Monday, August 10, 2015

Explaining Trump

A wise (if sometimes politically misguided) observer of the American political scene posted something last week about the (to many) befuddling rise of Donald Trump as a GOP Presidential candidate.


It's easy to write Trump off as a joke, the logical, comical conclusion to 50 years of a party sublimating its once-principled conservatism of ideas in the name of power-first purity tests. But to do that means we don't have to try to deal with the issues that underlie his rise. And this feels like a moment that calls for a deeper understanding. Why do nearly a quarter of Republican voters support someone that appears to non-believers as a cartoonish buffoon? Trump, unquestionably a lout, is a reaction to something. His ascent, even if it may be temporary, does have meaning, and there are lessons to be learned in the effort to comprehend it.

Drew Magary, who's gone from dick-and-poop-joke Deadspin artiste to a mainstream commentator (with an eye for dick and poop jokes) in what feels like the blink of an eye, wrote a piece for GQ this week on the Trump phenomenon. He went to Oskaloosa, Iowa to see a Trump rally in person. His reporting strikes a powerful chord:
"Well, Trump is here to fix all that losing. And here is where my brief jag of mildly effusive praise for Donald Trump must come to an end, because the grim undercurrent of his rise is SHAME. After all, if you believe we must make America great again, then you must also believe that America, at the present moment, sucks. And pretty much everyone at the Trump picnic believed that America sucks. When I asked a group of Trump supporters outside if they were proud of America, they all laughed with derision.  Of course they weren’t proud of America. Of course this nation is a shithole. One voter named Corey told me he hoped Trump would help America “get back to the way it was,” a refrain I heard from a lot of people, as if the country was a rock band that had changed its sound. Backing Trump means acknowledging that you live in a world of failure, and that your last best hope is the Music Man moseying into town."
As hard as this is to admit, because it implicates me directly, East Coast suburban knowledge professionals with college educations (a description that covers the vast majority of this blog's staff and readership) haven't ever walked a mile in the shoes of the denizens of depressed post-manufacturing towns like Oskaloosa, Iowa.

At its core, this is about change. Human beings don't do change very well. Change management is a thriving industry and subject of academic inquiry. We fear change so much, our institutions are willing to pay to learn how to manage it.  Any material change brings with it apprehension. I just bought a new car, and I've been driving like a grandmother for the last few days as I adjust to the bigger dimensions and longer stopping distance. But change that forces humans to reexamine their most foundational beliefs is terrifying. For dozens of reasons - technical, economic, cultural, demographic, etc - our country and our world are changing at a dizzying pace. There are millions of Americans for whom that change represents dislocation, loss of opportunity, and the rise of the other.

From a purely economic perspective, the unemployment rate for college graduates is half that of those who only completed high school. Trump's strong (insane?) anti-immigrant rhetoric resonates with a constituency that feels increasingly exposed in a global economy that values traditional labor very differently than it once did.

Culturally, think for a minute about what the last ten years have wrought. Gay marriage is legal, across the land. We have a black President, with a white mom, and Kenyan relatives. Nearly ten states have decriminalized marijuana. 63% of Americans are non-Hispanic whites, down from 75% in 2000 (and on the way to less than 50% by 2050). As many Americans watched a women's soccer game as did college football's playoffs, for fuck's sake. (2005 guy just said, 'Wait, there's a college football playoff? The future is awesome!)

The world is different, but the same. Things are more moderner than before. Bigger and yet smaller. It's computers. San Dimas High School Football Rules!

Wait, sorry. Got lost in a Wyld Stallyns riff there for a second. The world is a shitload different, and it's happened (and is happening) pell mell. I worry about the future, about whether I'll have enough money for retirement, for sending my kids to college. And I make a very good living. I can't begin to understand the pressures felt by a father of two kids who's marginally employed, and his skills are no longer in demand because the plant was closed and the jobs shipped to Mexico. I'm worried about budgeting for my trip to Walt Disney World. He's worried about whether or not his kid's gonna have Christmas, and in many cases, he's looking for someone to blame, because he's a human, and that's what we do.

And there but for the grace of God, go all of us.

My point, at the end of this rambling, is an echo of a Chris Rock bit about domestic violence (embroiled as our media is in the deconstruction of Trump's flippant misogyny, I recognize that this particular allegory might be construed as a bit, well, ill-timed). In the aftermath of the murder of Nicole Brown Simpson, Rock said, "So you gotta look at OJ's situation. He's paying $25,000 a month in alimony, got another man driving around in his car and fucking his wife in a house he's still paying the mortgage on. Now I'm not saying he should have killed her... but I understand."



Which takes us back to the theory posited at the beginning of this post. The world is an infinitely complex place. None of us understands it fully. People who find themselves in the midst of disruptive change don't want to hear about complexity, or nuance. They want to be told in confident tones that there are simple answers. Hell, we all want that. There's a deep vein of uncertainty in this country, and Trump has tapped into it. He's not going to win the nomination, but whoever does (in both parties) would do well to think about how to serve those that feel the changes taking place in our society are leaving them behind.

I'm not saying Donald Trump is right, or anything less than an embarrassment.

But I understand.

