The Donald Trump revolution, dismissed as all revolts are in the beginning

Summary: Donald Trump’s assumption of leadership of the right wing of American politics, and perhaps of the Republican Party, marks a milestone in our history. Even if he burns out, we see in him the outlines of a greater leader to follow. Meanwhile the machinery of Republic lies unused, as we tell ourselves there is no difference between the parties and that reform is impossible.

Donald Trump
NBC Photo, by Chris Haston.

“Sooner or later, everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”
— Attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson.


The rise of Donald Trump to a leading position in the Republican Party marks a milestone in the evolution of modern America.

Conservatives have worked for generation to create a body of people ignorant of our history, of economics, and of current events. They’ve created a faux version of economics and a faux version of history (buttressed with hundreds of fake quotes). They have incited fake fears about threatening “others”, foreign and domestic — and the almost certainly coming crash of the US dollar and bankruptcy of the US government.

Perhaps these people have found a leader in Donald Trump — an ignorant, prejudiced and boorish figure even by the lax standards of American politics. He makes previous political outsiders look like George Washington (e.g., Ralph Nader, Ross PerotJessie Ventura, Arnold Schwarzenegger). America has a tradition of populist leaders, such as Huey Long and William Jennings Bryan, but Trump is like them as chalk is to cheese.

Assessing the Trump phenomenon

Until now the major political gurus saw him as a trivial, even fun, figure — the kind of media sensation that pops up early in the campaign and dies under the spotlights. Trump successfully passed that inflection point on Thursday as 24 million Americans watched Fox News, the most powerful conservative institution (perhaps the central conservative institution), concentrate its fire on Donald Trump. He won. It was the campaign’s Battle of Trafalgar. Fox News was an opponent of Trump; now their ships are his.

Reuters documents the scale of Trump’s win: “Trump’s female fans shrug off ‘blood’ comment about TV host” and “Reuters/Ipsos poll: Trump’s Republican support holds strong post-debate“. Others are still exploring its significance…

On July 22 (before the debate) Bernie Quigley at The Hill looked at “The Donald Trump Revolution” and gave this prescient analysis…

I’m not sure if anyone has put it together yet, but if Donald Trump does not go quietly into the good night within the month or so, then we will have reached a turning. You can feel it already with the rise of Marine Le Pen and the hard-right National Front in France. And in our times, as goes France, so goes everyone as we have unfortunately connected ourselves here, there and everywhere in foolhardy cultural globalization so if one goes, everything goes.

… If Trump is still riding high in the Republican polling say in a month or so from now, the Republicans can consider themselves to be all but finished. And Trump will be the avatar of a yet-defined new movement. A metamorphosis will have occurred. We will have entered a new phase of our American condition from which there will be no turning back.

Guessing about the future

We can only guess about such things, as we’re too close to see with adequate perspective, but I wonder if something profound has changed in America. I cannot find any similarities from the past for someone like Trump becoming a major political figure.

But what kind of figure would gain the support of the extreme wing created with such effort by conservatives during the past few generations? Even if Trump burns out, his success shows what we can expect from their eventual leader. Let’s hope they stick with Trump, rather than finding a bolder and more competent leader.

The numbers on the far right are small, perhaps 10 – 20% of adults. But electoral revolutions often require support of 30 – 40%. It’s early days yet. What might happen if they find an Andrew jackson? Or if they get deus ex machina in the form of another economic crash or large terrorist attack?

John Adams
John Adams c 1784, artist unknown.

A note from the past

Revolutions often occur quietly, unrecognized. Two hundred and forty years ago the American revolution concluded, only the shouting and shooting remained for the birth of a new regime. Few noticed.

I wonder if something similar has happened to us. That Trump has won by “breaking” the rules and norms of presidential campaigns strongly suggests that he’s tapped new energies in American politics. It’s happened before, and will again in the future.

The Revolution was effected before the war commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people; a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations. … This … was the real American Revolution.

—- John Adams in a letter to H. Niles, 13 February 1818.

