I’m heading back to the United States this month to spend some time with my family, and I’m headed back to an America whipped up into a political frenzy.
Europeans do not mistake an accent for an ideology, but when they hear my accent these days they do want to know what I think of the Trump juggernaut.
Before I focus on the electorate I should note that democracy, a form of government I’m not particularly fond of, necessarily requires a virtuous and informed electorate in order to thrive (it will survive and subsist on much less). It’s also important to note that in the modern era we often use the term “democracy” to refer to the form of government of enormous nation-states. We are very far afield from the demos (limited to tens of thousands in neighborhoods and towns in ancient Greece) or even from small Swiss cantons (which I’ve been lucky enough to live in) in which democracy, honestly speaking, was and is a smashing success. The unitary mega-state of the current United States of America was never foreseen by its founders to be a sea-to-shining-sea project. The individual states, the original creators of a federal union, were smaller and more human-scale entities in which democracy could (and did) thrive. So engrained was this idea of smaller entities that Thomas Jefferson, even after the Louisiana Purchase, which effectively doubled the potential size of the new country, mused that there might be other nations that might evolve and grow alongside what was then the original United States.
But across the enormous geographic and populational mass that is the United States today, which utterly lacks the connective tissue of shared culture and common goals, we have such disparate and polarized populations that only threaten to fragment more. It is from this confused witches’ brew that monsters like Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump can emerge.
Why is Trump popular? Dozens of reasons have been put forth over the last weeks and months, but I can see three in particular:
A love of shocking things. There’s really no better spectacle than someone saying out loud what no one else wants to say. Whether it’s something that should be said, or whether’s it’s true, is really irrelevant. Bring us the popcorn so we can watch the mainstream media have conniption fits live on air!
An anti-establishment pushback. This is not solely an American phenomenon. We saw this in the election of Syriza in Greece, the rise of Podemos in Spain, and the election of the unlikeliest of leaders in post-Blair Labour: Jeremy Corbyn. Bernie Sanders is benefitting from this “throw the bums out” attitude pulsing through the bloodstream of the American Left. Indeed, Sanders only registered as a Democrat recently so that he could legitimately run in the primaries. He, like Trump, is barely one of the members of his putative party.
A willingness to ignore details and take risk. This is what makes politics in America so unpredictable, and why such a country can elect George W. Bush to two consecutive terms, and then turn around and do the same for Barack H. Obama. What kept Scotland from voting “Yes” (and what will probably cause Great Britain to vote “Stay” in the June referendum) was risk-aversion, pure and simple. People who don’t know history assume that what we have now is all that is possible. They cannot comprehend what it means to take risks. The willingness to “ignore the facts” is a virtue of sorts for entrepreneurs, who imagine possibilities where there is currently only blank space.
This same virtue, in the hands of the reality-television-addled American populace, must obviously be a vice, especially when applied to the examination of the risk proposition that is Mr. Trump. He’s an egomaniac who has been on every side of every issue, ever, and yet he’s managed to convince men and women to abandon their brains and vote with their inner Howard Beale. That’s always worked well, hasn’t it?
So, yes, this issue will come up during my visit stateside, and the simplest response I can offer while I’m there is that a democracy always has the leaders it deserves. If, again, such a form of government is predicated on a virtuous and informed public, why would America think it deserves better than Trump or Clinton? They are precisely the sort of politicians America, in her benighted state, deserves, as they are mirrors of the dysfunction that continues to sabotage and paralyze a nation that would be great.
Who do you think would be a choice for president that an informed and virtuous electorate could endorse? I don’t see many other choices on the Republican side. Kasich, perhaps?
The effort that began with William Buckley seeking to purge the Republican party of moderate conservatives has finally come to fruition. We are left with hardliners falling over each other to adopt the most vitriolic political positions and, in the process, insulting each other as if they were middle school students.
Trump didn’t emerge from nowhere. And it is not a coincidence that he is a candidate in the Republican party.
Mr Wilton – I don’t presume to offer one, as I have not followed the race or the candidates closely. I am more likely to believe that there will not be a single good and serious candidate that will have a chance of being elected.
I don’t know that Mr. Wilton’s accusation in regards to the late William F. Buckley is entirely accurate. It is certainly true that Buckley tended to politically oppose the more moderate wing of the Republican party. However, if Buckley was guilty of “purging” anyone, it would be the more radical elements of the Right. Buckley pushed a wide array of folks out of the “respectable” conservative movement: Robert Welch (John Birch Society), Murray Rothbard, Ronald Hamowy, and Ayn Rand. Google any of these folks, there isn’t a “moderate” in the bunch.
