As Donald Trump runs away with the Republican Party nomination, Nicholas Harrington has some theories on why he’s a legitimate candidate.
Over the past six months, I must have read (as I’m sure you all have) dozens of articles about Donald Trump. At first, they began with all the mirth and sardonic wit one would expect.
A New York Times comprehensive guide listed all 17 Republican presidential candidates (at the time) with the subheadings: “Why they’ll win” and “Why they won’t.” Each had a well-considered if not mildly caricatured assessment of their particular lock of Samson’s hair or Achilles’ heel. Ted Cruz could win because he can rouse Tea-party support, but lose as he’d run out of money without establishment support. Rubio could win due to his foreign policy position, but lose because he has no obvious base. And so it went until Donald Trump. Under “Why he will win” it said, “We are stumped. And we really tried.” (I note they still haven’t updated their spurious filing.)
The minute I read this I was filled with bilious disgust. The arrogance, the stupidity, the disconnectedness…the hubris.
As the months rolled on, the media did what it usually does when it wants to assassinate a political operative: it tries to get them to apologise for some manufactured atrocity. And yes, I do mean manufactured. I am in no way a supporter of Donald Trump but as I saw the media, pundits and large swathes of the public misunderstand and knee-jerk-vilify this individual, I found myself compelled to enter the fray on the side of sanity and as an antidote to hypocritical banality.
First it was “all Mexicans are rapists-gate.” Next, the “McCain not a hero-gate.” Then the “Megan Kelly blood coming out of her whatever-gate.” And most recently, the “ban all Muslims coming through the gate-gate.” Each time the media bet on a self-deprecating apology upon which they could swarm like a pack of hyenas, tearing his political ambitions to shreds. But it didn’t work. Why? Because Trump never apologised. And also because the media distorted and twisted what was actually said. Once the storm passed, Trump supporters (and undecided) saw he had been mischaracterised. Rather than finding themselves hopelessly supporting someone whose thoughts and words were vile, disgusting and a great departure from their own, they were an audience to someone who echoed their opinions.
In effect, what the media did was embolden Trump. The media energised a block of voters who, for a long time, had their opinions marginalised, but had never had anyone with the balls to stand tall, not apologise, and let the truth of these small yet significant distortions become apparent.
So that’s Number One: Trump will be the next US President because the media completely misunderstands the man and their attacks have only made him stronger.
Trump is like the Great Evil in the third scene of The Fifth Element. The Federated Army tries to fire on it, missiles explode into the sun-like ball of fire, and it expands, growing more powerful.
Number Two: Trump will be the next US President because people underestimate how broad his appeal is, and they certainly don’t understand the motivation of the people who will vote for him.
The recurring themes you hear that account for Trump’s appeal are that people feel disenfranchised, that his support resides among uneducated whites and that people are angry because of terrorism and the state of the economy. This is looking at the whole thing arse-backwards. People don’t support him because the economy is failing them or because they are afraid of terrorism. They support him because they agree with his position on terrorism and the economy. The distinction may be too subtle for some so let me flesh it out. The argument goes: “Trump has got people all afraid of terrorism and when people are afraid they run toward the authoritarian demagogue.” Ha! This isn’t like Hitler and Jew-hating. There actually are terrorists attacking the US and, in the mind of many Americans, the policies of the current administration are woefully inept. What’s happening is that people prefer his approach, attitude and loosely defined solutions. So the more the media pushes this agenda, the more they push the electorate into Trump’s embrace. They are marginalising real concerns and essentially saying to the voters, “You’re idiots and you’re being fooled.”
And that’s one of the biggest points in play. The more the media says that Trump is a ridiculous non-candidate, a fear-monger or a lunatic, the more they galvanise his supporters and ensure they will come out to vote for him. What happens when you approach a colleague at work and tell them they are stupid for doing something a certain way, and that if they were smart they’d do it differently? How many times does that person, in submissive humiliation, put down the old yellow-pages and Google the number instead? NEVER. They dogmatically find that plumber even if they have to call six of them to find the one that’s still in business.
Number Three: Trump will be the next US President because the Republican Party may just be that desperate to get back into the white house.
The best chance that America had of not having Trump as president was right after he declared he would instate a temporary moratorium on Muslims coming into the US. The Republican Party should have come together, admonished him, and at best revoked his membership. But they didn’t do that. Why? Because deep down they wanted to see just how far his support would go. They were worried about a third-party candidacy. And they figured, “He may be a son-of-a-bitch, but at least he’s our son-of-a-bitch.”
It’s way too late for them to back out now. Trump has so successfully carved up his competition that even if the establishment decided to back someone else and make it a nightmare for him during the nomination process, Trump’s support would soon overwhelm them. They should note that the voters Trump loses are not necessarily voters gained by any other Republican candidate.
Number Four: Trump will be the next US President because Democrats overestimate their national appeal and are falling victim to cognitive bias.
Democrats believe that their landslide 2008 election victory was a sign of the new normal and that the 2012 follow-up win confirms it. Democrats are convinced by an electoral map that appears very blue, and believe this gives them some kind of advantage going into 2016. In reality they couldn’t be more wrong. Obama won because he was like a knight in shining armour after the horror years of George W Bush. The electorate voted Bush out just as much as they voted Obama in. And the voter turnout in 2008 was the highest in history. Analysis shows that had there been a “normal” turnout of Democratic voters, the result would have been within the margin of error. Now turning to 2012, Obama won because Mitt Romney lost, not because, as many pundits now claim, that Democrats have a structural advantage across the United States. When Mitt Romney spoke privately at a wealthy donors meeting and said he could never win an election because 47 percent of the population looks for a handout, he scuttled his campaign and handed the election to the Democrats. Finally, if the Democrats are so popular nationwide and have this so-called structural advantage, then why are 31 out of 50 state governors Republican, and both houses of Congress controlled by that same party? If that’s a structural advantage you can keep it.
Lastly, Number Five: Trump will be the next US President because he is the “perfect candidate.”
I know that sounds bizarre, even downright insane to some, but here’s the thing: Trump represents the American dream. Perhaps not ours, but certainly the dream for many millions of Americans.
I’ll explain it in a roundabout fashion. Why did Americans tolerate the Wall Street bailout of 2008? Why do they not demand universal healthcare, higher taxes and social services, or hold corporations to account for their malfeasance and pillaging of the environment and economy? Because at a genetic level many Americans believe that they can make it rich. It may only be a one in a million chance but Americans would rather keep the inequitable avenues to that minute chance open, than close the narrow pathway to unimaginable riches, in exchange for a little more for everyone. A few days ago we found out that 62 human beings on the planet have the same wealth as the bottom 3,500,000,000. A large number of Americans want to, and think they can, be one of those 62.
So these people (and obviously there is a large number who don’t think this way: enter Bernie Sanders and his tidal wave of support) see Donald J Trump as a metaphor, their champion, their inspiration, and the proof that the treasured myth of upward mobility is at their fingertips.