Others forecasts about the Trump revolution

Not everybody sees the Trump revolution. In June Nate Silver’s forecasting “experts” at 538 said “Why Donald Trump Isn’t A Real Candidate” — “Trump has a better chance of …playing in the NBA Finals than winning the Republican nomination”. In November they said “Dear Media, Stop Freaking Out About Donald Trump’s Polls” — “a 20% chance is substantially too high”.

Professor Walter Russell Mead, a top expert on populism: “The Nihilistic Populism of Donald Trump“, The National Interest, 11 August 2015 – “Trump is an entertaining sham …So it doesn’t matter that Trump’s positions (insofar as he has taken any) are unpopular …Trump’s popularity is the result of harmless good fun…”

For More Information

I recommend this powerful hidden history of American politics by Mark Ames at Pando, focused on the long relationship of Donald Trump and that master of dirty tricks, Roger Stone. Also interesting are the attempts to puff Carly Fiorina (that disaster of the corporate boardroom turned politican) into a viable candidate; see this example “Carly Fiorina Is Alpha Dog“.

To see Trump in an international context see “If you want to understand Donald Trump, look to the success of the European far-right” by Matthew Yglesias at Vox.

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about Donald Trump and Campaign 2016, about ways to Reform America’s Politics, and especially these…

  1. Background: Scary lessons for America from pre-revolutionary France.
  2. Trump’s hope: a recession might put him in the White House.
  3. The four keys to a possible Trump victory.
  4. Trump, not Sanders, is the revolutionary.


34 thoughts on “The Donald Trump revolution, dismissed as all revolts are in the beginning”

  1. Interesting article – nothing to argue with. Good analysis of what Trump represents.

    I still support him for for the simple reason that he is is shaking up the status quo. Sick of standard politicians.

    Well he is entertaining to watch also.

    1. Greg,

      That seems to me as though you are peeing in our soup. No matter how entertaining you find this, it puts you working against our best interest. Can you not find someone, local, State, or national, whom you genuinely admire?

      What will be your response if your candidate works out badly for us? A smile, oh well? Assuming responsibility for your actions!

  2. Desperate men do desperately stupid things. Trump supporters are so jaded, so cynical, and so angry that anyone who can even slightly credibly suggest he is not bought and paid for, including a narcicistic nut bag like Trump, gets their support. The mood of the peasants and the debt slaves is dark and getting darker. They forget that things can always get worse. Remember Robespierre.

    1. Which is worse at this point:

      Clinton-Bush and the same old establishment that has brought us to the state of America today or Trump?

      You want to be all intellectually high and mighty in your commentary so go ahead and support Bush-Clinton if you think the same old is better than a change.

      That is your choice so pick one or the other or sit on the sidelines spouting intellectually sounding nonsense.

      Be honest and admit there are no other choices out there right now.

  3. FM: Trump is great for you – or at least for your thesis.

    He has definite Julio-Claudian propensities.

    1. I’m thinking specifically of Nero, but more basically, Trump would fit in well with the cast of characters found in I, Claudius.

      1. Duncan,

        That is out-of-box thinking! Worth some thought.

        On a larger scale, beyond personalities, I don’t see many material similarities between imperial Rome and modern America (no, we don’t have an empire in any sense as did Rome). There are some with Republican Rome, especially as it began to totter.

  4. Charismatic leaders who say what others won’t have often been dismissed in the past as “crude” and “ignorant” and “boorish.” The elites ridicule such charismatic figures as buffoons, and scoff at the prospect that anyone would vote for them.
    Mussolini rode such sentiments to power.
    We should be extremely wary of the snap judgments made by American elites disdaining figures like Trump as “clowns” and “fools.” To paraphrase Shakespeare, foolishness never prospers…for if it does prosper and rise to power, none dare call it foolishness.

  5. When Duncan Kinder remarks “[Trump] has definite Julio-Claudian propensities,” I believe he refers to the Roman emperor Claudius, dismissed by his contemporaries as a fool until he assumed power — at which point he showed himself much shrewder than anyone had imagined.

