Consider this part gedankenexperiment, part the mutant child; the anti-consensus.
The mainstream narrative line, defined for so long by denial of his rise and prophecies of his failure, has seen Donald Trump progress from laughable irrelevance, through curious sideshow bloviating like some half-cut post-modern William Blake, into the Great Red Dragon himself.
“And behold a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads. And his tail drew the third part of the stars from heaven, and did cast them to the earth.”
Perhaps that should read The Great Red Donald, with the heads as states, the horns as endorsements, the crowns as delegates and the stars as his rivals for the Republican nomination.
He represents, we are told, the worst of humanity. He is a fascist or a proto-fascist or a crypto-fascist, the next Hitler; a racist, a tyrant, a fraud, a buffoon. He is an opportunist, a liar, a demagogue devoid of substance and decency. He is dangerous, he is divisive, he is a threat to our future and to the future of the world; he is bad.
And so on, and so on. Donald Trump has his own record of insults and assaults and it is impressive in its size and variety, though he does have a whole world with which to fight. But that arsenal is almost if not entirely matched by that of the forces arrayed against him and him alone.
At least, that is how we might frame the difference conventionally. But that lazy phraseology is a problem, and it is precisely the reason for his success and his immunity to attacks that would fell other men: It is not The Donald against the world, because The Donald is but the face and the voice and the toupee of a movement; one that he represents though he did not create it.
Much is made in election seasons of The Silent Majority. It is a phrase typically employed by those of whom the pollsterati have been painting unflattering portraits. “Yes, the polls put Party B comfortably in the lead, but I think, come the day of the election, you’ll find that the silent majority will come out to vote for us [Party A].”
It seldom happens, of course. The Silent Majority has become something like a myth, one born of the unhappy fact that voter turnout is invariably poor and of the complacency of those who don’t care to ask why; the comforting fairytale of electoral politics. We hear of it but never from it.
Well, The Silent Majority has found its voice in America, and it isn’t happy. It was never silent of its own volition, it was made to be so by a political system and a political and media establishment that became dead and deaf to it a long, long time ago.
Forgetting Blake and his dragons: The repetition of The Donald’s rhetoric is at least worthy of Eliot.
We will build a wall,
It’ll be a great wall,
It’ll be a great wall
And Mexico will pay for it.
It is nativist, if not completely racist, but his critics often try to have it both ways when they criticise him for being flexible and malleable and dishonest and then work on the assumption that his rhetoric is honest and criticise him for that, too.
A cursory look through his history in politics, as an activist and a lobbyist for causes as varied as universal healthcare and nuclear non-proliferation, betrays no innate racism and demonstrates a flexible commitment to fairly consistent principles. (His economic populism and calls for a return to isolationism have been constituents of his political gospel since his involvement in the Perot movement of ’92.)
His talk, then, is expedient; and that at least suggests that Trump is not as bad for America as someone, like Ted Cruz, who is a genuine zealot. He won’t really ban Muslims from entering the United States. He can’t. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment prohibits it. Nor does he really hate women; his position on women’s’ issues, especially on Planned Parenthood, has been consistently liberal. Lip-service might be paid to the obligatory Republican crusade against abortion, but Trump has historically aligned himself with pro-choice movements whilst his opponents have not.
He might play to the worst sentiments of the Republican base but his comments on Mexicans, the Chinese and the Japanese are designed to get a reaction; to inflame the base and put their (sometimes legitimate) concerns at the head of the agenda.
The first was a crude amalgam of concerns regarding mass illegal immigration and the very real heroin crisis that is plaguing many Southern and early-voting states (and whether you agree with his tone or credit him with substance, both are serious issues). And that, I contend, is more honest than the dog-whistle approach employed by his Republican rivals and the neo-Dixiecrats in the Clinton campaign.
The others form part of an appeal for economic isolationism and a reflect the real concerns of those to whom the liberalisation of trade with Europe and China has been, to use a word The Donald is fond of, “a disaster.” Given that his opposition to such liberalisation almost certainly includes the TTIP, which theoretically opens NHS contracts to US health insurance tenders and might even allow companies to sue national governments if their policies harm profits, that position would benefit us a great deal.
