As I have noted before, Republican voters are a remarkably loyal bunch. Once they have picked someone to support for whatever reason, pretty much everything else is shrugged off. This loyalty manifested itself with Sarah Palin and now we see it again with Donald Trump. It seems like his derogatory comments about Mexicans, John McCain, and women have done nothing to shake the loyalty of his fans. It is, I suppose, possible that each of those comments alienated a considerable segment of his people but at the same time attracted new supporters so that the net number of supporters remained stable while the people changed. But that series of coincidences seems unlikely. It seems more plausible to assume that the same supporters are sticking with Trump whatever the party and media establishment say about him.
That raises the question: Who the hell are these people?
Republican George Will is struggling mightily to answer this question. Will is emblematic of the incestuous Washington political-media-marriage relationships. He acts as a pundit in the media while advising the Republican party and individual candidates privately and his wife works on the campaign of Scott Walker. And yet he is treated as some kind of objective analyst rather than a political operative and a party hack.
Will has nothing but disdain for Trump’s supporters and is convinced that they are not ‘true’ Republicans and so the party should not fear setting up barricades to keep Trump and his supporters out, such as requiring every candidate to pledge loyalty to support the eventual nominee, something Trump refuses to do.
Conservatives who flinch from forthrightly marginalizing Trump mistakenly fear alienating a substantial Republican cohort. But the assumption that today’s Trumpites are Republicans is unsubstantiated and implausible. Many are no doubt lightly attached to the political process, preferring entertainment to affiliation. They relish their candidate’s vituperation and share his aversion to facts. From what GOP faction might Trumpites come? The establishment? Social conservatives? Unlikely.
They certainly are not tea partyers, those earnest, issue-oriented, book-club organizing activists who are passionate about policy.
The last sentence alone is risible enough to disqualify Will from ever being taken seriously. Has he seen Tea Party gatherings and the signs they carry and the slogans they chant? These are not genteel, tea-sipping events, with attendees engaging in thoughtful discussions about policy. They are filled with people who are angry because they see ‘their’ country being taken over by godless, homosexual-loving, sexually promiscuous people of color led by a Kenyan Muslim Marxist.
Why would not the oligarchy embrace Trump since he is obviously one of them? The problem is that he is unpredictable and the oligarchy likes predictability and control. With the usual crop of Republicans (and Democrats like Hillary Clinton), they will differ in the margins but by and large they know the parameters under which they must operate. But Trump’s past positions have been all over the map and it is not clear that he has any well-defined ideology. In this campaign, the only concrete idea he has put forth is to build a wall between the US and Mexico that will be the best wall ever built, better than the Great Wall of China. On everything else, he simply says that he is smart enough and knows how to make deals so that the US wins and refuses to be pinned down any further. That’s pretty much it.
Those of us who are not rich see the extremely wealthy as one ruling class but there are class distinctions among them too. In the documentary Trump: What’s the Deal? that I reviewed earlier, I mentioned a revealing segment where the elites of Palm Beach turned their backs on Trump when he tried to use his wealth as a springboard to gain entry into that social world. They looked on him as some kind of nouveau riche who was not the ‘right kind’ of rich person they wanted. Who knows, he might be so gauche as to not know about fine wines or like the opera or (oh, the horror!) use the wrong fork at dinner. In those circles, money is to be revealed discreetly. One does not boast about it loudly as Trump does but lets others know about it indirectly. Trump’s problem is that he is uncouth in a crowd that highly values couth.
One sees this contempt clearly in Will’s characterization of the leader of the unwashed horde that is threatening to crash the party.
In every town large enough to have two traffic lights there is a bar at the back of which sits the local Donald Trump, nursing his fifth beer and innumerable delusions. Because the actual Donald Trump is wealthy, he can turn himself into an unprecedentedly and incorrigibly vulgar presidential candidate. It is his right to use his riches as he pleases. His squalid performance and its coarsening of civic life are costs of freedom that an open society must be prepared to pay.
Look at the adjectives Will employs: vulgar, squalid, coarsening, delusions. One can feel Will’s nose turning up in disgust at having to even contemplate the possibility of having to mingle with Trump socially. One also wonders if Will himself has ever actually been in a bar of the above type, since he seems to be describing a film stereotype.
Trump knows this. And he likely resents it and feeds off it. He seems to enjoy sticking it in the faces of those who look down on him. And I think that this is his great appeal because when he does so, he taps into every person who has resonated to Johnny Paycheck’s hit country song Take this job and shove it!, where people secretly harbor resentments against those whom they think look down on them and control their lives (and their immediate boss represents this class) and anticipate the day when somehow they will be independent enough that they can walk into that person’s presence and tell them exactly what they think of them. This fantasy sustains them through the indignities of daily life.
Trump is their alter ego, the person who, like Paycheck, channels their anger at the snooty people who think they are better than them. He is the one who can speak his mind and say whatever the hell he thinks just as they wish they could. And when people like Will and other establishment figures in the party and media express their shock at his statements and contempt for him and his supporters, their obvious impotence to do anything about it delights them and hardens their sense that these people are their enemies and that Trump is their leader who will crash the gates of the party.
America has class warfare like every other nation. There did not seem to be one because it seemed that the wealthy class had won so convincingly and that class perpetuated the myth that class warfare was somehow wrong. What this election seems to be revealing is that class warfare is alive and well but somewhat inchoate. In the enthusiasm of the Bernie Sanders campaign, we see the class warfare unleashed by the Occupy Wall Street movement that identified the problems in the US as due to an entrenched oligarchy that was centered in the financial industry. The goal of this movement is the redistribution of wealth and income to create greater equality and services to the many.
In the campaign of Trump, on the other hand, egalitarianism doesn’t seem to be the goal per se. The people actually seem to admire the wealthy in general and do not seek redistribution. What the Trump phenomenon seems to be is more of a desire to teach a lesson to the supercilious wealthy, and the political and media class that service them. The message they want to send is that the wealthy are not our betters but just happen to have more money at this time.