27 comments:

Dave said...

turn and face the strain, changes . . . just gonna have to be a different man.

Dave said...

and here's another applicable chris rock bit about understanding the anger and the reason why a guy like trump speaks to a lot of people-- this is the one my friend sent me the day after we watched the debate (or some of it, on the big screen in the hipster bar near my house . . . so weird)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-5goIqq4QjU&feature=youtu.be

great post. i love the fact that trump has the money to go independent and thus wields an inordinate amount of power for a wingnut.

zman said...

rob gets a new car and we only learn about it in the context of a post analyzing Donald Trump? We really are a bunch of East Coast suburban knowledge professionals with college educations. Everyone else loves to talk about cars.

Danimal said...

Good one Roberto.

rob said...

z, it's a honda pilot - believe me, when i get my mini, you'll know about it.

zman said...

And I get your point rob, mainly that there are a lot of people looking for someone to help them get to the place where they're not getting rich but they're more than getting by. That Trump is this person is ridiculous. He's a cartoon character.

As is Cruz. Last Thursday he said "If I’m elected president, let me tell you about my first day in office. The first thing I intend to do is to rescind every illegal and unconstitutional executive action taken by Barack Obama." He then went on to describe other things he would do, implying that just as God created the heavens and earth on his first day, Cruz can interpret all of Obama's acts and re-write the ones he deems inappropriate, separation of powers be damned. He knows he can't do this for myriad reasons, but he also knows that most Americans don't know that he can't do this and he's preying on this lack of understanding.

I guess this is another reason why people hate lawyers.

rob said...

yeah, cruz is a pernicious, deeply cynical motherfucker. he's a dangerous cat.

Clarence said...

Re-watch the 30 for 30 on the USFL to get a strong sense of the stank Trumplestiltskin leaves behind.

Danimal said...

Anyone ever brush their teeth with shaving cream instead of toothpaste and not realize it til hours later?

Clarence said...

Of course you don't, no one does. It never happens. Sorry, Ted, that's a dumb question... skip that.

rootsminer said...

I assume Cruz will be the nominee now that he's captured the coveted machine gun bacon demographic: https://youtu.be/jUzgazIu0DU

Dave said...

speaking of newish cars-- any thoughts on a small SUV?

looking for one that is a couple years old-- 2013, 2014-- either subaru outback or honda cr-v or mazda cx-5 or a toyota rav 4. anyone have one of these?

they all seem very similar. my outback is near death . . .

Clarence said...

Dave...

Read this.

zman said...

My thoughts on small SUVs are that you should ignore them and get a station wagon. The Outback has as much or even more cargo room than a small SUV in a geometrically more convenient arrangement, as does the Volvo XC70. The VW Sportwagen is a little smaller but you can get it with a stick and/or a diesel for insane fuel economy. The Outback has good fuel economy too, and arguably the best AWD system on the market. The net effect is that you feel like you're driving a car as opposed to a jelly bean on stilts.

Danimal said...

small suv's are cute though.
my neighbor who is very particular about his vehicles recently traded in a brand new acura suv (forget which one, but a small one) for the Honda. he loves it. and he drove every one on the market. fwiw.

Dave said...

thanks guys. my wife wants an outback again, but everything i've read about the cr-v says it's the one to get. i guess we have to drive on. i like how the subaru handles, plus it's the lesbian's choice . . .

rob said...

teej goes to iceland and geno smith gets his jaw broken by a teammate. coincidence?

probably.

zman said...

Illuminati member Ryan Fitzpatrick KNEW this would happen when he signed with the Jets. Meanwhile, Michael Vick is a free agent? The Bills have EJ Manuel, Matt Cassel, and Tyrod Taylor so I guess there's no need to take a flyer on Vick.

rob said...

don't know if anyone's been following this oath keepers in ferguson story, but it's fucking outrageous. can you imagine the national news apoplexy that would result from a group of heavily armed people of color (black, hispanic, muslim, etc) showing up to help 'police' a protest attende by white people? out. fucking. rageous.

mayhugh said...

Danimal - I can't recommend more highly the Nissan Murano. As a crossover, it is smallish, handles well, has plenty of legroom up front and trunk space (back seats lay flat on upgraded models, I have bare bones), and its AW drive is freaking awesome in the snow. Sometimes I am so happy while driving it that I sing about it to the tune of The Simpsons' Canyonero ("Muranoooohohohoooh"). I'm not sure you can get higher praise.

rob said...

i will pay top dollar for video of mayhugh singing a love song to his car.

Mark said...

I've seen it, Rob. The pictures of them walking next to the Ferguson police armed with assault rifles is appalling.


In less consequential news, I do not agree with Todd Bowles' definition of 'sucker punch'.

Danimal said...

I agree on the murano....though it is Dave that is in the market. Before we had our 3rd my wife had one. They nice.

Whitney said...

wodustudios.com, in 10-15 mins

Dave said...

murano looks pretty sweet and has a good review on consumer reports, but is not featured on the top ten lesbian car list, which is a major black mark.

rootsminer said...

It's like watching 120 minutes, only instead of videos we can see you and your co-host playing air drums or checking your phones while the song plays. Interesting twist.

rootsminer said...

That fist bump was atrocious, tho.