Saturday, October 8, 2016

What the Meaning of Trump Is

I have to admit that I'm well past the point of "Reasons why Donald Trump is bad person" fatigue. There seems to be a grand experiment running to see how many criticisms of past and present behavior it will take for Mr. Trump to cease to be a viable political candidate. Here's a hint; they are like the stars in the sky, none can count them.

What Donald Trump has managed to do, and, for that matter, what Bernie Sanders had also managed to do (if not quite to the same level) was convince a number of voters to move their ideological, worldview and identity investment from their political party to himself as an individual. And I think that this accounts for why Mr. Trump has become effectively bulletproof in a way that few, if any, other candidates for President have been.

It's true that not all Republican voters have made this switch. A good number of them likely still have their base investment in their political party and will vote for Mr. Trump out of loyalty to that party and to their desire to see the policies that it promotes remain viable in the years to come. Supreme Court nominations are an example of this. If Hillary Clinton wins next month's election she's going to have at least one empty seat on the bench to fill, and possibly a few. If she can get the ideological tilt to 6-3 in her favor, the chances of the conservative movement in America being able to use the courts to drive the policies they want will be greatly diminished, perhaps for a decade or more, even if they later manage to win both Congress and the White House later. That's likely a reason why any number of Republican voters are holding their noses, but planning to vote for Trump anyway; there are policy considerations that simply, well, trump any issues of character.

But it's safe to say that for a lot of people, Trump represents the idea that their ideologies, worldviews and identities are the right ones for the United States at this point. In noting that "Trump Is No Moral Exemplar—He's a Champion" The Atlantic's Yoni Applebaum says that Donald Trump's offer to use his driven pursuit of self-interest to reverse the supposed "decline and dysfunction" that so many Republican voters feel have overtaken the county "represents a repudiation of America’s civil religion, an abandonment of the notion that Americans share an individual and collective obligation to carry out God’s will."

I disagree with that assessment. And instead I offer this one: that for many Republican voters, especially those who considered themselves "working-class" and/or conservative Christian, it is secular, liberal, "elite" and urban America who have abandoned the national collective, and their own individual, responsibility to work God's will on the world. Everything from allowing for elective abortion as a family-planning tool to making the tax-exempt status of churches contingent on them staying out of politics to expecting politically-correct speech - all of these things seem like not only attacks on them as individuals, but attacks on the nation as a whole. Back in the halcyon days when the United States was on top of the world; when it was "wealthy," "strong," "powerful" and "safe;" back in the days when America was "great;" none of these things were an issue. Judeo-Christian values were encoded into the laws of the land, everyone was made to pledge allegiance to the flag, not believing in God was shameful and who cared if not everyone was allowed to vote? Everyone was better off. Sure, some people were dirt poor, uneducated and more or less legally bound to stay that way forever, but the streets were safe, everyone who wanted work could find it, families were headed by fathers and you could trust your neighbors to be there for you. Who wouldn't want that? What was so bad about it?

Like so many other things, "progress" was over-sold and it under-delivered, and so a sizeable number of people have decided that they don't want all of it. Sure, they like Social Security, and high technology but they can do without the porous border with Mexico, and the Green Energy initiatives and Donald Trump came along and told them: "You know what? You DO know what's best for the country."

People who are planning to vote for Mr. Trump understand the sort of nation they want to live in, and they understand that it's slipping away from them and this may be their last chance to keep that from happening. And if bringing that back means letting Donald Trump off the hook for the ridiculously high standards that we tend to apply to politicians (but rarely to ourselves), then they're going to do that. When Faith and Freedom Coalition Chairman Ralph Reed says: "[P]eople of faith are voting for president on issues like who will defend and protect unborn life, defund Planned Parenthood, grow the economy and create jobs, and oppose the Iran nuclear deal. I think a 10-year-old tape of a private conversation with a TV talk show host ranks pretty low on their hierarchy of their concerns," that's exactly what he's speaking to.

Donald Trump is a different variety of politician than most of us are accustomed to. He defies the laws of "political gravity," and has shown an ability to ignore rules that don't suit him. There are good reasons for that; ignoring them won't make them go away.

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