Trump and Elitism
The most telling comment of all on this blog’s Trump threads came from a reader this morning, who said:
Whether you know it or not, you and a majority of the posts on this thread, come off as being elitist. The only change I would make to DeepSouthPopulist’s post would be: You’ve taken a side on this one, the Establishment side.
This is the essence of poisonous populism (as opposed to a constructive version). It’s Us vs. Them. All criticism of the populist candidate is invalid, because “elitist.” Which side are you on, boys, which side are you on?
As I have said many times, I have nothing good to say about the Republican presidential field. This may be unfair. I have not taken a considered look at their platforms, and rejected them as lacking. As we get closer to the primaries, I will be looking more closely, but at this point, as someone who has been alienated from mainstream politics for about a decade, I don’t feel much obligation to look more closely. Every single thing I hear coming out of the mouths of Republican candidates for president is a retread of the things we have heard every four years for as long as I can remember. Let me be clear: I have kind of a bad conscience for not looking more closely, but so far, they look like carbon copies of each other. I could be wrong, but I don’t think I’m wrong.
I believe that the Republicans don’t think that there’s anything wrong economically in this country that giving big business (as distinct from small business) more power, and increasing globalization, will not solve. I believe that Rand Paul possibly excepted, they think that there’s no foreign-policy problem that the application of military force will not solve. I believe that they would be better on “social issues” than Democrats, but I also believe they don’t really care about them, and in any case, those “social issues” are being worked out primarily in the culture, not in politics. Mind you, I think the Democrats would be marginally better on economics and foreign policy, and a lot worse on social issues (especially religious liberty, which is massively important to me). As a conservative, I typically vote Republican in national elections, by default, but my heart is not in it, and has not been since 2004. I am the sort of conservative who longs for a constructive populism.
The idea that Donald Trump — Donald Freaking Trump! — is the embodiment of American populism is, to me, a sign of political decadence. The man is a plutocratic billionaire known only for his flashy swagger, his boundless egotism, his trophy wives, his casinos, and for being a reality TV star. If David Rockefeller were a hip-hop superstar, he would be Donald Trump. He is a demagogue. White Trump supporters who wonder why black people fall for the blatant hucksterism of an Al Sharpton ought to look in the mirror.
This is not to say that Trump does not identify real problems. For example, immigration, and control of our borders, is not a made-up concern, though I think it’s inextricable from the economic ideology of the open-borders free marketers running the Republican Party, and the ethnic politics of the Democratic Party. The core of Trump’s appeal, though, is identity politics. I don’t think it’s racial identity politics as much as it is a politics of American identity. Trump speaks for people who see the America they knew slipping away. And they’re right: it is, for a number of reasons. Trump is someone onto whom they can project their fears, their hatreds, and their concerns — some of them, let us concede, perfectly legitimate! Trumpism offers a simple explanation for why things are the way they are, and offers a simple solution: vote for a strong man who will renew our national pride by standing manfully up to the people who are bringing America down.
(Vladimir Putin – an iron fist) + Paris Hilton = Donald Trump.
Reading Ta-Nehisi Coates’s bestselling book provides a certain insight into the Trump phenomenon. Coates identifies a real problem, or set of problems, besetting black America. He also rightly locates the roots of those problems in slavery, and white supremacy. Yet he seems to believe that there is no problem besetting black America that cannot be explained by white supremacy, and no solutions possible in the presence of white supremacy, which is ineradicable (says Coates), because America itself is a machine constructed for the propagation of white supremacy.
The Trump phenomenon means many things, and one of them is the deep-seated need in people for a simple explanation for our problems, and therefore, a simple solution. All of us are vulnerable to this from time to time. Here’s one example: I guarantee you that a lot of the people who love Trump and who rail against China and foreigners are the same people who would not dream of giving up their Wal-mart, whose Everyday Low Prices™ are made possible by globalization.
I am implicated too, I know. I have made a career out of complaining about rootless individualism, but had I been born in my mom and dad’s generation, with all the constrictions men and women of the 1950s and 1960s had, I would have borne all kinds of sorrows that I don’t have now, because I was more free to follow my own path. And yet, the problems of rootless individualism are real. The older I get, the more appreciation I have for Just Muddling Through as the only realistic solution to anything. It’s not a “solution” at all, but in the absence of a solution, it’s usually the best we can do. Every solution comes with a new set of problems.
Which brings us back to the Republican field. Every one of them represents Just Muddling Through. It has been pointed out by liberal critics that with a generation or more or anti-government, anti-establishment rhetoric, the Republicans have set themselves up for this moment. There is some truth in that. We on the Right long for the Trumps to arrive, because they are, those people, a kind of solution.