It should also be pointed out the magazine that Buckley founded -National Review- has been aggressively anti-Trump (they devoted an entire issue to the subject). This reflects a long standing opposition on the part of the magazine to populism and demagoguery: NR stood against Wallace, Buchanan, and Perot.
I don’t think that the current state of the Republican party ,or the larger conservative movement, can be laid at the feet of Buckley.
I do agree that Buckley would be horrified by Trump. As we all are.
“I should note that democracy, a form of government I’m not particularly fond of, necessarily requires a virtuous and informed electorate in order to thrive (it will survive and subsist on much less)…
But across the enormous geographic and populational mass that is the United States today, which utterly lacks the connective tissue of shared culture and common goals, we have such disparate and polarized populations that only threaten to fragment more. It is from this confused witches’ brew that monsters like Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump can emerge.”
A few comments/questions:
1. Aren’t you being nostalgic at best, or worse, elitist and (typically, and ironically) elitist? When did the United States ever have a “virtuous and informed electorate”? Are you implying that current political contests have degenerated from a former era when politicians and the pursuit of political power were honest and pure? When was this time in the United States? When was this time in the entire world, for that matter? C’mon…who are you trying to fool?
2. Regarding your aside that democracy is “a form of government I am not particularly fond of”: First, we don’t live in a democracy. It’s a republic, and the lack of information among the electorate is at least a little more widespread than you realize, eh? Second, what would you prefer? Do you know how to run a better government? (“It is not in the nature of politics that the best men should be elected. The best men do not want to govern their fellow men.”–George MacDonald)
3. Are Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump the only “monsters” you see? What about the charlatan Ted Cruz, who likes to cloak his sleazy dishonesty beneath a pretentious religiosity? The historically ignorant socialist Bernie Sanders? What was Obama, for crying out loud? They are all, inevitably and necessarily, grotesques. Trump is the only one who does not pretend to be something other than what he is. It’s called “authenticity,” and no one else running has any of it.
4. The remarkable thing about Trump that is just now beginning to dawn on people, like it or not, is that he is in the process of forming a “connective tissue of shared culture and common goals.” The voting in the primaries thus far shows a trend that neither the democrat-left nor the republican-right recognizes, or is willing to acknowledge: Trump is drawing votes from more places in the “disparate and polarized populations” than any candidate in recent memory. You may turn up your nose at his methods–or look down upon those who support him–but it is beginning to appear that your complaint that these populations “only threaten to fragment more” does not apply to what is happening with Trump.
5. “You’re very well read / It’s well known / But something is happening here / And you don’t know what it is / Do you, Mister Jones?”… 😉
I’m not being nostalgic – there was a time in which our electorate was noticeably more informed and virtuous. Surely you cannot expect me to believe that the generation that raised the flag on Iwo Jima is morally equivalent to the generation that worships and watches the Kardashians? Your point is taken that “current political contests have degenerated” but are you trying to say that the elections of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, James Monroe and the like were no different from the “election” of Rutherford B. Hayes or the one that ushered Lincoln into office, an election which completely separated part of the country from another?
As regards to your “we don’t live in a democracy, it’s a republic” quip, I’ve often found this to be a distinction without a difference. In modern shorthand we use the term “democracy” to loosely refer to elected forms of government in which voting is open to the majority of citizens.
I don’t accept your MacDonald quote. Elites have a duty to public service – whether this was in previous times as rulers or the nobility of a country – or simply being the kinds of business owners and influencers they should be. Someone I admire once said, “To whom much is given, much is required.” It’s not a matter of “wanting” to govern others, but of respecting what you have been gifted with and following that gift.
As to Mr. Cruz – I didn’t mention him because I don’t think he’s a serious contender for this election – and I don’t follow American politics night and day anyway. It’s enough to read and follow some of the things Trump is saying today in contrast to his words and behavior for decades. I didn’t mention Sanders because I see his “insurgency” as something that will fade, as did MacGovern’s, Wallace’s, and Thurmond’s similar efforts.
Your assertion that Trump is “authentic” is laughable. The man does say unpopular things, no doubt, but he flip-flops all the time about things he doesn’t really care about.
