On Tuesday morning, three bombs exploded in Brussels — two at the Zaventem Airport, a third at a central Metro station — killing at least 31 people and wounding 270 more. As a general matter, terrorist attacks are bad for everyone. Everyone, that is, except Donald J. Trump, because Donald J. Trump is the candidate for those who are tired of Bad Stuff.
A simple narrative governs the Trump phenomenon. According to Donald Trump, everything is Bad right now. America is enduring a positively Biblical flood of Bad Stuff. The American People don’t want Bad Stuff. The American People want Good Stuff. And it’s not hard to get Good Stuff. It just requires listening to the American People. The unmistakable lack of Good Stuff, and the overwhelming presence of Bad Stuff, must be the result of our leaders’ — let’s call them the “establishment,” or the “political class” — not listening to the American People. The political status quo is responsible for this Bad Stuff. If you want Good Stuff, you will have to change the status quo. Ergo, Trump. Q.E.D.
The formula is simple, and universally applicable: Trump is the opposite of the political status quo; therefore, if elected, he would deliver opposite results.
Take Brussels. Within minutes of the attacks, Trump’s followers leapt to explain (“explain”) why the same kind of terror would never happen in the U.S. under a President Trump. The attacks were probably executed by the Islamic State, which Trump is going to destroy. The attacks were the result of Islamic radicalism, and Trump is going to keep Muslims from traveling to the U.S. until he can figure out “what the hell is going on.” The attacks were facilitated by the European Union’s lax immigration policies, and Trump is going to plug the holes in America’s porous southern border with his huge, classy wall. And so forth.
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Trump has flip-flopped so often on pretty much everything that it’s hard to know what (or if) he thinks about anything, including the immigration issues on which he first staked his candidacy. He has at one point promised to take all of the above measures referenced by his followers. But he has also said that the U.S. should leave the Islamic State to Russia, he’s changed his mind on whether the U.S. should take Syrian refugees, and he’s backpedaled on instituting a Muslim travel ban. The man has more positions than the Kama Sutra. But he is permitted to float above particulars, because he has achieved a near-perfect branding coup: He has succeeded in re-framing the entire Republican primary race so that it is not about what Donald Trump is; it’s about what he isn’t. And he isn’t what we’ve got now.
#share#Naturally, in a lousy year every candidate wants to be the candidate of “change.” But Trump has portrayed himself as not merely another “change” candidate, like Barack Obama. He is not going to be just a better version of what we’ve already got. He’s going to be different in kind. He is going to deliver Grade A, high-octane, super-charged change; real change; the best, biggest, awesomest, changiest change anyone has ever seen. Ted Cruz can’t usher in that kind of change; he’s part of the System, part of “what we’ve got now.” Trump isn’t.
It’s for this reason that, contra Harold MacMillan — the former British prime minister who, when asked what he feared, supposedly replied, “Events, dear boy, events!” — Trump has no fear of breaking news. All news is bad news (that’s the way the media works), and bad news is good news for the Republican front-runner.
Consider: What issue would hurt Trump?
A sudden economic downturn?
A mass shooting?
An Iranian missile launch?
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If you accept the Trumpian mythos — that all Bad Stuff is the product, directly or by some tortuous route, of the policies of Barack Obama and Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan — then every Bad thing that happens is an argument against them, and an argument in favor of something else. Trump has managed to sell voters the idea that they have a binary choice: There is black or white, good or bad, life or death. There’s the status quo, or there’s Trump.
Of course, this is a false choice. There is no monolithic “political class” — if you believe that Nancy Pelosi and Paul Ryan are “essentially” the same, you’re essentially an idiot — and even if there were, the idea that Donald Trump could be its only alternative is absurd. He had Matt Lauer, Katie Couric, and the Clintons at his (most recent) wedding. He is as “establishment” as a person without “Senator” in front of his name could possibly be. A healthy political culture would recognize that politics necessarily encompasses degrees, and that “Washington” can’t be a dirty word because Mike Lee isn’t Barbara Boxer.
#related#But Donald Trump has been wildly successful in obliterating these basic distinctions, substituting for careful thinking generalizations that aim to indulge blunt emotional impulses and stamp out even rudimentary thought. In what fantasyland are Ted Cruz and Harry Reid bosom-buddies? In the world of magical thinking that Trump has seized on, and reinforced, over the past nine months.
Ever the wizard with a crowd, he has conjured up in Republican ranks a mass delusion that holds he and he alone can fix any problem, resolve any crisis. But perception is not reality. And when reality breaks in on the millions transfixed by Trump, it will be ugly.
— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Fellow in Political Journalism at the National Review Institute.