Most etymologists agree that ‘fan’ is a shortening of fanatic. But ‘fanatic’ comes from the Latin fanaticus, meaning “mad, inspired by a god.” This, in turn, is derived from fanum, meaning “a temple, shrine, or consecrated place.” In the 1880s, when the newly-invented game of baseball began to catch on, the term fan became associated with sports. It now applies to any form of entertainment. Fans are basically crazy people.
Here’s the important distinction between being a fan and being a supporter: fandom is about passion based on faith and group identity; support is grounded in agreement. Supporters encourage and promote a person (or a group or a cause) because they share the views of what that person is doing, with what that group believes, with that cause. Fans support a person (or a group or a cause) because of who they believe that person (or group or cause) is.
For example, nobody supports the Chicago Cubs because they agree with the team, or because they share the team’s beliefs, or because they agree with the Cubbie’s cause. The team (as opposed to individual players) doesn’t have a cause. The Cubs exist to play baseball–that’s it. Cubs fans love the Cubs because they’re the Cubs. Maybe it has to do with the city of Chicago, or because of the team’s history, or because of a specific player (who doesn’t love Ernie Banks?), or even because of the friendly confines their iconic stadium. The reason for fandom isn’t as important as the fact of fandom.
Back in the 1990s, a researcher named Daniel Wann created a Sport Spectator Identification Scale–a series of questions to determine how deeply sports fans are invested in a team. He found strong correlations between identification with a team and a fan’s 1) self-esteem, 2) belief in the trustworthiness of others, 3) belief that the depth of one’s support can influence the outcome of a game, 4) consumptive behavior (the willingness to spend money, wait in line, consume media related to the team), 5) willingness to anonymously injure an opposing team player/coach, and 6) willingness to anonymously cheat to help one’s team.
Here’s a True Thing: Comrade Trump has few actual supporters; but he’s got a very large fan base. Trump fans aren’t all that different from sports fans. True fans (as opposed to weekend fans) will frequently change their lives to accommodate their fandom. They feel a powerful need to publicly demonstrate their membership in the fan base. They join clubs with other fans, they prefer to associate with other fans. They attend events (rallies, speeches, conventions, games). They wear hats and jerseys and scarfs to identify themselves as fans. They adorn their vehicles with fan stickers. Some will even fly flags showing their allegiance. They’re often loud and obnoxious in their support; they’re often louder and more obnoxious in their opposition to competing figures/teams.
Trump fans aren’t supporters of Trump’s beliefs (if he has any) or his political or religious ideology (if he has any) or his policies (if he has any); they’re fans of Trump his ownself. They want Trump to win, of course, but the thing about fan loyalty is that it doesn’t require winning. True fans (as opposed to fair weather fans) will continue to support a losing team; they’ll rationalize the losses (the referees are incompetent or corrupt, the home office is failing the team, the other teams cheat). Fans will even defend their team if/when it’s accused of cheating–even when there’s undeniable evidence of cheating. At the very least, they’ll justify the cheating.
When reporters ask people who attend Trump rallies, “How can you continue to support Trump when he has (fill in the blank with something awful and inexcusable)?” the answer lies in fandom, not reason or logic. And that’s a really big problem. Why? Because it’s almost impossible for a Cubs fan to stop being fans of the Chicago Cubs. That’s also true for Trump fans.
Remember this: groups of passionate sports fans can turn violent. Hell, the most common form of group violence among white men is the sports riot. This is true whether their team wins or loses. After the Detroit Tigers beat the San Diego Padres in the 1984 World Series, Detroit fans celebrated by a riot that left one person dead, eighty injured, and millions of dollars in property damage (the eight rapes that took place are often overlooked, because capitalism and misogyny place more value on property). The same thing happened in Chicago when the Chicago Bulls basketball team won the NBA final in 1991 (and again in 1992, and also in 1993, not to mention 1996 and 1997). We’ve seen similar sports riots in every nation with a passion for sports.
When asked why they rioted, sports fans usually claim they just got caught up in the moment. Which is also the most common excuse given by the January 6th insurrectionists.
That sort of unreasoned, passionate fan loyalty (and subsequent willingness to get ‘caught up in the moment’) applies to Trump fans. That’s scary in itself. It’s even more scary considering a LOT of Trump’s true fans are also true fans of the Second Amendment. The only thing worse than than a rabid fan is a rabid fan with a gun.