It’s even more “remarkable” that you consider Mr. Trump to be the weaver of “connective tissue of shared culture and common goals” – indeed, this Frankenstein he is building – Evangelicals who swallow whole his views on abortion, People who truly wish for a better immigration system in league with thoughtless xenophobes, and onlookers who accept that his response to a simple question of “what’s your plan regarding healthcare?” is a gesture of drawing circles in the sky. Some connective tissue!
Finally, to the reader “Bill” I already replied below that erudition and common sense are not mutually exclusive. The Trumpites would have us believe that they are. But we just happen to have read a story called “The Emperor’s New Clothes” once upon a time and we know that like any good fairy tale, it has timeless, real life resonance.
“…I’m not being nostalgic–there was a time…”–Was, Mr. Heiner…was. Sounds nostalgic to me, but what do I know? My father’s Ph.D. dissertation was on Thomas Wolfe. Wolfe’s writing is beautiful, lyrical, deeply moving. I love reading, and I love the life of the mind. I also have ideals, probably not that dissimilar to yours, believe it or not. My own Master’s thesis was on Wendell Berry, whom I revere. Heck, I’ve been a follower of Front Porch Republic for years. But in November, as in all presidential elections, I am not voting for Mr./Ms. Congeniality,…and wish as I might, I do not live in the demos of ancient Greece, a small Swiss canton, or the fictional world of Port William, KY. I am not a Jeffersonian yeoman farmer. As a realist, I recognize that I do, in fact, reside in the midst of this “enormous geographic and populational mass that is the United States today.” Since I “can’t go home again,” especially to a home I never had, it seems to me that it would be best to try to find whatever “connective tissue of shared culture and common goals” may be found in this “confused witches’ brew,” as you so unkindly put it. You perceive the cross-cultural support for Trump as a “Frankenstein,” but you’re just being unkind, again, and also inaccurate and presumptuous. Your unclever description of his supporters as “Evangelicals who swallow whole his views on abortion, People who truly wish for a better immigration system in league with thoughtless xenophobes, and onlookers who accept that his response to a simple question of ‘what’s your plan regarding healthcare?’ is a gesture of drawing circles in the sky” is unrecognizable to me–I, for one, am none of those things, and I believe you have no idea who or what you are talking about.
As for your remark: “…we just happen to have read a story called “The Emperor’s New Clothes” once upon a time and we know that like any good fairy tale, it has timeless, real life resonance.” I assume you are not referring to the man with the perfectly creased pant, are you?
Talking about a previous time in comparison is simply stating facts. It’s not dwelling in nostalgia. You asked a question about previous times, I answered.
“Mr. Heiner, was there a time in which we didn’t fight fake wars with drones?” “Yes, indeed Mr. Mayo, just back in WWII we didn’t use drones.” “Ah, I see how consumed with nostalgia you are for drone-free days.” Using the past tense to answer a question doesn’t mean you are nostalgic for the past tense.
The “confused witches’ brew” is precisely that. You seem quite sensitive, alas, as also seen in your PS. The Frankenstein I described only contained three demographics. Surely you didn’t think I was being comprehensive in my analysis of every single sort of person that would support Trump? There are plenty of others who are supporting him, clearly. But being part of a whipped-up populace is not an indication that one is onto something. Whipped-up populations put Napoleon and Hitler into office. I’m sure those people were mad as hell too, and unlike today’s Americans, had dealt with war in their own country just a few years prior.
Today I watched the whole Romney/Trump exchange in its entirety, live. I was astonished. There are smart people who are supporting this guy. Goodness, say what you want about Ann Coulter, but she’s not unintelligent. She’s all in on Trump. But just because smart people are supporting him doesn’t mean that they are onto something.
However, I continue to be amazed that people are being taken in by this chump, and if your feelings are hurt because of my “sweeping generalizations,” all I can tell you is that I call them how I see them – and keep in mind it’s always easier to observe from outside the swirling storm. I think it helps, not hurts, my analysis, to be observing my country from afar rather than being in the thick of this.
I don’t need to follow American politics – or this election – very closely to see it for what it is: whomever wins in November, America loses.
“Whipped-up populations put Napoleon and Hitler into office.”–That’s classic.
P.S. In your reply to JimWilton, you stated that you “have not followed the race or the candidates closely.” That certainly is an interesting slip. Perhaps you should pay closer attention before you make such sweeping and presumptuous prognostications, and personal judgments.
