Yesterday morning after Trump nailed the Republican nomination, I’m reading Nate Silver, I’m reading The New York Times lead editorial, reading Ross Douthat, The Washington Post editorial, The Wall Street Journal editorial from a couple days ago. And they’re all talking about the mystery and about whether Trump is a “one-off?”
What one-off? He’s more like a one-on. The rest of them are the 16-offs.
Among the 17 original declared Republican candidates, the Republican party offered its primary voters a spectrum that ran all the way from a Wall Street-friendly, white-shoe, social moderate in Jeb Bush to a paleo-vegetarian theocrat in Ben Carson. Americans looked them all over, again and again in those totally awful pie-fight debates, ad nauseum, and finally Republican voters said they didn’t need no stinking conservative.
They wanted a white guy. They don’t give a damn if he’s conservative. And he’s not.
Republicans have voted overwhelmingly and early for a guy who vows, for example, that he will use White House imperial power to tell American companies when and if they are allowed to leave the country. He’s also a great admirer of Canadian and UK national healthcare.
Trump promises not “to touch” – please note these are his words, and it’s not a promise to avoid radical reform, it’s a promise not “to touch” — any of the big federal entitlement programs. Will not touch them.
His positions on abortion and same-sex marriage are a Rorschach ink-blot test. Everyone except Bernie Sanders agrees that his ideas about trade, if ever carried into policy, would crater the world economy. (Global Economy to United States: “Thanks, Again.”)
But he’s a white guy. More specifically — and speaking perhaps more than a tad defensively, since I am one myself — he is a particular type of white guy, of the post-World War II American White-Centric Fat Times variety.
On FiveThirtyEight, Silver says, “Trump’s main differentiator was doubling down on cultural grievance: grievances against immigrants, against Muslims, against political correctness, against the media, and sometimes against black people and women. And the strategy worked. It’s a point in favor of those who see politics as being governed by cultural identity — a matter of seeking out one’s ‘tribe’ and fitting in with it — as opposed to carefully calibrating one’s position on a left-right spectrum.”
Yeah. White guy.
Silver says, “What’s much harder to say is whether Trump is a one-off — someone who defied the odds because a lot of things broke in his favor and whose success will be hard to repeat — or if he signifies a fundamental change in American politics.”
What one-off? Being a white guy is a one-off? Look, I’m the first to say being a white guy isn’t what it used to be, but even I think it’s early to call it a one-off.
I still try occasionally to listen to Trump when he tries to speak. I will admit I have developed some kind of involuntary tune-out mechanism in my brain like a governor on a gasoline motor. It shuts down automatically when I hear him start to go into his autonomic counting list of personal victories.
That stuff was interesting for a while, mainly because he always does it with his palms held out at his sides and this little goggle-eyed open-mouthed head-shake that seems to say, “Can you believe it,” as if even he thinks it has to be an accounting error. But that got old a long time ago.
Now I only watch when I can see him waking up – his creative moments. For example, so he wouldn’t have to turn down their endorsement, he pretends not to know what the Ku Klux Klan is. Or this: Speaking of Maricopa County, Arizona, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the most hated symbol of anti-Mexican racism in the country, he says, “Nobody better than Joe on borders.”
Only a month ago, speaking of President Obama: “I don’t know where he was born.”
White guy. White guy. White guy. That’s the only thing Republican voters have heard, and it is the only thing they need to hear.
Disagree? You tell me instead your plan for figuring out the rest of the campaign season from here to November. I watched his “foreign policy speech.” You and I both know exactly what that sounded like — like the bro’ in your American politics class who bought his term paper on-line and then, oh gawd!, had to read it aloud in class.
We’re really supposed to sit here and pretend that there’s some kind of serious dialogue or debate going on between this person and Hillary Clinton?
They used to talk about male candidates having to pull their punches against female adversaries so they wouldn’t come across like bullies. Well, this general election is going to work exactly the opposite. If there’s a debate, Clinton will have to use a sock-puppet to act out her points so Trump won’t have a meltdown.