    “Julian” presumably also refers to Julius Caesar, an analogy perhaps inapplicable to Trump, since Trump has no record of military genius. OTOH, Trump has an impressive record as a businessman, which in contemporary America might amount to the same thing as a record of military accomplishments in 1st-century A.D. Rome.

  6. You guys are all being too intellectual about what Trump is doing and why he appeals so much.

    I read this headline somewhere – maybe Zero Hedge :) – and it says it all: Donald Trump’s Soaring Popularity “Is The Country’s Collective Middle Finger To Washington”

    Clinton-Bush or Trump….. Which would you pick?

    1. Greg,

      Perhaps. But I’m more interested in what Trump’s success says about us, and how we’ve decayed — and hat this means for our future.

      If you cannot see the difference between Clinton or Bush — and Trump, then there’s not much more to say. I remember having the same conversations with people who loved Palin.

      Choices define Americans. You and your fellows will enjoy the election while others will try to run America. Citizenship and all that. By your choice we will know you.

  7. FM Editor

    Take a stand. If not the Clinton-Bush Establishment or Trump then who?

    I say Trump not because he is a quality candidate but because there are no quality candidates that have any chance at all.

    Therefore at least I can give the middle finger to Washington by supporting him.

    Who do you support?

    1. Greg,

      Since this website began in 2007 I have heard countless excuses by Americans for sitting on their butts while America burns. My personal rules prevent me from clearly expressing my opinion on this.

      As for candidates, if you cannot find someone at some level to support, then I suggest the problem is with you — not America.

      That the nation does not serve up candidates worthy of your wonderfullness is sad. Let me apologize for the other 300 million Americans: we will try to do better for You in the future.

      As for the Presidency, Trump is an clown. That you would consider anything that brings him any distance towards office is IMO cracked. That you can see no substantial difference between Hillary and Bush is so foolish as to evaporate my interest in the dialog.

  8. FM Editor

    If you can’t tell that Clinton/Bush (or did I mean to say Bush/Clinton?) are interchangeable then you will continue to watch as America burns and it will be your fault.

    You can’t be serious in your commentary that you see a world of difference between the two.

    If so you have fallen prey to the corporate media line that tells us we really have a choice: republican or democrat.

    I know you don’t believe this BS.

  9. By a strange coincidence we have something very similar going in the UK right now, a kind of mirror image, at the other end of the political spectrum. The Labour party, having been hammered in the election in May, needs a new leader. To provide some alternative to the bland principle-free centre-left who will say anything to get elected, and to generate some real debate, a joke far-left candidate was proposed. Someone who has principles that he believes in and sticks to – policies like nationalising everything, spending money we don’t have, increasing the top rate of tax to 75%.

    A few weeks later, this guy (Jeremy Corbyn) looks like he’s going to win the party leadership race comfortably, at 53% in the polls with his nearest rival on 21%.

  10. Trump deserves credit for revealing that politicians (like most of the other nine on stage) can be easily bought (“You’d better believe it!”). To openly say this is unforgivable to most of the other oligarchs.
    I also don’t see any significant difference between the two wings of the Uniparty in 2015. Both Bush and Obama administrations: 1) strongly supported the banks, roughly 8T worth, 2) supported aggressive wars, 3) never prosecuted any crimes of the rich and well-connected, 4) persecuted patriotic whistle-blowers, 5) shredded the constitution especially the Fourth Ammendment, etc etc. I don’t care about the BS cultural issues.

    1. Social bill,

      (1) That US politicians could easily be bought cheaply was proven by the FBI’s ABSCAM investigation in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It’s sad that the leaders of a great nation can be bought so cheaply. We need to vote for corrupt leaders with better marketing advisers.

      (2) “I also don’t see any significant difference between the two wings of the Uniparty in 2015.”

      Wow. I suggest opening those eyes. One wants to deprive millions of Americans of their access to affordable health care; the other to expand it. One is MUCH more aggressive in expanding our foreign wars. One wants war with Iran, the other seeks peace. One wants to expand protection of the environment, the other to remove what we have. I could go on, but it’s a statement of the blindingly obvious.

