A 'Trump-Pence' Car in Deepest Hollywood

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.
The Club™ in action, via Winner International.

A reader in Southern California whom I’ve corresponded with over the years sent several photos with accompanying description. I’m not using the pictures, for the contradictory reasons that they are blurry looking but also clear enough that they might be identifiable. But I’ve seen them and can say that they support the case the reader makes.

Why is Trump popular? The reader says that he is the living human version of that familiar car safety device, The Club™ from Winner International.

Or, that if Richard Hofstadter were rewriting The Paranoid Style in American Politics, he would need a multi-volume special edition to cover 2016. Over to the reader:

I work on a studio lot in Los Angeles. Hollywood is lousy with liberals, so you can imagine my surprise when I pulled in next to a car with a Trump 2016 sticker. [The reader sent a photo.]

I immediately liked the owner of the Trump car, in the same way that I would like the owner of a Clinton car in the Bible belt. Going against the grain like that takes independent thinking, guts.

But what really got my attention was The Club. [A photo of this, too, across the steering wheel.]

I don't know if you remember The Club, but it was popular in the ’80s and ’90s. It’s a long steel bar that you stick in the steering wheel. Truly the only way to prevent car theft.

I haven’t seen a car with The Club in a long time, but I saw one today. It was protecting the Trump car. And this, for me, perfectly sums up the Donald Trump supporter.  

To begin with, consider the driver’s morning. To get onto the lot, they had to pass through a security checkpoint. Once on the lot, they were in an officer-patrolled environment. In fact, every inch of this place is monitored with security cameras.

In other words, this is a safe place.

Even if a car thief did decide to break onto the lot and steal a car, there’d be better cars to steal than this one. Suffice it to say, it was middle-of-the-road SUV. A great car, but then again, this is a major Hollywood studio. The car thief would have their pick of Teslas, Porsches, Range Rovers and Bentleys.

In short, all signs point to one conclusion: no one is stealing the Trump supporter’s car.

And yet the Trump supporter was afraid.

That’s because they know better. The world has never been more dangerous, we have never been more vulnerable. We need a wall. We need a stronger military. We need The Club.

And The Club is Donald Trump.

Look, I might be in the wrong. Maybe the car really is in danger. But I’ve spent four years on this lot without a single incident (besides my bumper getting side-swiped by a tour guide’s golf cart). So I’m going to say the car is safe.

Therefore the driver’s fear is not justified. In other words, they're paranoid.

A paranoid electorate is nothing new. I’m sure you’re familiar with Richard Hofstadter’s, The Paranoid Style in American Politics. [Yes.] I’m no political theorist, but he more or less says that we, as citizens, can fall prey to “heated exaggeration, suspiciousness, and conspiratorial thinking.”

Hofstadter is careful to point out that the paranoid style is not reserved for the right. But this year it is.

Donald Trump is stoking paranoia, perhaps even creating paranoia. And it’s a smart move. Because he is the protector, the strong arm, The Club.

One last point: I’m not saying that ALL Donald Trump supporters are paranoid. I very much dislike that kind of blanket statement (including Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables” comment). In fact, I wouldn’t even venture to guess what percentage of Trump supporters are paranoid. But I do think some are, and I think The Club has merit as a metaphor.

And so going forward I will think of Donald Trump supporters as those who see their country just like they see their car: in imminent danger, in need of The Club.

***

I DO realize there are limits to the metaphor. The United States is not Paramount Studios. Crime does happen in our country. So do terrorists attacks and tons of other bad stuff. There are legitimate reasons to be afraid.

But paranoia is different, and I think this is a nice example of it.

I agree. A snapshot of part of the American electorate, 2016.