Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The Trump Phenomenon

The attempt to drive Trump supporters away from voting for him through insults, pointing to the candidate's lack of class and taste, are unlikely to achieve anything but iron resolve in his supporters, and a shift from his admirers and sympathizers from mere sympathy to active support.

Trump bashers still don't get what this debate is about.

It is a sociological phenomenon more than a political one. People told they have the wrong thoughts, who are told who and what they ought to be and think are drawn to Trump.

The attempt to portray Donald Trump as nothing but a celebrity blowhard, to use James Taranto's term, in the Wall Street Journal, misunderstand his skills. He became a celebrity because of those skills, not the other way around. Not, in other words, by releasing a sex tape, for example.

The attempt to portray his sympathizers as classless and tasteless does nothing to portray his detractors as people with class and taste: just the opposite. It portrays them as bullies and snobs. It lifts the mask of liberalism to show something barbaric.

Since when were Americans known for their good taste and high class anyway? "No one ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public," said American philosopher H.L. Mencken. Americans, on the contrary, have always been known as brash, bold, open, and explicit in their defense of their liberties, and opposed to those who attack them. Trump is therefore more quintessentially American than his detractors, who act embarrassed by a man who simply speaks his mind without stint.

Trump is a pretty decent guy, whom the media have attempted to repeatedly. After investigating half a dozen "shocking" revelations about his ideas, I have, without an exception, found they were misquotes, misrepresentations, and purposeful cut and paste jobs: hit jobs. The full videos, without exception, showed unremarkable common sense proposals whose only crime was to disobey the politically correct corralling of ideas in the political arena.  The result of purposeful "creative editing," to put words in his mouth that he never said, sometimes cutting sentences in half and rejoining them later, began to give me a jaundiced view of the press, rather than Trump. After enough of these, people just begin to ignore all such "scandals," and dismiss them as cooked. "Fool me once..." said the townsfolk of the little boy who cried wolf. The press is that little boy.

The real battle is between authoritarianism and individualism. Authoritarians on both left and right attack individualists with the new dirty word, "nativism" and characterize them as "haters." Individualism depends on trusting one's own perceptions on what is right or wrong; authoritarianism on what authorities deem to be a truth one ought to embrace to join the "club," to pose in the latest fashions of thought as moral supermen, invulnerable to criticism by a circular consensus.

On issue after issue, common people have been told they are wrong, stupid, unsophisticated, and must defer to their "betters:" the experts who tell them how and what to think on every topic, even, now, their own identities. No attitude could be less "American," as Trump supporters understand that term, and many resent it deeply. Supporters are hardened through this kind of propaganda, and sympathizers are driven toward support. Through executive orders and single votes in the Court, the people have been divorced from their government in a way not seen since the election of Andrew Jackson. That classless boor from Kentucky,  who opened the White House to muddy booted Kentuckians going in and out of White House windows, doors being too formal for some, tracked mud on the fine drapery and carpeting. It is odd that the moment now coincides with the movement of taking Jackson's face off the ten dollar bill. Just in time for the arrival of the new Jacksonian. "Don't tread on me," was their slogan, and they didn't mean carpets. These things can be cleaned, but a government that spies on its own citizens, an IRS that actively supports the suppression of opposition: these things are not so easy to clean. Hence, Trump's popularity and the popularity of outsiders generally today.

More important still, the American public is beginning to become inured to the abuse of power exhibited by the Obama administration. The use of the IRS to target political enemies, ended with Lois Lerner pleading the 5th to avoid answering questions that could lead to imprisonment. Two Veterans Affairs staff followed her lead in a Congressional committee impaneled to uncover why half a million veterans are waiting years to get medical care. Lest we miss the bigger picture, what if every Congressional committee, investigating any aspect of the Executive Branch, in its normal and mandated duty to oversee the workings of the Executive: the one branch that can act, which has real physical coercive power, should suddenly decide, either in concert or by following the examples laid down, to separate the two co-equal branches entirely and make the Executive Branch completely opaque? There is no evidence that president Obama is encouraging such behavior, but there is no evidence he is asking his employees to be forthcoming with Congress.

Lastly, from 50 years ago, we have come from Berkeley's free speech movement, sparked by an urgent refusal to be quiet while they got shipped off to die for the vague Domino Theory of John Foster Dulles, a man whom Winston Churchill described as "a bull who travels with his own china shop," full circle to students in colleges today demanding an end to free speech that might be hurtful, a wholesale cleansing of symbols that have historical value, like the Confederate flag and, just yesterday, a painting of the ultimate progressive president: Woodrow Wilson! Why is one half of America so concerned with something that looks a lot more like Mao's Cultural Revolution and the Taliban's destruction of the Giant Buddhas, while the other half stands flabbergasted? The opposition to free debate, because someone might be offended, means that no discussion is fit for public discourse, debate, and decision-making. With what do those protesters suppose we will replace the process of liberal democracy? Riots and the use of force? Demands of University administrators to submit? Are they really suggesting that their subjectivity is actually objectivity and those who oppose them cannot be objective but only subjective? It appears so. And with that, society edges toward the mob and the mob's leader. Such people, to Trump's supporters, appear to be tyrants. Like the Shah of Iran, Obama has gone too far too fast and to expect no backlash is to be delusional.

Democrats should be praying that Trump succeeds. What lies behind him if he doesn't, is truly terrifying. The doors to totalitarianism have been more than opened in the past 7 years: they've been torn off their hinges. Who will enter? a messiah or a devil?

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