  11. FM Editor

    Socialbill opened you up! Good for him- now we know you lean Democrat and possibly Socialist. You should have just admitted it before. Socialbill used a great term – Uniparty. I agree with him. That is why I support the anti-Uniparty – Trump.

    And regarding the party responsible for war…. Of course the neocons want war but so do all establishment parties like the democrats. Can you say Libya Ukraine Yemen and soon Syria?

    I don’t think trump can be any worse than the Uniparty.

    1. Greg,

      Keep your eyes closed or your fantasy might get ruined by reality. I gave specific examples of differences and you reply like a programmed robot. Try actual facts.

      “I don’t think trump can be any worse than the Uniparty.”

      Idiotic. Too dumb for rebuttal. I went through this for months with people telling me how great Palin was. Perhaps the 1% are correct and America has become too stupid to govern itself.

    2. FM Editor

      You failed to address most of Socialbill’s points:

      I know you are busy writing other articles but Here they are:

      Both Bush and Obama administrations: 1) strongly supported the banks, roughly 8T worth, 2) supported aggressive wars, 3) never prosecuted any crimes of the rich and well-connected, 4) persecuted patriotic whistle-blowers, 5) shredded the constitution especially the Fourth Ammendment, etc etc.

      Address these MAJOR issues and then maybe we can talk about your healthcare and environment concerns.

  12. I think you’re exaggerating Trump’s significance. He’s riding high on the grudge politics that right-wingers have been playing to for my whole life, but a huge part of his popularity right now is because the Republican Party has nothing but obvious pipsqueaks and grifters opposing him. It truly is a clown car, as many have described it.

    Like a lot of people I’m enjoying a massive schadenfreude binge, as Trump shows **exactly** what the “party of values” is really all about. It’s hilarious entertainment watching “serious” Republicans in panicked flight from the creature that they’ve been feeding for decades. Trump’s antics aren’t pretty, but I’m confident that his popularity will fade as the real election nears. Hell, I’m not the only person who’s wondered if Trump’s actually some kind of bizarroland Dem Manchurian candidate.

    If you want historical analogies (always dicey), look to the dissolution of the Whigs in the 1850’s. The good news is that the Republican Party is having severe difficulties because batshit-crazy resentment-fueled ignorami are a declining fraction of the population. To my mind, the Republican Party has been a kind of poison sac since at least the days of Gingrich (I’m being charitable), One of Obama’s great failures was that he never really tried to take that coalition on — yet another opportunity squandered in **his** Hundred Days. If Trump hastens the crack-up, I think he that on balance will have done a genuine service to America. Time will tell….

    Note that none of this is meant as a ringing endorsement of the Democratic Party, which has its own huge institutional problems. So I’d appreciate it if we could dispense with off-the-cuff dismissive remarks about “partisans”.

    1. Snake,

      (1) “I think you’re exaggerating Trump’s significance.”

      “I think you’re minimizing Trump’s significance.”

      (2) I think you comment ignores the important aspects of Trump’s rise. We had the Palin boomlet. Now Trump. That otherwise intelligent people support such candidates indicates a serious problem. This isn’t calculus.

      (3) “It’s hilarious entertainment watching “serious” Republicans in panicked flight from the creature that they’ve been feeding for decades”

      I understand the schadenfreude. But, to use another analogy — it’s like a film in which we see the mad scientist destroyed by the monster he created, validating the fears of his assistant. Then the assistant gets eaten and the city destroyed. Not so funny then.

      (4) “If you want historical analogies (always dicey), look to the dissolution of the Whigs in the 1850’s.”

      No even remotely relevant, ignoring the point of this post. Yes, political parties form and die, as new ones arise. But the Republican Party leaders (e.g. Lincoln) were not clowns like Trump and Palin.

    2. I gather that you’re trying for irony with (1), but it eludes me.

      As for (2) and (3), the key word is “boomlet” — Palin had her 15 minutes, which she’s been milking ever since. (From what I hear the returns are declining sharply.) A lot of suckers paid her money, but she never had much of a chance at real political power. I don’t know quite what drives Trump — he doesn’t need the grift as much as Palin did — but ultimately his campaign will fizzle just as surely as Palin’s. Trump is not going to rouse the monster you speak of.

