Politics & Policy

Forget Trump but Not the Trumpsters

Trump speaks in Marshalltown, Iowa, January 26, 2016. (Scott Olson/Getty)
Memo to RNC: Stop ridiculing Trump and look at what voters see in him.

A disclaimer: Trump is not my preferred candidate. I hope he does not win the Republican nomination. But I understand why millions seem to be mesmerized by his rhetoric.

I certainly wish that Trump would not insult rivals and newspeople in callous and uncouth fashion. I would prefer that he come prepared to interviews, with detailed positions rather than his banal “Make America great again” refrain, so akin to the “Hope and Change” nothingness.

I notice that he often pauses in midsentence, that he interjects “awesome” and “tremendous” ad nauseam, that he completely abandons his original thought and detours to an extraneous topic. He is a tough brawler, but oddly hypersensitive when his own brand of invective is turned against him. Trump may be an audacious captain of industry, but he certainly pouts a lot.

Trump’s use of I, me, my, and mine rivals Obama’s. By now it is thematic that Trump is likely to erupt into anger if he perceives observers as hostile — the anger often in contrast to his earlier praise of these same targets. An ignoramus who adores Trump will be dubbed “brilliant”; accomplished people who criticize Trump are caricatured as ignoramuses.

RELATED: Trump: Temper Tantrum, Revolution, or Same Old Thing?

Yet the question is not whether Trump comes across as a scatter-shot speaker, a bully, an adolescent, and a narcissist — he does — but whether, by the standards of our postmodern, 21st-century culture, he is, as is usually alleged, an aberrant political figure, so beyond the pale that he cannot be taken seriously as a presidential candidate.

In relativist terms, I’m afraid that is just not true.

So far, Trump’s slash-and-burn style is working because, despite a few notable exceptions, he for the most part has slandered and smeared political and media elites of both parties, whom millions apparently neither respect nor worry much about.

For a Trump supporter, fretting whether a zillionaire media celebrity was justifiably offended by Trump is analogous to losing sleep because multimillionaire celebrity Will Smith is unhappy that he did not win an Oscar and alleges that he was robbed of his laurels by the ultra-liberal but apparently racist Hollywood community. Sure, there is principle involved, but it rates below worry over the nation’s $20 trillion in debt, the Iran deal, and sanctuary cities.

RELATED: Anti-Trump, Pro-Trumpster?

Yes, Trump despicably caricatured a handicapped person. One would hope that he regrets those frequent off-the-cuff smears and will never stoop so low again.

But his supporters believe that his crudity is hardly worse than the calm and composed president of the United States caricaturing the Special Olympics in a softball interview, or Joe Biden unthinkingly asking a man in a wheelchair to “stand up.” Did the media ostracize either?

Trump used insensitive and inexact language in outlining his opposition to illegal aliens — though in a manner far less illiberal than what is written about immigration in the Mexican constitution. But did he ever appeal directly to his largely white audiences and tell them he was going to “punish our enemies,” in the way Obama did with a Latino group? Was Obama thereby declared a demagogue?

RELATED: In Face of Controversy, Trump Supporters Stand By Their Man

Is Trump’s crude use of “bimbo” — as in the Clintons’ use of “bimbo eruption” —  a bookend to Obama’s habitual “sweetie”? Has Trump, in Eric Holder fashion, referred to whites as “my people,” or has he ridiculed a “typical black person,” or weighed in on a hot-button criminal case, siding, racially, with the deceased by stating, “If I had had a second daughter, she would have looked like this girl”?

Trump has not said that Obama is “clean” and does not speak in “a Negro dialect,” as Harry Reid and Joe Biden once did. He has not talked of women as trailer-park trash, as Clinton advisers have in their efforts to destroy victims of Bill Clinton’s wantonness. He did not chortle about successfully defending a rapist or gloat about Qaddafi being torn apart by a mob.

These comparisons to major Democratic figures could be easily expanded, but the issue is not tu quoque. The point is only that Trump is well within today’s political norms — at least the debased norms established by our corrupt media and by public perceptions of what is said and done by supposedly caring and empathetic progressives such as Obama, Clinton, Biden, and Reid. The battle to create a polite and courteous society in 21st-century America was lost some years ago — often by hypocrites who now both engage in and deplore political smear and slander.

#share#Trump is certainly vague on the issues, both deliberately so and because of his lack of preparation. But does anyone think he is any more unpredictable on, say, illegal immigration than what a President Jeb Bush might actually do in office? Does Trump, like Obama, really believe that FDR as president addressed the nation on television in 1929? If Trump were to say that, wouldn’t he be written off as a buffoon? If Trump, who apparently slips up when referring to the Bible, tomorrow praised some soldiers as “Corpse-Men,” wouldn’t the Washington Post dismiss him as half-educated? Would he lie to the families of the men killed in Benghazi about the cause of their loved ones’ deaths?

RELATED: Towards a Conservative Populism

“Who knows what a President Trump might do or say?” is a legitimate concern, given the daily Trump flip-flops and his liberal past and core. But did Obama in 2008 voice his support for gay marriage or confess that he would double the national debt, would serially lie about his health-care bill in order to pass it, and would dismantle the post-war role of the United States abroad? On the debt, illegal immigration, the Iran deal, and tax reform, is a vague Trump worrisome while an explicit Hillary Clinton is reassuring?

Trump is a wheeler-dealer and seems to relish the idea that he predicates his behavior on the law of the jungle in “business.”