I love that quote from George Macdonald, I will have to commit it to memory. While I don’t support Sanders, I’m not quite sure what it is that he’s historically ignorant about. Are you suggesting that a firm knowledge of the past precludes someone from becoming a socialist?
I do agree that Trumps represents something beyond the typical Left/Right divide. He seems to embody a non ideological populism combined with a Daddy Warbucks like promise to take care of people (or at least those people who “deserve” to have some take of them). While I don’t want to judge what’s in the man’s heart, Trump does seem less than “authentic” when it comes to his professed Christian faith. His admission that he has never asked God for forgiveness (something that even many an atheist has done) and his reference to “two Corinthians, at the very least raises questions about the depth of the tycoon’s faith commitment.
Fair enough, Adam.
And with that I’m finally unsubscribing from this cringe worthy blog. In parting, I’ll note that democracy is a sub par form of government. However, Trump is by far the best politician any democracy has been offered since Andrew Jackson. You think erudite language matters, but that’s why you haven’t built anything significant. That’s why you own no patents and run no businesses. Your pride stifles you.
At the end of the day, Trump is winning not for vague reasons, but very specific ones. He wants to end wars for Israel. He wants to stop illegal immigration (meaning actually have a country). He wants to audit the Fed and consider revising the monetary system (aka debt based money). He wants to end war mongering over Russia, a European Christian nation, and stop cozying up with China. He wants to stop exporting and outsourcing all of our production overseas. These are incredibly basic. But you are such a fool you’ve completely missed that.
I won’t miss these articles. I can’t recall one I actually liked, and I’ve been subscribed for three years at least. Not sure why it took this long but I’m certain you can’t be doing well. Reminds of the horrendous failure of the distributist review…
I can’t imagine why anyone would keep reading an online journal for three years if they haven’t liked a single essay in that time. Be that as it may, FPR publishes an array of viewpoints with an eye toward place, limits, and liberty. If you don’t see Trump as a threat to liberty, then you are a victim of hucksterism. I understand the many arguments explaining Trump’s support, but I’ve yet to read anything that has convinced me that Trump is worthy of support. He’s the worst kind of charlatan. As Michael Brendan Dougherty put it: “The idea that a man so proud of the serial abandonment of his wedding vows, his creditors, his customers’ interests, and his past political personas will suddenly find the integrity and strength of will to deliver on campaign promises is not just impossible to believe, it is the kind of fantasy that discredits the person who entertains it.”
I think you may be right when you say “best politician any democracy has been offered.” Indeed, you use the word “politician” not “leader” or “statesman.”
In business he may be a “leader” of sorts but “statesman” he will likely never be. And when I think of “politician” I think of someone like Bill or Hillary Clinton – and yes, you may be on the mark to put those three together.
Of course you’ll forgive my laughing at trying to oppose “erudite language” and business. I’m not an inventor but I have built and successfully sold companies, and currently run majority interests in 5 of them. So, your insult there misses the mark, but it was rather pointless anyway. You don’t need to own/run businesses to realize that Donald Trump is as Professor Polet put it, a charlatan.
Worse, some of your “specific facts” are wrong and you ignore the fact that this man has been “against” numerous things before he found them convenient to support.
For readers of this blog – which I can’t believe you bothered to follow when you didn’t like anything for *three years* – perhaps a single, salient issue which Donald Trump cannot be trusted with, are the lives of the most innocent and defenseless. That alone would be enough to disqualify him. He will, in time, be unmasked as someone who is way over his head in attempting to govern the United States.
Reading Bill’s message, I am reminded of Whitaker Chambers review of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. Chambers wrote that it was as if from every page one was hearing “to a gas chamber go.” This seems to be Bill’s attitude towards all those who are too willfully stupid to hop on the Trump bandwagon. Our friend Bill may even be partially correct. this country does need to take a hard look at such issues as trade, terrorism/foreign policy, and immigration. However. the Donald’s bombast, cruelty, and disregard for facts should disqualify him from leading said debate (to say nothing of leading the country for the next four years).
I’m new to Front Porch Republic and I am fascinated by Donald Trump. I don’t pretend to know what kind of president he will be if elected. The backlash against the “establishment” he has harnessed and magnified is both exhilarating and terrifying. I’m not a Trump supporter. But I have become much more than casually interested in his campaign.
