Wednesday, December 9, 2015

On Ignoring Trump

I've been hearing that the best way to get Trump off the ballot is to ignore him. Well ignoring it might make him go away, or not. Sometimes the burning goes away, sometimes you gotta get that penicillin shot. Maybe another approach would be to examine why he hasn't been the flash in the pan that well all expected him to be. The truth is he has captured all the energy of the populist right insurgency. So maybe the questions to ask are (1) why the insurgency and (2) why is Trump their guy?

First we shouldn't lament that there is this swelling right-wing populism. We're long past due for some popular political action in this country. The bureaucracy has become too big, too corrupt, and too incompetent, and everybody knows it, especially those on the anti-establishment right. This populism really showed itself in the Tea-Party (now dubbed Liberty) movement. While largely ridiculed, what was the Tea Party but a bunch of people who's hearts were in the right place, but they largely weren't sophisticated enough to see the ruse. They knew that ordinary Americans are getting screwed, that powerful anti-democratic forces are destroying the country, yet they get tricked into believing the government is the primary enemy, and they spend their energy behind such tasks as removing the estate tax. Populism isn't a monopoly of the right. The liberal analogue to the Tea Party was the Occupy Movement. How amazing is it that both movements wanted almost exactly the same thing, yet conventional wisdom told us they stood at polar extremes of the political spectrum.

The left populism has largely solidified around the Bernie Sanders campaign. And what a great candidate. I don't agree with a good portion of his liberal agenda, but talk about being the right guy for the job. He's experienced, he's genuine, he's not the prompter-reading narcissist-in-a-suit we're all so sick of. His success is fueled by left-wing (and even moderate) populism. Hillary's success is merely a baramoter of the establishment hold on power. Well that and some unfortunate gender politics. Leftist populism has settled around a serious candidate, and things look good on that end.

What about on the right? Where is their Bernie Sanders? The most apparent equivalent is Ron Paul, who led popular presidential bids in 2008 and 2012, but is too long in the tooth for another run. He had an heir. Rand rode his father's popularity to a US Senate seat. He had all kinds of populist street cred by proxy. But he tried to make himself into the establishment-friendly libertarian. He was in the right time and place to score a big touchdown but he fumbled the ball. He pandered to the establishment when the rest of the party was running away from it. I like Rand, he's probably my favorite candidate of the bunch. He seems to put his money where his mouth is. But there is a reason he is polling at 2%.

Frankly there is not serious candidate to capture the populist movement. There is no Barry Goldwater this time around. There is Rand, there is Trump, and there are a bunch of Super-PAC funded pols. Outsiders Carson and Fiorina had good runs. I'm not entirely sure why Fiorina's star has faded. I suspect it's because she did seem to be pandering to the establishment, a sort of Hillary of the right. Maybe I'm wrong. Either way she's clearly been outshone by Trump. Carson was the candidate we all wanted to believe in. Turns out he's not actually all that intelligent. I mean I'm sure he's smart, but not President smart. Bush and Walker were the obvious establishment choices, and their bids have been dismal. Cruz and Rubio still look good I'd say. But you can't help but think Cruz could never win the general and Rubio will be lucky to get the nomination.

And then there's Trump. For all his flaws, he's a brilliant showman. Let's not discredit that. And for all his bluster, he is a legitimate populist candidate. Outside of Sanders he is the only candidate without a billionaire-funded Super-PAC (although there was one until fairly recently). There is some irony that he is a billionaire who largely self funds his campaign. But at this point if you're an anti-establishment conservative you take what you can get. Trump doesn't go out of his way to be politically correct, which everyone is sick of. He doesn't pander to the establishment, which everyone is sick of. And he lets the populist right know he's solidly on their side. Let's look at his most recent comments that have everyone in a tizzy.

He has proposed a ban on all Muslim immigration, even to the extent of banning Muslim tourists. I take this is hyperbole. It's an obvious violation of the 1st Amendment, for one. I doubt he really wants this. But it serves two needs. First, it generates him lots of attention. And to that end, A+. It's been Trump Trump Trump for several days now. Mostly it's the enraged left giving it to him. Second, it dismisses multiculturalism completely. White conservatives are tired of being called racist bigots at every turn. They're tired of the nearly institutionalized white shaming (called white privilege). And they're tired of being told ethnocentrism is just a horrid evil. It's very telling that the reaction of the left has been to assert that it is now a fact, no longer an opinion, that Trump is a racist. Islam isn't a race!! Religion isn't race! It is unconstitional to apply a religious litmus test for immigration, but it is simply not racist for citizens to not welcome another religion or culture. The word racist is just a slander at this point, no longer a word with meaning. It is the white analog of nigger. But this isn't about race. It's not even that much about religion. It's about culture. If the Syrian refugees wore Cubs hats and shot skeet and sang drunk renditions of Alan Jackson at karaoke night, not one decent redneck would give two licks about their race or religion. Trump is the only candidate out there to question, let alone entirely dismiss, the dogma of multiculturalism. He's willing to say so out loud, and take all the heat he is for it. He didn't have to say these things. He shouldn't have, at least politically speaking. But he did. And to many people, well it simply makes him a hero.

He's not a very good candidate, I don't think. But right-wing populists are energized right now. There's no ideal candidate for them to rally around.  Trump's become the figurehead of populist conservatism. Maybe he's the wrong man for the right movement, but Trump won't go away because you ignore him.

No comments:

Post a Comment