an even bigger "Fuck you" to an even broader cross-section of human endeavor.
Hell, Trump's core policies can be understood as giant "Fuck yous" more than actual policy. Trump didn't run for president so much as he ran against everything. In the process, he channeled the incoherent yet intense rage of people who typically respond to the madness and pressure of contemporary life with a grouchy "Fuck that noise." Insane Clown Posse similarly benefits from the rage we tend to feel toward a corrupt and homogeneous music industry. Their existence is a fuck you to the mainstream, to music critics, and to anything that would ever be popular enough to feature Pitbull and Ariana Grande.
Donald Trump and Insane Clown Posse tell the Deplorables and Juggalos, respectively, that the establishment is laughing at them, and that the people in power think that they're stupid and racist. And neither Trump or ICP is wrong. There is an enormous amount of hatred and derision directed their way. Yet Trump and Insane Clown Posse both tell their die-hard fans that they, and they alone, value and appreciate these lost, forgotten people, and because they value and appreciate them, they're willing to fight on their behalf.
For Insane Clown Posse, that means using its legal and financial muscle to fight on behalf of Juggalos who have suffered due to the FBI's designation of Juggalos as a gang. For Trump, that meant disingenuously vowing to working-class voters that he would really stick it to the greedy fat cats at Goldman Sachs. Of course, that was before the greedy fat cats at Goldman Sachs made terrific contributions to his Cabinet, as have many of the billionaires in Trump's Rolodex.
Insane Clown Posse and Donald Trump each understand the value of being hated. They understand how hatred can be harnessed to create the sense that it isn't just Trump or Insane Clown Posse that's being hated and maligned, but all of their followers and their beliefs as well. They understand what a potent motivating force hatred can be. Insane Clown Posse and Donald Trump figured out long ago that if you are going to be hated, you should figure out how to make that hatred work for you.
Hillary Clinton must have also understood that she was doomed to be hated. Not only because she's is a strong woman in a culture with a pathological hatred of strong women, but also because she was a complicated and problematic figure who had been in the spotlight long enough for her sins and transgressions, and the sins and transgressions of her husband, to be common knowledge.
Clinton never managed to make that hatred work for her. When she lashed out at some of the people who reviled her in the ugliest and most public way with her "Basket of Deplorables" comments, it backfired spectacularly. It fed into Trump's narrative that Clinton was an out-of-touch elitist at home with billionaire oligarchs who drink the blood of children in Satanic Illuminati rituals.
Ideally, the Democrats will nominate someone to run against the president-elect in 2020 who isn't widely hated the way Trump and Clinton were. Yet I will concede here that I've lost a lot of faith in the electoral process and the American people as of late. At this point, I just hope that Democrats find someone politically savvy enough to alchemize the hatred and contempt they will inevitably face (from Donald Trump and his Twitter account, if nothing else) into something powerful and productive, the way both Donald Trump and Insane Clown Posse have.
For more insane Trump secrets, check out 8 Lesser-Known Trump Stories That'd Derail Any Other Campaign, and find out how we all got into this nightmare mess in How Half Of America Lost Its F**king Mind.
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