Face it. We may be heading deep into the unknown and nothing we say, no posturing we assume, and no rationalizing we posit will prevent the the future from unfurling or insulate you from it’s reality.
We’re just going to have to ride this one out (election) and understand that while ideas have consequences, Idealism can be a dangerous romance that doesn’t prepare you for reality.
My post was neither romantic nor idealistic. And there were lots of people whipped up and engaged in the elections leading up to the National Socialists coming to power in Germany.
Indeed my post was hopefully a wake up call to those currently mesmerized. This may be new in American politics. But it is nothing new. We are not heading into some “deep unknown”. Alas we know it all too well.
“And there were lots of people whipped up and engaged in the elections leading up to the National Socialists coming to power in Germany. Indeed my post was hopefully a wake up call to those currently mesmerized. This may be new in American politics. But it is nothing new. We are not heading into some “deep unknown”. Alas we know it all too well.”___
Alas, and again, Mr. Heiner, you do not understand what is happening. We are not “mesmerized” by Trump. In fact, one way to understand the support for Trump is to see the support for him as a reaction to the apparent mesmerization by Obama of the other two branches of our government. The passage of Obamacare by congressmen/women who were derelict in their duty to simply read legislation before making it law, and the consequent SCOTUS decision, are examples.___
What you don’t understand is that it’s not about Trump, himself, the man, and it’s not a cult of personality forming around him, as it was around Obama. You keep trying to draw comparisons to “National Socialists coming to power in Germany,” but the better time for that comparison has passed. You think what you see is “new in American politics”? You must have missed the last two elections; you know, the moments “when we began to provide care for the sick, and provide jobs to the jobless…when the rise of the oceans began to slow and the planet began to heal.” And you want to talk now of mesmerization?
Whatever Mr. Trump is or will be as a political figure, he has broken the Clinton/Bush/Obama spell. That is what we are seeing; the scales of that spell, which has too long enthralled us, falling off as Trump rumbles through the political and social landscape. Now, he may well cast his on spell, worse than the one he is disspellling. That remains to be seen.
It is looking increasingly like a showdown between Trump and Clinton, which I believe favors Trump in a few ways. Hilary comes off as somewhat of a dour church lady to me, and Trump will rail on her insider status and those big speaking fees from Wall Street.
Honestly, if Trump tweaks his strategy a bit, I feel he has a very strong chance of winning. I don’t actually want to see that happen. But I would LOVE to pull up a chair and observe at what unfolds in an alternative universe where Trump is the next president- I’m genuinely curious. Maybe this can span a whole new subgenre of alternative historical fiction.
[…] Stephen Heiner, “a democracy always has the leaders it deserves. If, again, such a form of government is predicated on a virtuous and informed public, why would […]
Thank you, Mr. Heiner, for the desperately needed wake-up call. I cannot fancy myself a detached observer in this. For those of us involved with the security of this nation and its relations with other countries, witnessing the Trump candidacy with horror is ALREADY like being in an alternate universe.
Based on what I know about Mr. Trump, which is limited to what the media alleges about him and to how he protrayes himself, accepting that which I think to know wity a grain of salt, I have concluded that Mr. Trump and I have very little in common; yet, I note that he does not appear to be an ideologue or an interventionist. He seems to understand, although not fully, that there is a problem with immigtaion policy, a probem with the outsourcing of American jobs and a problem in the financial markets, including banking and monetary policy. I am by training and studied Germanist, and I see no parallels between Mr. Trump and Herr Hitler. As a Southner, I do see parallels between Mr. Trump and Huey P. Long and George Wallace.
Do you not see parallels in the idea of identifying a particular group or groups of people (including foreigners) planting some measure of blame on them, and then getting people interested in implementing some ways of dealing with them? Building a wall or banning all people from a particular religion from entering the country could hardly be construed as a “Final Solution,” but “Make America Great Again” could be evocative of “Deutschland Erwache.”