      Perot, and George Wallace before him, attracted pretty much the same crowd as the Palin/Trump performance art act. This gang seems to be endemic in American politics, and to my mind its influence is entirely pernicious, but their redeeming virtue is that the closer they get to success, the more they repel the majority.

      The Whig analogy is **entirely** relevant. You’ve chosen to ignore that its splinters flew off not only into the Republican Party, but the Know-Nothings and (to a slight extent) the Free Soil Party as well. Ex-Whig Millard Fillmore was the Know-Nothing candidate in ’56.

      1. Snake,

        (1) My one was mis-stated. Thanks for catching. I meant to say “minimizing Trump’s significance.”

        (2) “Palin had her 15 minutes”

        She was the Republican candidate for VP. Small changes could have put her in office. A stoke, fall, or heart attack by McCain would have made her president.

        (3) You are missing my point. Perot and George Wallace were not clowns, as are Palin and Trump. They had long and successful careers, and had serious political platforms.

        (4) You are missing my point, which I clearly stated. The Whigs, the Native American Party (called by their foes “know nothings”), and Free Soil party were all political movements with serious platforms and large followings. These are movements are quite unlike the wide support for clownish political figures like Palin and Trump.

        (5) Comparing Millard Filmore with Turmp and Palin is just odd. Filmore was a very successful attorney, helped found the University of Buffalo, was a major in the militia, and had a long and successful political career before becoming President (NY State Representative and Controller, Congressman, VP). His bio is unlike that of Palin and Trump.

  13. “She was the Republican candidate for VP. Small changes could have put her in office.”

    McCain was doomed to lose. **Any** Republican was doomed to lose after Bush the Lesser, but McCain was boneheaded enough to throw gasoline on his own very public flame-out. Selecting Palin was a nail that he chose to pound into his own coffin. If you can find any competent, non-bought observer who believes that Palin wasn’t a net negative for an already floundering campaign, I’d love to see it. But even without her he was doomed to lose.

    An anecdote about the McCain campaign’s epic incompetence: My job had me detailed to Michigan in ’08, and I was looking forward to voting against McCain, since my state of residence is reliably Dem. I managed to register to vote the day after I arrived, months before the election — only to hear McCain’s people publicly announce that they were **shutting down** their campaign operations in Michigan! Michigan doesn’t have the electoral votes it once did, but it’s not Delaware, and there are lots of solidly Republican districts there. What kind of moron cedes that, and what’s more, **announces it**?!?!?

    So anyway, while there was some pro forma likelihood of a Vice President Palin, it was never ever going to happen.

    I wasn’t aware of the “serious political platforms” of Wallace and Perot. Seemed to me that Wallace played to white racism, and Perot appealed to the perennial “we need a guy who can run America like a business” half-wit crowd. In a gang like that, I don’t see Palin and Trump as outliers at all. They fit in perfectly. These days they amp up the clowning and foolishness, because that’s pretty much the only way to get any attention in the joke that is the Republican Party. Otherwise there’s nothing fundamentally new about Palin and Trump. **Or** the people they attract.

    And it’s August, a slow news month, and Trump always reliably provides good TeeVee. Maybe he’ll even get the Republican nomination. He should! The man **is** the living embodiment of “Republican values”. And then he’ll get trounced in November, because however much you want to make of his “wide” support (which is highly debatable), on a good day it’s maybe a millimeter deep.

    1. Snake,

      Most stories about presidential campaigns are fun, but unsupported by actual research.

      (1) “McCain was doomed to lose.”

      Yes — by the 2008 economic crash. Performance of the economy in the year or so before the election dwarfs all other factors. If the economy had been OK McCain might have won. “It’s the economy, stupid” sums up how many Americans vote, as shown by a massive body of research.

      (2) “Any Republican was doomed to lose after Bush the Lesser,”

      Completely unsupported.