Trump is a wheeler-dealer and seems to relish the idea that he predicates his behavior on the law of the jungle in “business.” Would he then preside over a corrupt IRS in Lois Lerner fashion, turn the EPA into an arm of his green donors, reduce the Secret Service, DHS, ICE, and GSA to caricatures of themselves, define NASA’s “foremost” mission as outreach to Muslims, run guns to Mexico, politicize the Justice Department, or turn a blind eye to abject corruption and criminal (and lethal) incompetence at the VA? Would he set up a private e-mail server in Trump Tower, and cut and paste classified documents so he could send them without scrutiny to his political hatchet men? At some point, cannot Republicans run against what has happened rather than what they fear might happen? We are worrying about aftershocks in the midst of an earthquake hitting 8.9 on the Richter scale.

Yes, we should aspire to absolutes and not define morality down, but before we lose our collective heads over Trump, it is valuable to take a deep breath and look hard at the alternative reality that we now assume is normal in the age of the Obama administration and its enablers in the media.

If Trump were to call his opponents fascists likely to replicate Nazi Germany if they came to power, then he would be in good company with FDR in 1944.

Trump monotonously talks of “deals,” suggesting that the presidency could be reduced to a Manhattan land swap.

If he were caught on an open mike joking about bombing nuclear Russia, then would he be Reaganesque? If he really flipped out and claimed that he had to battle an amphibious rabbit with his paddle, then he would be resonating Jimmy Carter. Does he, in adolescent fashion, boast to his adoring crowds that he is taking his gun to a knife fight, tell his people to get in the faces of his enemies, or belittle the inner city as a bunch of scared people who cling to their superstitions and phobias? If so, then he would be in full Obama mode. 

Trump monotonously talks of “deals,” suggesting that the presidency could be reduced to a Manhattan land swap. I suppose, then, he would dismiss his congressional opponents shortly after he entered office with a curt “I won.” Would his advisers then compare Democratic legislators to terrorists “with bombs in their vests” or caricature them as bookends to hard-core Iranian theocrats?

The presidency is not a priesthood. And Trump is about as sinful or saintly as many who have run for it — and held it — in the present and past. 

RELATED: Can Trump Win with New Voters?

Rather than demonize Trump as an aberrant figure in the long history of American politics — which includes the populist demagogue Huey Long, the ego-driven outsider Ross Perot, and the street brawler Jesse Jackson — we should wonder why he is so popular and listen to those who support him.

The answer is fairly simple and hinges on two considerations. One, in stylistic terms, Trump is blunt, energetic, a member of the elite openly contemptuous of the elite and the politically correct — at a rare moment when half the country despises not just all that but also those who know better but are too timid to voice their own similar contempt. He plays by no campaign or media rules in an age when one out of two voters thinks such rules are constructs set up by careerists. Trump took the idea of a hypocritical limousine liberal and turned it on its head: He claims to be everyman’s elite champion, who has the tools and who knows best how to smash elites.

RELATED: Can the GOP Win Without Trump’s Voters?

In this age, half the country wants someone — apparently anyone, even a Manhattanized former Democrat, real-estate barker, and former reality-TV host — to express their contempt for a corrupt and hypocritical government culture. Too many people are tired not just of illegal immigration, but of the enablers of illegal immigration, who smear as racists and xenophobes those who just want existing laws enforced, while the enablers predicate their own agendas on racist assumptions and ethnic chauvinism.

Does anyone believe that news anchor Jorge Ramos would be an advocate for a mass influx of Russians flooding illegally into East Los Angeles? Do his children go to schools where half the students do not speak English?

The middle classes are exhausted from being sermonized that they do not “pay their fair share.”

Forget Trump and consider instead Trump’s constituencies. They are weary of being lectured that they deserve presidential rebuke for their supposed Islamophobia because they are angry about the terrorist killings of Americans. The middle classes are exhausted from being sermonized that they do not “pay their fair share,” when their state and federal tax bite is nearly 50 percent — especially when half the population pays no income tax, and massive federal entitlements have done little to address the pathologies of the underclasses. The contractor and the insurance salesman are furious at being scolded that “they didn’t build” their businesses, when those doing the scolding are pampered elites like Elizabeth Warren and Barack Obama, who never built anything other than grievance careers.

Every demagogue, real or fictional, from Cleon to Catiline to Lonesome Rhodes to Ross Perot, owes his career to a fossilized, arrogant ruling class and its impotent opposition that fails to address the anxieties of the middle classes.

RELATED: A Donald Trump Nomination Would Fundamentally Change the GOP

Second, is there an antidote offered by any other candidate to Trump’s vague and shifting agenda? Could any Republican promise to end racial quotas and base affirmative action on class rather than skin color, and thus suggest that Eric Holder’s kids should not have a leg up on the offspring of an unemployed Appalachian miner?

Could Republicans reform the tax code without conflating the upper middle class with the multimillionaire class, as if a couple earning $2 million a year needs the same sort of tax relief as those earning $200,000?

#related#Instead of serially ridiculing Trump’s admittedly strange suggestion that Mexico must pay for the completion of the fence (ca. $3 to $5 billion), could they instead agree to a 10 percent federal surtax levied on all remittances sent abroad by undocumented U.S. residents — which would raise just about $3 to $5 billion?

Trump has done the Republican party lots of damage, but he has also done it some good by reminding its leaders that victory lies in swinging a ball and chain through the flimsy glass mirror of political correctness and the current liberal spectacle of very wealthy people projecting race and class injustice onto others as a way of excusing their own privilege.

Far better than ridiculing Trump as a showboat would be to show more constructive passion than does Trump and to discover what makes sane citizens see him as their last resort. Rather than dismissing his empty populism, it would be wiser to fill it in.

Respect and listen to and learn from Trump voters — and they will not vote for Trump.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump.

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