As an American whose ancestors have been on the territory now called the United States since the early 1600’s, including my Indian ancestors who were here before my early European ancestors, I am quite tired of slogans such as “Make America Great again!” I am, however, equally tired of Manifest Destiny, American Exceptionalism, America the Indispensalbe Nation, America the City on a Hill, and even “the Founding” as if after the powdered men of Philidelphia sent their draft to the states, some pixy dust was sprinkled on the unwashed folk and they were transformed, and the variations thereof which have come out of the mouths of most candidates in every election which I can remember. Mr. Trump, if you go back and listen to the rhetoric out of the mouths of candidates in this and in other presidential elections, is saying nothing different than are the rest of them. He is with his rhetoric much less bellicose than some of the other candidates. Germany should have awakened; but it did not. It went from the nightmare of the decadent Weimar Republic to the darker nightmare of the nihilistic Third Reich. Whatever Mr. Trump is he is not ideologue. He could well become a very autocratic President, but I sense no totalitarian in him.
As usual, Dr. Peters, you speak my mind more articulately than I can! I, too, am sick to death of all the huckster slogans, including Make America Great Again! What exactly do they mean by it? More central economic planning at all levels, disguised as “the free market”? More “invade the world, invite the world” foreign/military policies?
Forget “greatness”, and simply leave me, my kith and kin, and my community, alone, allowing us to assume our God-given responsibilities without the interference from the corporatocracy’s insatiable lust for power and profit! And as for Trump, he is indeed no worse than a good many whom we’ve been subjected to for years. Vulgar he is, and no gentleman, but, then, we haven’t had that choice on the ballot for a looooong time now! I don’t believe he’ll ultimately fix much of anything; it’s just that I don’t think any of the rest are any better able to repair what’s truly ailing “us” either!
George Wallace may be the closest parallel.
But Trump is a narcissist, lacking in virtue. Standing alone, that disqualifies him from any position of public service. The issues that Trump chooses as topics for his self-promotion are irrelevant.
I will stipulate to your understanding that Mr. Trump is without virtue; I, however, have detected little virtue in politicians during my lifetime, including the present crop in the stupid party and the evil party.
I do hope that Bill’s personal identification with Donald Trump is an exception. Are there more Trump supporters who feel such an emotional connection with the man? Bill reacts as a man might when his mother’s virtue has been slandered.
Or as a man when his mother’s virtue has become public knowledge.
On a more conciliatory note, there is an article over at First Things by R.R. Reno that provides a unique perspective on Trump. I am curious to know what you might think about it. Here’s a long passage:______
We’re in a clarifying moment. Since Super Tuesday and Trump’s successes in a number of states, the Republican Party establishment is mounting an all-out effort to discredit him and to prevent him from becoming the GOP nominee. If these efforts succeed, something like the standard politics of the last generation will continue. If they fail, all bets are off.
It’s long been establishment dogma that there’s nothing to be done about immigration. Our economy needs low-cost labor. Native-born Americans are too lazy and spoiled by the safety net to do tough, low-paying jobs (something usually said sotto voce, but sometime out loud). In any event, we’re often told the Republican Party needs to adjust to the new multicultural realities, not just in America, but globally.
These assumptions exercise a powerful grip on political leaders on both sides of the aisle. Ted Cruz might have challenged this consensus as a way to gain leverage over Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush. But Trump’s hyperbolic and aggressive language has exploded the delicate Republican effort to be both pro-and anti-immigration at the same time.
Another very powerful conservative dogma: Our economic problems will be solved by an ever-greater market freedom. This means lower taxes for the rich, those pushing the economy forward. It also means continuing the liberalization of global markets with free trade agreements, as well as de-regulation and the end of government supports for businesses (for example, the Import-Export Bank, subsidies for green power, and other market-distorting initiatives.)
In rejecting this dogma, Trump is unique among Republican primary candidates. He doesn’t outline anything coherent enough to qualify as economic policy. Instead, he lobs grenades at the dogma that market freedom is a cure-all. He criticizes NAFTA. He threatens to force Apple to make iPhones in America, another repudiation of free-market principles.
Trump is saying, in effect, that the hollowing out of the American middle class will not be solved by still more economic freedom. This is at odds with a core commitment of conservatism, perhaps the core commitment, since Ronald Reagan. And Trump wins Republican primaries while trumpeting this heresy! I can’t imagine a more fundamental threat to the Republican establishment, which has made this dogma non-negotiable.
Trump’s cultural significance is more difficult to describe. Perhaps the best description is gauche, adolescent, and rebellious. This also threatens the Republican establishment, because the Republicans have largely accepted the rules of political correctness.
