ON STRAIGHT TALK AND REALITY
Sometimes I think I am the only one in the world who is not shocked, just shocked, by the meteoric rise of Donald Trump in the Republican primary. Well, maybe me and Paul Krugman. After all, Donald Trump may be a joke to the rest of the world, but he is a right wing wet dream to the conservative base. He’s an angry white guy who is also filthy rich and successful in business. Because he is successful in business, despite having been born on the proverbial third base, he is the paragon of the Atlas Shrugged crowd. Everything else is largely irrelevant. He can even insult a war hero without consequence.
So Trump has two pillars of the right supporting him. He’s is a wealthy, business god and he personifies the anger which imbues the right, namely anger with liberals and the PC crowd, the mainstream media, the homosexuals, the socialists and, of course, the minorities who sponge off of the hard work of real (read white) America. He is everything the right wing base wants to be. A real, American man unwilling to be cowed by the emasculating liberal elite. When he gives voice to the angst or the right he is credited with being a straight talker, calling it as he sees it, standing proud before the liberal, PC monolith!
Of course, what passes for straight talk by Trump supporters is recognized by the rest of the world as bigoted, ignorant, arrogant and self inflated balderdash. It is baffling to the rest of us who consider Trump “a joke” that his supporters do not see him in this light. Of course they don’t. They also don’t see these very same prejudices in themselves. This latter statement requires a modifier. Trump’s supporters would be righteously indignant if called bigoted, and ignorant. And it may not be fair to use such an appellation. What Trump’s supporters on the right are is scared. Trump, cynically or in earnest, plays against that fear with anger. This is textbook politicking going back at least to ancient Greece.
It has always been my contention that the underlying emotional basis for anger is fear. In fact, to a conservative representing unquestioned male, heterosexual, protestant and capitalist dominance, the world is a scary place. Capitalism is clearly faltering, socialism is on the march (yeah, look…I know…I know), people of color are taking to the streets, people really don’t mind the gay any more. And don’t get them started on the Mexicans. Oh, the Mexicans!
Look, we all know that the above boogeymen that so terrify the right are either not true, or not big deals. But that is not the point. If you haven’t noticed, politics isn’t necessarily about truth and data. I, and presumably my readers, think it should be, but it’s simply not. Politics, especially political campaigning, is about perception. Heterosexual, white male protestants are going to be just fine. We all know that. But to the conservative base Obama, the Mexicans, the feminists and the environmentalists really are destroying the country. They really can’t point to any one thing that demonstrates the level of destruction that they fear, they just know that their country is being destroyed. What they are really expressing is the fear that they, once the pinnacle of the social ideal, are really losing their claim to king of the mountain.
Nor is it fair to completely disregard these fears. The truth is that contemporary life is pretty insecure. Wages are stagnant, the economy is shaky. Our jobs are no longer secure. Every wrung along the social ladder is a contest of will. The old social contract, the idea that hard work equates to success and that the lives of our children will be a little better than our own, is no longer valid. For many groups in the United States, this social contract was always tenuous at best, but to the conservative white male, it was the understood bargain. And now it’s gone.
And someone must be to blame!
Because the fault cannot lie with the very values and policies supported by conservatism for the last generation or two. That would require a significant segment of the population to re-evaluate their assumptions and then change their worldviews. Not likely to happen.
So we’ll blame the Mexicans! The liberals and their welfare loving following (who are also, you know…).
This is where Trump comes in. As a business god he is obviously of superior intellect and morality. Otherwise he would not be as successful as he is in business. He gets up, plugs into the fears and anxieties of his constituency, real or imagined, and gives voice to their anger and legitimizes their prejudices by scapegoating all of those “other people” who are making this country worse. He demonstrates that he is not afraid to take on anyone who is standing in the way of traditional American exceptionalism, like Obama and his liberal elite following. He’ll even get in the face of those to weak to stand up for true conservatives principles, or those who are willing to compromise their principles for political expediency like John McCain and his fellow RINOs.
Trump’s success is no mystery. Nor is it a joke. Trump is tapping into very real anxieties existing in our country and voicing an ignorant and regressive answer to these fears. What we are seeing is demagoguery at its worst. Any student of history can tell you that such mobilization pandering to a combination of ignorance, fear, anger and hatred, can lead to very real and disturbing consequences.