The Culture Of Trumpening
It is a gift that I don’t have to pay as much attention to American politics this week as I have been doing. In case you haven’t been reading my other posts, I am visiting a monastery in the mountains of Umbria this week, doing some reporting for my Benedict Option book. The only real American political story now is Trump, and I wanted to draw your attention to a couple of pieces that help explain his appeal in terms of culture war.
The first is by Reason magazine’s Robby Soave, who is most assuredly not a Trump fan. He focuses here on how the Trumpening may be in part a reaction to political correctness. Consider:
Surely, there’s no place less likely to become the site of an impromptu Trump rally than a college campus. And yet, at a recent Rutgers University event, throngs of students erupted into cheers of “Trump! Trump! Trump!”
Would many of them cast a vote for Trump in a GOP primary? Probably not. For these students, Trump is not the leader of a political movement, but rather, a countercultural icon. To chant his name is to strike a blow against the ruling class on campus—the czars of political correctness—who are every bit as imperious and loathsome to them as the D.C.-GOP establishment is to the working class folks who see Trump as their champion.
That might not be much comfort for the numerous people on the right and left—myself and most of my colleagues included—who consider Trump a narcissistic, fearmongering authoritarian peddling a destructive, fascistic policy agenda. But what if his supporters aren’t actually applauding his agenda: what if they’re merely applauding the audaciousness of his performance?
“Trump’s becoming an icon of irreverent resistance to political correctness,” Milo Yiannopoulos, an editor at Breitbart, told me. “It’s why people like him.”
Even some people on campus.
He quotes provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos saying that nobody votes for Trump because they agree with his policy prescriptions. I think that’s mostly true. Rather, it’s about making a cultural statement. The fact that Trump doesn’t care about p.c. pieties is the source of much of his strength. Soave talks about the ridiculous campus culture that has emerged, including a recent story about how Brown University students have talked themselves into psychological meltdowns because of their activism. Trump voters — this is me talking, not Soave — know that their guy would go in there and give those privileged Ivy League whiners a swift kick in the butt.
Given all that, it’s no wonder non-leftists think media corporations are against them. Media members are against them, too. And so are colleges.
Cheering on the likes of Trump and Yiannopoulos might just be one way for them to cope with that perceived reality. Trump’s naysayers claim—with good reason—that his candidacy is a disaster for the Republican Party: his election to the presidency would destroy the country. But that’s a selling point for his supporters—not because they love destruction, but because they’re suffering under the status quo, too. At least with Trump, they can enjoy the show and collect some small measure of vengeance against their PC overlords.
Read the whole thing. It is by no means unreasonable to conclude that the Trumpening is the only means possible to push back against the cultural insanity the overclass (in media, in academia, in big business, in government) is impressing on an unwilling people. Media people and academics think Black Lives Matter, with its emotionally hysterical identity politics and illiberalism, is a great thing. The Trump people are in many ways doing exactly the same thing, and are denounced for it. They don’t care. They’re sick of the double standard.
That’s why Trump has been able to peel away so many evangelicals as his supporters, despite being an unchurched secularist with three wives who couldn’t tell a communion plate from an offering basket. It is because of the increasingly large portion of evangelicals who believe the culture wars are over, and they lost.
If you’re a conservative who thinks the culture wars are over (they’re never really over, of course), then you are a lot more open to the idea of a unprincipled blowhard who promises he’s got your back on political correctness. From the perspective of the southern evangelicals I’ve spoken to in South Carolina, they don’t have any qualms about admitting that Trump is not a good Christian. They have no illusions about his unbelief. The difference is that while they believe Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio would be one more round of good soldiers for their cause [Emphasis mine — RD], they think Donald Trump would be a tank.
Evangelicals tried for years to fight for the culture—to win the argument for their traditional views regarding marriage, family, and the value of human life. Now they want to fight on different ground: political correctness. And since Trump is the king of that—an ally who isn’t Jesus-y but says he’s with the Jesus people—he can tear off a third of that evangelical electorate without moderating any of his secularism.
I hadn’t thought of it that way, but I think Domenech is onto something real. Trump is not a religious man, and as a New Yorker friend tells me, therefore cannot be counted on to understand religious people and the need for religious liberty. That may well be true — in fact, I suspect it is true. But if Domenech is right, Evangelicals (and Catholic conservatives) may have concluded that by now, the deck is stacked against them, and the only thing standing between them and liberal authoritarianism that is going to demolish their (our) institutions is a combative SOB who doesn’t care what Enlightened Opinion thinks of him. They may be wrong, but it is by no means an unreasonable conclusion. In fact, it could be an eminently pragmatic one. The institutional Republican Party will do whatever its donors tell it to do on religious liberty and gay rights. The Indiana RFRA fight proved that. Trump takes no money from those donors. It’s not hard to put two and two together.
Again — and hear me, because a lot of people who read this do not — I am not suggesting that one ought to vote for (or against) Donald Trump. I am only trying to do what so many people on the left and the right seem to be incapable of doing: understanding why he makes sense to folks.