In the last couple of years, it has become obvious that this acceptance has real-world consequences. Jan Brewer vetoed a religious freedom bill in Arizona, as did Asa Hutchinson in Arkansas. This week, South Dakota governor Dennis Daugaard in South Dakota vetoed a bill designed to stymie the most radical efforts of transgender activists. And, of course, there was the national spectacle of outrage over the Indiana religious freedom law. These setbacks did not come about because of left-wing outrage. It was the result of key elements of the Republican establishment joining forces with Democrats to support the agenda of the Human Rights Campaign.
Trump has said nothing about gay rights to indicate he would do otherwise. But his habit of ignoring political correctness—and in some instances fighting back and winning—seems to inspire frustrated voters. They feel defenseless against the relentless re-characterizations of their concerns as moral failings—xenophobia, racism, populist rancor, gullibility, and more. They may not regard Trump as someone who agrees with them on every issue. But they’re gratified that he is not cowed.
Moreover, voters seem to be making a connection. The same corporate titans who champion the free flow of labor, capital, and goods are the ones who strong-arm Republican governors to conform to the dictates of political correctness. Trump’s supporters like him because he threatens today’s economic elites—who are also our cultural elites—promising to bring them to heel just as often as he promises to strong-arm the Mexican government.
And then there’s something still more intangible. Over the last generation, our political culture has become very thin. Campaigns are conducted like bombing raids at 30,000 feet. Big money makes big TV ad buys and pays for operatives who set up in local store fronts for a few short months, at the longest. Public issues of consequences are debated on shows taped in Washington, D.C., or talked about by nationally syndicated radio personalities. In this abstracted public realm, the arrival of a figure like Trump who draws tens of thousands to rallies (as does Sanders) can inspire feelings of real participation in politics. People feel themselves making a candidate rather than being sold one manufactured by party professionals.
I regard Trump as a dangerous figure in our public life. A man who is so quick to threaten to sue his critics may, if empowered, do a great deal of harm to our already weakened political culture. But he chastens me…
Full article at: http://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2016/03/what-trump-teaches-us
I’ll definitely give the article a full read. Thanks for sharing.
My theory on Trump is based on our prolonged slide into mass anomie and (to borrow from Jim Kunstler) the visible entropy resulting from it. In such chaos, the masses are in turmoil, confusion, and battered by a rapacious Top 1%. In this time of Sturm und Drang, there is ONE figure who appears firm in himself and makes no appeasement to the offended idols of the land.
Whether for Right or Wrong, Good or Evil, many are grabbing on to the one thing that IS relatively fixed. Donald Trump. He is the perceived Middle Finger to the Establishment. If Trump is going to bring dejure Fascism to the U.S., at least he will do it with purpose, focus, and we’ll be able to judge our progress at any time. As opposed to how it’s been – being tossed about with no idea where we are going; Amerika falling ignominiously and with nobody held accountable.
Well, nationalism in western europe is kind of a dark place isn’t it, in the past leading at best to war and at worst to dictators and holocausts. I don’t know that a nationalism in the US has quite the same connotations. In fact I’d say here it evokes a nostalgia for a time when we seemed both strong and good. Also, that nationalism at one time led to such outcomes in western europe does not mean that it will always necessarily do so – I’d say the wars and holocausts are intertwined with the colonialism and global aspirations of the western european powers. Take that away, and being pro-French now might be fascist, or it might simply be a desire for rootedness.
Which is to say there ought to a wide space to express a nationalistic sentiment or an appreciation for a western culture, however that is defined, without being called a pariah. I don’t think that sort of nuance is being expressed by Trump. He’s never come off as a subtle guy, seems to me. But you know, a multi-cultural, global society can be a bewildering, rootless and ruthless society. An individual has little power confronting a national government – how much less when faced with some globe-striding entity? How impressively unimportant we become.
I don’t know how much sense Trump makes – not a lot to me sometimes – but I do know it is hard to fathom what people hear when he talks. To the question, what is the US for? it seems Trump is the one saying it is for the well-being of the citizens. The others, outside of maybe Sanders, have this vague world-arbiter thing going on. At least, I think that is what people hear. And where I live, I gotta tell you, after 15 years many are tired of the vague world-arbiter thing. That’s a lot of deployments, and it hasn’t worked out very well. Anyone who addressed that would get a lot of votes IMHO, scary or no.
Ha! I like that phrase: “the leader we deserve.” I made a similar argument in one of my own musings about Trump recently: http://chrisschumerth.com/the-trump-phenomenon/
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