Dump on Trump: Not Working
It has become something of a cottage industry to dump on Trump these days. I have even labeled the current mood as “Trump hysteria,” with Trump playing one of the leading roles in our ever-recurring politics of fear. Other players these days are North Korea, Iran, ISIS, Syria, and that old standby and favorite, the Russians.
On the other hand, Trump’s supporters – or many of them – seem non-pulsed by this dump on Trump. Perhaps this is because these supporters are too stupid to know better, that they are, as Hillary Clinton labeled them, “deplorables.” But such a dismissive attitude to Trump’s supporters, although psychologically satisfying, blinds us to what is actually going on these days.
Consider the possibility that what Trump and his supporters are about is disrupting the existing political order. This would help make sense of both Trump’s actions – his tweets and his unorthodox or unpresidential style – and the loyalty of his supporters. What seems to many like sheer madness or idiocy isn’t either. Rather, it is part and parcel of what might be labeled “Trumpian politics” and, as such, we shouldn’t expect it to end anytime soon or at all. Nor should we expect it to lose its appeal to Trump’s supporters because these people are committed to disrupting the existing political order and embracing a new one. To label these people “deplorables” is to miss the mark and, hence, fail to wound them.
Moreover, the commitment to a politics of disruption appealed to Bernie Sanders and his supporters as well. In fact, many of Sanders’ supporters embraced disruption even after Bernie threw his support to Hillary Clinton at the Democratic convention in Philadelphia. It might even be argued that this desire to disrupt was what upended Hillary’s presidential bid. She wanted to be anything but disruptive and even seemed satisfied to be the after thought to Barack Obama’s presidency. Perhaps this helps explain why her attempts to link her politics to the politics of the original feminists seemed forced, even concocted. For those women were, clearly and intentionally, disruptive, whereas Hillary is not.
Once the appeal of political disruption is given its due in today’s setting, the weaknesses of the Clinton campaign become visible. Hillary – and others – thought her strength was her attachment to policies, well thought out, and empirically grounded policies that would meet the nation’s needs. But in a time of disruption, such a politics – a public policy politics – is a weakness, not a strength. Over and over, Hillary and her speechwriters could not enunciate a “vision” that connected with large sections of the electorate. “Why is Hillary running?” was the question they could not answer satisfactorily. Why? Because they failed or refused to see the appeal of a politics of disruption; they failed to see that they were trying to defend a political order that had lost its legitimacy.
Hillary and her advisers were left pleading: “You don’t want Trump! He’s unsteady, he’s unpresidential, and he’s disruptive!” Yes, they were and are correct. Trump was and is all those things. But that is why he and not Hillary is president!