Trump’s expediency is designed to play off the very system he rails against. Though he makes much of his personal wealth, his disposable income is too little to allow for a conventional campaign to rival the Super-PACs of his rivals. He might even be correct, then, when he claims to be beholden to no Big Money interests and that, too, is good for a political process which has otherwise been bought by the Koch brothers and by the likes of Right to Rise and Hillary Clinton’s innumerable Big Money backers.
It is a question raised both by Trump and by Sanders, and the question is a just and pertinent one: How can you honestly claim to be against the same interests that finance your campaign?
So it is that Trump energises his supporters with promises of an independent campaign, and his more colourful language has earned him air time that money quite literally cannot buy. There are limits to how much money can be spent to buy air time, even within the United States’ campaign finance system. Trump gets his for free, thus freeing him from the corruption endemic within that system and that, too, is a good thing.
And Trump, like Sanders, is speaking for the forgotten; for The Silent Majority; for those left behind in the States’ transition from democracy to plutocracy; for Eliot’s Hollow Men.
This is the dead land,
This is cactus land;
Here the stone images
Are raised, here they receive
The supplication of a dead man’s hand
Under the twinkle of a fading star.
More specifically, he represents the frustrations of those who believe that their representatives have sacrificed democracy for plutocratic cronyism, and that is inseparable from his image: a plutocratic crony who is sacrificing the other way.
It is something the Clinton team will do well to consider if (and it is still an if) she is able to schmooze and triangulate her way past Sanders for the Democratic nomination: Donald Trump’s campaign is gorging on the support of first-time voters in much the same way (though not quite to the same extent) as Sanders’ campaign. And, should the rigged nominations system confer upon Clinton the coronation she has long expected, and in so-doing opt for the candidate of both the conventional and the dark establishment, the Democrats may well face a support deficit and a de-energised support base in the general election.
But involving more people in the democratic process: That’s another good thing.
And who are those people? In the days when I found myself more enchanted by a snappy line than by the assumptions underlying it – and those days aren’t completely behind me – I lauded Lindsey Graham’s quip on the problem the GOP has with its electorate: “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.”
I have always considered this to be true, but I now consider it to be a necessary and not a sufficient truism. Jeb Bush, for example, was absolutely right when he realised that it was and is not only “angry white guys” who are most naturally inclined to vote Republican. Many of the immigrants vilified for years by the GOP share many of the party’s convictions on social policy. For all we might disagree with those convictions, I was sorry to see Bush abandon his principles by reneging upon past positions in a pathetic attempt to meet Trump on annexed ground.
But why are Angry White Guys so angry? Surely they do not want to be. And I would bundle them into the same category as first-time Trump voters: These are people who have been energised by the consistent failure, on the party of the GOP, to account for their concerns.
Trump, for all his ills, is giving a voice to the disenfranchised. Should he win the nomination (which is likely but not a certainty given that a contested convention is possible; mass-suicides have happened before, after all) then, regardless of the outcome of the general election, the GOP will have nominated a candidate who represents The Silent Majority for the first time in recent history.
And, regardless of the outcome of the general election, The Silent Majority will finally have been re-engaged with a political process that has hitherto sought to exclude them from the debate. They will have representation. And, if you subscribe to the view, as I do, that political extremism is often a result of disenfranchisement (and, by extension, that the worst tendencies of the electorate are the fault not of the electorate but of the politicians who ignore them) then you will be open to the possibility that, just perhaps, Donald Trump will fundamentally realign the focus of the GOP elite away from the business interests of those who fund it and toward the concerns of those who made and make it.
No democracy can thrive or excel or even survive when only one party holds the power. I speak as someone with no ideological love for the GOP, and as someone who thinks that the Democrats are right wing, and as someone who thinks that the primary and caucus systems have many flaws that need to be addressed in order for the United States to be the democracy it claims to be, but I do firmly believe that (if we must settle for a two-party system) a strong GOP is absolutely vital if the United States is to achieve all that it is capable of achieving.
To that end, and for the sake of the voters, and for the sake of democracy, and for the sake of the United States; for the sake of accountability, and for the sake of reform, and for the sake of the separation of democracy and corporate interests (Jefferson had his wall, after all); for the sake of a challenge to Clintonian corruption, and for the sake of an end to one-party, one-ideology rule; and for the sake of theatre, and for the sake of entertainment, and for the sake of the American people:
Donald Trump might, just might, be good for America.