Why wouldn’t she want him to have a meltdown, you ask? Wouldn’t that be to her advantage? Well, what do you call his campaign so far? How’s he doing?
Between the mumbling victory inventories, Trump’s big public moments so far have been one long serial meltdown, have they not? How did that help those 16 Republicans and all the money on Earth that he just whipped?
He’s a meltdown white guy. Or a white-guy meltdown. Or a melted white guy? I don’t know. Something. They love it. Which brings me to another important point — the so-called “free media” canard.
In his piece on FiveThirtyEight yesterday, Silver said: “… it’s irresponsible to reflect on Trump’s candidacy without considering the unprecedented way in which he dominated media coverage from the beginning of his campaign, which was worth the equivalent of $2 billion in paid advertising. Any time a demagogic candidate wins a nomination, it suggests a potential failure of political institutions, including (but not limited to) the media.”
Oh give me a big fat break. The only people in the media who say things like that are the ones who were born after the era of profitability. They’re living on some kind of sugar-daddy investor/philanthropist money anyway, so they never have to learn how media actually support themselves … or used to.
We put things on the air or in the paper or online because they get us ratings, clicks, circulation – otherwise known as audience. If the audience wants to see Donald Trump, we show them Donald Trump.
What’s the other plan? “Oh, no, you naughty audience, we know you’re clamoring to see more of Donald Trump, but we don’t think Mr. Trump is good for you, so we’re going to hide him from you.” Yeah, right. And if everybody does ever decide on that, please let me know so I can start my own new media company, “Trump Central.”
There is nothing “free” about the media that has been devoted to Trump. Ask the advertisers. They’ll tell you the ads cost them more, not less, when the media put together a good Trump show. Trump earns his media from us — buys it, in effect — by offering us a big audience. Then he does one of his meltdown acts, and his audience gets bigger, and we make even more money. Dismal but true.
So maybe now I can get to the part that’s most important to me personally — the difference between me and Trump’s audience. But first, we have much in common.
White. Old. Life used to be way easier. It’s like looking up and down the street after a storm and finding a long-familiar landscape profoundly changed. The arc of history is clear now, like a great rainbow, and we are no longer standing over the pot of gold at the end of it. Where did that damn pot get to?
Oh, my gosh, will you look at that? The pot is way down at the end of the block now, and there are all kinds of people, people of all colors and descriptions, standing around it.
The sense of profound psychological and moral dislocation many older white people are feeling now in America feels as if it is related somehow to the surge of popular support for London Mayor Boris Johnson and the Brexit campaign and even the rise of a right-wing nativist movement in Poland. .
They’re not exactly the same, but all of them, very much including Trump, share that powerful tribal element that Silver points to. These are bracing times for the old tribes that always used to run things, especially for people whose innermost sense of identity is densely interwoven with ethnicity. And then there’s one more important quality. They haven’t been keeping up.
Old white people like me who have been paying attention might like to tell you — we probably would tell you — that we’ve always been all in, marbles and chalk, for the changes. Maybe. But we’ve also definitely been looking in the mirror most mornings asking ourselves, “What are you going to do about it? Better adjust, Kemosabe. Better adjust.”
The Trump movement is something else. It’s people who didn’t see it coming and can’t adjust. Hence the meltdown. And there is where it all begins to fit together finally. It’s not his meltdown we’re looking at. It’s the meltdown of the people voting for him.
What, you think Donald Trump is feeling personally oppressed lately? About what? He’s not rich enough already? While he’s campaigning, he can’t get a new wife? Give me a break. He’s acting out the meltdown for the audience.
Does the audience really believe he can bring back the money and the ethnic privilege? Or do they know he can’t but love him anyway, because he’s rich and he understands them?
He plunges those eerily dancing hands straight into their dark roiling hearts and plucks out the pain. I don’t believe he has any idea himself how he does it, but he’s exactly what Republicans have voted for, because he is exactly what they want. They don’t need no stinking conservative. They need a shaman.