Politics & Policy

The Magical Thinking of the Trump Movement

Trump appears on a large-screen display as he delivers his acceptance speech, July 21, 2016. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)
Sorry, but his “sheer force of will” won’t solve the country’s problems

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is Jonah Goldberg’s weekly “news”letter, the G-File. Subscribe here to get the G-File delivered to your inbox on Fridays.

Dear Reader (and everyone who knows the secret handshake),

So last night after driving for five or so hours to flee the Cleve, I was pretty tired. I penned a down payment on a downright downbeat G-File. I hadn’t slept much the previous week — I made my share of mistakes by the lake — and I was in a foul mood. Now that I’ve gotten a solid four hours of sleep, I’m in a somewhat better mood and I don’t want to start this “news”letter on such a downer. But I’ve kept most of what I wrote, I just moved it to the bottom half of this “news”letter through the magical powers of cut-and-paste.

I’m now at a rest area on I-90 sitting in my car, with not much time to spare. So let’s get started.

About Tonight (Or, Last Night)

Personally, I thought Trump’s stentorian address was awful, albeit with a few effective bits, particularly at the end. There was no poetry, no arc, no uplift or modulation. It was like he spent 75 out of 76 minutes shouting the final conclusions on one PowerPoint slide after another. Over time, the sentences seemed to be getting shorter and more blunt. It looked like he might even devolve into just barking random vowels and glottal stops. His delivery reminded me of that old SNL newsroom skit when Garrett Morris’s head pops up in an oval and he just re-shouts everything Chevy Chase says for the hard of hearing.

Thematically, it was an anvil chorus minus the melody. There was plenty of conservative boilerplate, some of which I agree with. But the message last night had nothing to do with conservative litmus tests or checklists. No, the desired takeaway was, “Behold this Man of Strength! Cast your gaze Trumpwards, plebes, for our new Caesar is here to bring a New Rome (or restore the old one) through force of will.” Here is Ivanka last night:

Good evening. One year ago, I introduced my father when he declared his candidacy. In his own way and through his own sheer force of will, he sacrificed greatly to enter the political arena as an outsider and prevailed against a field of 16 very talented competitors. For more than a year, Donald Trump has been the people’s champion. And tonight, he is the people’s nominee.

And:

In Donald Trump, you have a candidate who knows the difference between wanting something done and making it happen. When my father says he will build a tower, keep an eye on the skyline. Floor by floor, a soaring structure will appear, usually record-setting in its height and iconic in its design. Real people are hired to do real work. Vision becomes reality. When my father says that he will make America great again, he will deliver.

And:

Come January 2017, all things will be possible again. We can hope and dream and think big again. No one has more faith in the American people than my father. He will be your greatest, your truest and your most loyal champion.

Over and over again, in videos, speeches and interviews, the theme from Trump’s children was that their father, our champion, had been called from his happy life to serve the Republic. He didn’t want to do this. He has been called by destiny, pulled by patriotism. He is a modern day Cincinnatus laying down his golf clubs.

Never mind that Trump has wanted to run for president for 20 years.

In the Mythic Trump story, he is like Moses living amongst the Egyptians before he sees the light.

Nowhere in his speech did Trump give any sense that he knew — or cared — how he would get things done through his “sheer force of will.” That’s the thing about magical thinking, you don’t need to explain it. The Ones We’ve Been Waiting For get it, and everyone else never will. As Bart Simpson said when running for class president, “My opponent says that are no easy answers. I say he’s not looking hard enough!”

In the Mythic Trump story, he is like Moses living amongst the Egyptians before he sees the light. “Nobody knows the system better than me,” he says with an ironic wink. The idea is that he has been amongst the oppressors, in mufti, learning their secrets and now he shall deliver his righteous people from them.

As for the doubters? They are like some heretical fifth column. In his prepared text, Trump proclaimed “Remember: All of the people telling you that you can’t have the country you want are the same people telling you that I wouldn’t be standing here tonight. No longer can we rely on those elites in media, and politics, who will say anything to keep a rigged system in place.”

But then he ad-libbed: “We love defeating those people.”

And of course, the crowd — brimming with the very same elites who have lived off politics and Washington like remoras on Leviathan — went wild.

RELATED: Trump Does Trump

Just a day earlier Trump said, “When the world looks at how bad the United States is, and then we go and talk about civil liberties, I don’t think we’re a very good messenger.” Keep in mind, this was in the context of criticizing human-rights abusers like Turkey and Russia. But no matter, he told the audience he was going to — through that indomitable will of his — make America proud again. And the crowd went wild.

By the normal rules the speech should have been a disaster. But as we all know the normal rules do not apply. I am fairly certain Trump will get his post-convention bump. I am less confident Trump is a guaranteed loser come November. This was a bread-and-circus convention and, it seems, a great many people want to see how the mythic story of Trump, The People’s Champion, plays out.

Weary Tales from the Road

So this is what I tapped out last night . . .

I’m exhausted. I’m exhausted in every way I can muster from my adjectival toolkit: literally, figuratively, ideologically, biologically, emotionally, ontologically, epistemically, calorically, and, perhaps most of all, visibly.

I’m writing — or at least typing — this on a bench outside the Holiday Inn, specifically the Holiday Inn Syracuse-Liverpool-Exit 37 (which may be the best hotel I’ve ever stayed in with a highway exit number in its name). It’s past midnight and I’m drinking a beer (not my first, nor my last) and smoking a cigar trying to pound out an acceptable “news”letter like the beleaguered millionth monkey tapping at a typewriter in ways that failed the previous 999,999.

I left Cleveland around 2:45 this afternoon and started the drive back to Maine where my wife and I are holed-up with all of our quadrupeds. On Saturday, I visit my daughter at sleep-away camp.

