Donald Trump inspired clichés by the big-box store-load long before he dipped his toe into politics. Even back when he was a pop-culture hero of sorts among the crowd that worshipped blinged-out idols, even before MC Hammer brought it to the mainstream:
Y’know – back when he was a Democrat.
You don’t need me to list Trump’s faults as a person, politician and President – indeed, we have a multi-billion dollar industry devoted entirely not only to cataloging them, but making up new ones out of thin air.
We’ll come back to them.
The Usual Bla Bla Bla
But along with all of the faults imagined from whole cloth (the “Fine People” slander hops to mind – which, again, we’ll come back to later), and his many offenses against the supposed decorum of the Presidency (real or imagined – and I’ll skip past Bill Clinton’s desporting himself in the Oval Office to jump back to Woodrow Wilson using it as a de facto Ku Klux Klan field office to try to introduce a little context into the notion of decorum), he had some real ones; I can’t help but think if he’d just turned his Twitter feed over to a moderately clever mid-level staffer, he could have kept the “outflank the media” aspects of his social presence without the, let’s be honest, crazy and intemperate and, God help me for saying it, unpresidential parts of his public presence. Enough to have won the election? I wouldn’t bet against it.
Of course, to be intellectually honest, you – and by “you”, I mean “the Never Trump clacque” – need to admit he did some things very, very well. For starters, he did the one thing I, a Trump skeptic, had hoped for, and exceeded my hopes by half; he empaneled a genuine originalist majroitiy on the SCOTUS. And in foreign policy terms, he may have been the most successful President we’ve had since George HW Bush, and Reagan’st first term before him.
Never Never Land
The previous paragraph might be read as a swipe at the “Never Trump” crowd – which includes some people I respect very much, and some I never really did, and some for whom I’ve gradually lost regard over time.
“Never Trump” largely, if not completely, devolved into a bunch of scolds of no more political use than the Libertarian Party, chanting “I Told You So” with all the convincing authority of that “Karen” who yaps at you about putting your groceries on the conveyor before the cashier has sanitized it.
I say this as someone who has been an active Trump skeptic since 1986 – back when most Democrats and Never-Trumpers were making Trump a TV star through most of the 2000s, as I’m fond of pointing out – and who was actively interested in “Never Trump” activities up to and including reviving the Federalist party around this time five years ago.
The Real Deplorable Thing
But the biggest problem with Trump isn’t Trump. The media and pop culture would have said many of the same things about Mitt Romney or John McCain or Marco Rubio, or most likely Martin Luther King if he were alive today and voting Republican.
Trump won in the first place because he saw the left’s strategy – harness the populist power of identity politics – and, for five years, did it better than the Progressives. He turned blue collar whites, and people in Red state in general, into an identity group and fairly coherent voting bloc – finally ending the 100 year old notion that Democrats were “the party of the working man” once and for all.
So populism was the car that drove him to the White House. Where he governed in some ways as a conservative (in foreign policy terms, on the SCOTUS, in slashing regulation), and in some ways as the most profligate “progressive” in history (he spent like the Democrat he used to be).
But there was something worse.
Remember Ron Paul? In 2008 and 2012, a lot of Republicans, especially younger ones, staged and insurgency in the GOP behind the Texas Libertarian-Republican. Much as I supported much of what Paul stood for (domestically, at least – his foreign and defense policies were just as historically ignorant as the Libertarian Party’s), looking at his mobs of idealistic acolytes, I asked more than once “You do realize that even if he’s elected, he’ll be able to do nothing he promises, since there’s not a majority of Paulite House and Senate candidates running to help push the agenda, right? And that the only way to enact that idealistic vision of government would be for Paul to stage a libertarian coup, and impose an absolute Libertarian dictatorship, and force Liberty on the people against their will.
There was no telling that to the Paul Kids – not back then, anyway. Such is the allure of the personality cult, among those who haven’t really paid attention to how much drag and lag and need for consensus is (as of 2020) built into the system.
And Trump certainly developed his own personality cult in the GOP.
On the one hand – the Never Trumpers remind us – Trumpism is not conservatism. And they’re right. It’s populism, and populism, giving people what they want now, is only rhetorically distinguishable between the Left and the Right. “Trumpism” tramples the principles of conservatism behind which the GOP…
…I was going to say “behind which the GOP stands”. Of course, the GOP, at least in DC, hasn’t for a long time.
We’ll come back to that.
Anyway – “Trumpism” turned, at least at the point of the retail-political sphere, into a personality cult, no less impervious to logic than the Hillary or Obama cults, no less focused on the person rather than the policy than the Ron Paul fan club.
To far too many Trump supporters in all of our social circles, policy wasn’t the goal; Trump was.
And given the GOP’s behavior over the past decade, why wouldn’t someone who didn’t care about how the political sausage was made, but how awful it tasted, see it any differently?
We’ll come back to that two episodes down the road.
It’d be easy, and facile, but no more than a little inaccurate, to say last week’s riot at the Capitol was about keeping the person in office (assuming you discount the notion that “Anti”-Fa provocateurs did the job – and for purposes of this argument, I do), rather than the policies and the repudiation of the oppression of Big Left. To way too many people, Trump doesn’t lead the effort against the toxic, narcissistic marginalization that Democrats relentless focus on identity politics brings; he is that effort.
It’s a toxic perception – indeed, a toxic reality. Democracy dies in cultism.
That cult didn’t occur in a vacuum, of course.
More on that coming up next.