      (3) “Selecting Palin was a nail that he chose to pound into his own coffin”

      There were are some papers showing that Palin had a small effect (e.g., “The “Palin Effect” in the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election“). But most say Palin — like most VP candidates — had a minimal effect (e.g., “Reconsidering the “Palin Effect” in the 2008 U.S. Presidential Election“). that is, her negatives (loss of support among swing voters) offset her positives (“reving up” the GOP core).

      (4) “I wasn’t aware of the serious political platforms of Wallace and Perot”

      Wow. Not much to say about that. Try Wikipedia?

  14. “Most stories about presidential campaigns are fun, but unsupported by actual research”

    No, you’re right, 2008 was a real nail-biter, the most down-to-the-wire election in history. Were you downing buckets of Qualudes during that one? Because I don’t remember any suspense about it at all. My “story” about what happened in Michigan um, you know **happened**, and was pretty blatant evidence of a campaign that was deeply broken. “Doomed”, you might say.

    “Yes — by the 2008 economic crash. Performance of the economy in the year or so before the election dwarfs all other factors. If the economy had been OK McCain might have won. “It’s the economy, stupid” sums up how many Americans vote, as shown by a massive body of research.”

    Right. And of course the 2008 crash had **nothing** to do with the prior eight years of Bush’s “stewardship”. The dude just happened to be there, yo! Totally unrelated!! And but for the crash, folks everywhere were just delighted with the Republicans, and clamoring for more!

    As for Wallace and Perot, if you’re seriously going to argue that the great bulk of their appeal was much more than what I described — to hell with it, your whole reply is an exercise in moving goalposts.

    You’re right, Donald Trump is like nothing ever in the history of America!! He’s a symptom of 4th Generation War!!! It’s all revealed in the latest Spiderman movie, which is actually a profound allegory!! Happy now?

    1. Snake,

      What a odd comment. You make it sound as though only the candidates and their moms voted for them. In fact 60 million people voted for the GOP ticket, during the worst crash since the Great Depression.

      Given that history shows the economy to be by far the most important factor determining election results, that is an impressive result.

      Also, it is quite odd that you believe your rant outweighs so much survey data, but I guess that is how you roll. No point in replying further.

  15. fast forward to this column’s comment on Trump’s victory ,for me the most striking aspect of the election has been the defeat of the overwhelmingly pro-Clinton media. It remains to be seen if the elitist pundits of neo-liberalism and their neo-con associates will have learnt anything from this humiliation. The media have been so utterly revolting in recent years particularly( e.g.,NYT urging on war and loving everything Israel does) that this comeuppance has rung a bell with many, I think.
    The same old hogwash will be trotted out on all sides as President Trump sells out the rednecks with sops and further entrenches Wall Street and the Pentagon bewhilst .
    There is an increasingly dreamlike/nightmarish quality about American public life which I attribute partly to technology (the love affair with) and , of course, mainly to the Almighty Dollar (see Michael Moore’s film on Capitalism) – finally, to the Hollywoodisation of life .
    In the UK, thanks largely to a strong remnant of socialist aspiration, we have not quite yet gone to the depths that US politics appears to have reached. We’ll no doubt get there soon.
    Ayn Rand forever !!
    Recommend Leonard Cohen’s thought on pessimism..

    1. David,

      One constant in discussions of the US media during my adult life — back to the 1970s — has been the certainty of both Left and Right that the US news media is biased against them. Both have ample grounds; each side sees only their grievances (like children, which is sad). In fact, the news media seeks an audience — that it can sell to advertisers. In pursuit of these they’re like a pack of dogs, an apt analogy to anyone who has seen a campaign press conference.

      In this election the US news media gave billions in free coverage to Trump, often bizarrely uncritical. Their coverage of the emails dominated the last phase of the campaign, drowning out discussion of the vital issues.

      On the other hand, they were uncertain how to cover a candidate who routinely lies. They had nothing in their handbook or professional norms to handle this. Their normal “he said, she said” reporting, with the greatest emphasis on the most vivid statements, rewarded Trump’s lies. More accurate coverage — “Trump lies again” – might have aborted the Trump train.

      I very much doubt that historians will conclude that the news media on balance helped Clinton.

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