I understand that on the day after the Republican Convention I should probably start with some boffo insight about Donald Trump’s speech or the future or conservatism or at least some sort of jocularity. But, as I said, I am exhausted. And in my fatigue, my emotional compass is pulled by the True North of the things that matter most to me: family and dogs (but I repeat myself).

I could regale you with tales of shenanigans and tomfoolery in Cleveland that explain at least some of the stripes in the rainbow of my exhaustion. But I only have so many neurons left, so let me get to the more meaningful sources of my fatigue.

#share#

I Hate This

I know I’ve said this before, but I hate everything about this year, politically and (not counting some great TV) culturally.

It’s clear many of my friends on the pro-Trump right are giddy with resentment-justifying glee at the alleged comeuppance of Trump opponents. One need only listen to quite literally anything Laura Ingraham or Sean Hannity say about Trump critics to see how large a role spite plays in the now-unbreachable divide between the new nationalists and the old conservatives.

But that’s just a testament to how crappy the situation is. Any family, literal or figurative, where some members take such open pleasure at the misery of other family members is a family on the brink of splitting up based on irreconcilable differences. As someone who has done an enormous amount of ideological soul-searching of late, I’d like to say I wouldn’t give way to some of the same gaudy celebratory schadenfreude if the situation were reversed, but the truth is I just don’t know if that’s the case.

RELATED: The Comedy Is Finished

Then again, I think maybe not. The Trump movement in its glandular core is a movement about resentment and payback. It makes sense to conclude that at least some of its most ardent disciples are psychologically inclined to resentment and payback as well.

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I honestly and truly believe that many of the passengers in the First Class section of the Trump train — many cars of which serve as cable TV green rooms — have rushed to grab their seats out of a craven desire to enrich, empower, and elevate themselves. I know too many liars and mercenaries who have licked their fingers and tested the winds only to soon thereafter discover newfound respect for Donald Trump within themselves.

But the truth is conservatism has become shot-through with a kind of vindictiveness that reflects poorly on everyone, friend and foe alike.

I hate that after 20 years of fighting what I believe to be the good fight, so many can’t muster the will or generosity to consider that I’m doing what I think is right.

I hate what I’ve learned about my side. I hate thinking the worst of people I once respected — sometimes unfairly and sometimes with adamantine certitude. I hate watching TV and seeing people slowly bend to the alleged new necessities. Every few minutes another e-mailer or Twitter follower claims that my only option is to board the bandwagon, get with the program, or see the writing on the wall — as if such hectoring is an argument rooted in some kind of principle other than the fascistic glorification of the mob and a new right-wing version of The Right Side of History. The party barge is leaving the dock for Wales and one must jump aboard or be painted the party pooper or the traitor.

I hate discovering that so many people are disappointed in me for not playing my part in a racket.

Every day, if not every hour, I am told that my true motives are in reality desires, goals, and ambitions that have never once entered my mind. I want Hillary Clinton to be president of the United States as much as I want to be a patient of a narcoleptic proctologist (“Oh, I’m sorry, did I leave that in there all that time?”). I want the Supreme Court to be handed to the Left as much as I want a lap dance from Chris Christie.

#related#I hate that after 20 years of fighting what I believe to be the good fight, so many can’t muster the will or generosity to consider that I’m doing what I think is right. I’m entirely open to the argument that my analysis and judgment is wrong. But I am resentful, furious and, most of all, contemptuous of the lazy and self-justifying assumption that my motives are malign.

I have nothing but sympathy for those who feel they must vote against Hillary Clinton. But I have scorn for those who think that requires lying about Trump. If you’re a true-believer in Trump, that’s fine. I think you’re making the same mistake that the Left’s 2008 true believers made about Obama. There are no saviors in politics. But when millions of people think there can be, those of us in the Remnant of doubt get treated like heretics.

That’s fine, too. Indeed, despite my obvious fatigue and anger, I’m actually far more hopeful than you might think. In Cleveland, I met scores of fellow heretics. We didn’t meet in catacombs. But we plotted and planned all the same. We are the anti-establishment now. We stand opposed to two parties united behind two different facets of statism and identity politics. We are the new rebel alliance fighting against the narrative of a new empire. We aren’t as many as I would like, but we are far from few. We may not win, but one thing is for sure: It’s more fun to be the rebel.

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Various & Sundry

I’ve got to get back to the Fair Jessica so I will save the major canine updates for next week (there are many).

I’ve been on a bit of a new media tear this last two weeks.

Here’s my conversation with Bill Kristol which has generated a lot of nice feedback.

Here’s my Facebook live . . . uh . . . thing.

Here’s the latest GLoP podcast.

Oh, and here’s my Corner rant about the reaction to Ted Cruz’s speech, which became a trending topic nationwide on Twitter.

Here’s my column on why I thought the convention failed before it began.

And here’s my column on the problem of Trump’s dream of a ceremonial presidency.

And last, here’s some weird stuff:

Is Nicolas Cage hatred unjust?

Behold: A biomechanical stingray

Was Philip K. Dick a madman or a mystic?

The origin of “chicken butt”

Sanders fans plan fart-in against Hillary

Alas: Silence of the Lambs murder house now longer on the market

Drone photography

Lord of the Rings bloopers

Vatican digitizes 1600-year-old manuscript of the Aeneid

Science confirms: Music is getting more narcissistic

The history of the Post Office

Chuck Norris vs. Ninja Enforcer

Demonstration of a working Gutenberg printing press

The Man who inspired “The Dude” from The Big Lebowski

Cats getting brain freezes from eating ice cream too quickly

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