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.
Serious prediction: Trump does a few debates, declares victory in “changing the race,” goes back to APPRENTICE before primaries.
— James Poniewozik (@poniewozik) June 16, 2015
“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 Perot, Jessie 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…
- “Donald Trump took on Fox News — and he won” by Ezra Klein at Vox.
- “How Roger Ailes Picked Trump, and Fox News’ Audience, Over Megyn Kelly” by Gabriel Sherman at NY Magazine.
- Megan Kellly, brutally and personally attacked by Trump, retires from the field (She wants to “get Back to the News.”). See Slate’s Justin Peters attempt to spin that defeat away.
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?
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.
- Background: Scary lessons for America from pre-revolutionary France.
- Trump’s hope: a recession might put him in the White House.
- The four keys to a possible Trump victory.
- Trump, not Sanders, is the revolutionary.