Meet the Trumpverstehers

By Eliot A. Cohen

A few years ago, the Germans created one of the compound nouns in which their language excels. The Russlandverstehers—literally, “Russia understanders”—were those who while not openly supporting Vladimir Putin’s seizure of Crimea expressed sympathetic acceptance of it. They would never openly endorse the stealing of elections or the assassination of journalists, of course, but they understood the circumstances that lead to such unfortunate things, and the larger impulse to rough behavior to restore Russian national pride and enhance Russian prestige.

I propose the term Trumpverstehers in a similar spirit. These are not the mass of his supporters who fear the loss of jobs to global trade or automation; they are not the rural white Americans who feel threatened by immigration, ravaged by the opioid epidemic, and treated contemptuously by a bicoastal elite. In fact, by background, income, and employment, they are actually members of that elite.

I have some archetypical individuals in mind—a few eminent scholars, some former senior officials (both political appointees and career civil servants), several wealthy businessmen. They are the products of excellent colleges and universities, and in most cases hold advanced degrees. All of them are well off; none fear losing their job to a Chinese robot or a Honduran border crosser; they may gnash their teeth at the Washington Post or New York Times but trust them more than they do Breitbart. They are not bigots, racists, misogynists, or homophobes.

Most of them are partly closeted Trumpverstehers. That is, they are judicious about to whom and how they divulge their views. But they have said enough to me that I can reconstruct their arguments for being more hostile to President Trump’s critics than to him; for being unwilling to criticize him more than faintly, if at all; and in some cases, for taking an unabashedly positive view of …read more

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