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The Socialist’s Journal: The Trump Mystique

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trevor brookins
Trevor Brookins

*Although I am an avowed liberal, I generally don’t forward or comment on memes that simply make fun of conservatives positions or politicians. Having said that I will be wading deep into the mire (not memes but lots of conjecture that many memes are based on) in an attempt to explain the current situation of presidential politics.

Starting with the 2008 election, the Democrats were deciding between a man of color (Obama) and a woman (Clinton) who represented two groups historically underrepresented in positions of power. By doing so the Democrats cornered the market on liberalism. And after Obama’s election the democratic party doubled down on their liberal perspective by passing universal healthcare legislation and openly accepting individuals in the LGBTQ community. To be clear these were developments I believe make our country and society better. But I can accept that reasonable people can disagree about policy.

Unfortunately for Republicans, society had become a much more liberal place and many people in the middle were leaning left. The result was a conservative counterculture that seemed to include more fringe groups than large voting blocs. For instance, while a majority of Americans would profess some form of Christianity only a small percentage would claim to be particularly conservative. This contrast in group affiliation versus personal belief and behavior is illustrated by the shift in traditional relationship patterns – specifically the number of people getting married.

In the 2016 presidential election two elements changed from 2008. First Clinton did not capture the imagination of liberals the way Obama did and therefore did not engender the same support. The consequence was that anyone who was on the fence and voted Obama in 2008 did not show up for Clinton. Put another way: lots of voters went conservative based on one issue. Surely sexism was a factor in this demographic shift but not the only factor. Clinton’s baggage from her time as a public figure and politician (first lady, Senator, Secretary of State) fairly contributed to her losing votes; her continued marriage to Bill Clinton unfairly did the same. But fairness aside, she simply wasn’t as strong a candidate.

The second element was a cynical gambit by the Republican party. Instead of disassociating with the fringe groups that had come into their tent, they nominated Trump who gave voice to and legitimized fringe ideas. In fact I wrote a column early in the campaign season about how the Republican Party was lucky to have him saying such outlandish things because it made establishment candidates (specifically Jeb Bush) look better. Little did I know that people who held and/or would at least accept fringe ideas had become a much more substantial portion of the Republican base and Trump won the nomination.

Nevertheless there were rumors of Republican leaders on the eve of the national convention trying to find a way out of forwarding him as the party’s candidate. If that were true, I believe the thing that countered that movement was a different rumor: that Trump was willing to act as a figurehead for the Vice-President and other party leaders who would do much more of the actual governing. I’m not sure I believe the first of these rumors, but I do find the second very compelling. In his life Trump has always been in a position of leadership without having to do much leading. His business career is evidence of the idea that Trump tries to put capable people around him and let them operate; he wasn’t the one scouting locations for hotels and casinos or the person filing for tax breaks. And I feel confident in making that statement because Trump has the kind of ego that demands to be recognized for any and all positive actions. So I find it very possible that Trump is willing to take all the credit for work that mostly other people are doing. Under such a model it makes sense that the establishment Republicans would support him. Trump gives them the policies they want and the popular support they need. In fact conservative leaders would welcome a trade off that meant they got the policies they believed were best for their constituents in exchange for turning a blind eye to one individual’s predilection for sexual assault.

But here is the most important thing about this understanding of the Trump campaign and presidency. It means that he is not making mistakes when he says things that are contrary to mainstream cultural understandings. Knowing that he will have the support of establishment politicians allows him to say things that others would be castigated for and he knows this. Before running for president Trump was probably reticent to say he could shoot someone without consequences, but over time that reluctance went away; he subsequently said that in front of of supporters while campaigning.

President Trump has taken this confidence in Republican support to, I believe, an extreme. He has repeatedly undermined any media companies or members that are critical of him. When leaders start to criticize the media for negative coverage there is usually a popular sentiment of “what does this person have to hide?” This is not true of President Trump. He has repeated his criticism of the media enough that it has become almost white noise. When President Bush mentioned performance enhancing drugs during a state of the union address, many people said the government had no place in legislating professional sports. In contrast President Trump critiques the form of protest that NFL players engaged in over the past two years and Republican politicians support his criticism despite the fact that protest is the oldest tradition in American history.

President Trump has feuded with enough people unnecessarily, and has made enough statements that are against the grain of standard decency (note that I’m not referencing political correctness) that it is reasonable to conclude that these aren’t mistakes. And each time it happens his supporters voice their approval and people who used to be on the margin of American society get a little more legitimized. Neo Nazis are now just another group exercising their right to assemble. And while people expend energy refuting the ideas of Neo Nazis (which they should), not enough people notice that tax reform undermines universal healthcare. President Trump is not some great intellectual but he doesn’t have to be to fulfill the role conservatives need him to fill. While he muddies the dialogue conservatives have the cover they need to fundamentally change society.

To come full circle, the reason I generally don’t engage in making fun of conservative politicians or points of view is because to do so is a distraction. Just as some of the bizarre statements of the president now are a distraction. And the country doesn’t need people to be distracted while conservatives launch a revolution. Much to the contrary, the current state of American society and initiatives in policy deserve and require your attention.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.


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