Baboons and other non-human primates spend a lot of time grooming each other. And this grooming is not just about picking fleas, nits, and bits, but making friends, strengthening bonds, and forming alliances. The groomed receives pleasure from the groomer. The sociobiologist Robin Dunbar believes humans used to do this sort of thing but stopped for two reasons: one, we lost much of our hair; and, two, as human communities grew, physical grooming became more and more inefficient and a serious time suck. Baboon troops, for example, usually consist of about 50 individuals. The management of grooming for a group of that size demands around a fifth of a baboon's time. But if a primate has more than 150 individuals (Dunbar's threshold), everything changes.
When a primate in a community with hundreds or thousands or even millions of individuals, he/she has to groom (to strengthen bonds, to form alliances) in a radically different way. Dunbar believes human language emerged from this need to groom lots of individuals at once. With hands, a human can only pleasure their kind one at a time; with vocal language, he/she can pleasure a group. All that limits the human is the range of their voice. Indeed, ancient Greek orators used to improve their boom by practicing speeches with pebbles in their mouths. The limits or the natural voice, however, were removed with communication technologies like books, radio, and, of course, TV.
Modern politics is all about voters getting groomed by politicians. Presidents like Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama were professionals at grooming their supporters. In speech after speech, their voters were told they were great and hardworking people who deserved the best the country could give them. This vocal grooming gave them lots of pleasure. But with Trump, the pleasure his voters get is very weird. Just watch last night's speech in Phoenix, Arizona. It's an instant classic of Trump's manner of pleasuring his voters. Indeed, this kind of grooming behavior may not be found in anywhere else in nature. Trump doesn't groom his voters; instead, he grooms himself, and his voters—mostly middle class and white—seem to love just watching him groom himself.
Trump holds rallies for the sole purpose of talking about Trump, about what a marvelous job Trump is doing, about how horrible Trump's critics are, about how it's so wonderful that all of these people came to see Trump talk about himself. Most primates would reject this kind of grooming. It makes no sense. What do you get out of it? But the Trump voter does get something out of it. They say sadness is to human sociality what a broken bone is to a leg or an arm. What exactly is broken when the grooming behavior among a large number of white Americans is so perverted? What can this mean? To enjoy watching Trump groom his own body?