As the Donald Trump bandwagon continues to steamroll over the politically correct landscape, Trump has the Washington establishment chattering like a troop of confused monkeys whose cage has been disturbed by a kid poking a stick. The Donald phenomenon has also baffled the media who are obligated to provide us with explanations, even when they have none. This hasn’t prevented the public from contributing their own answers to the mix. It’s reminiscent of the old parable of the blind men trying to describe an elephant. As the story goes, each observer, with only their sense of touch to guide them, tries to describe an animal they can’t see. Each one comes up with a different description based on the particular part of the elephant they’ve examined. As the fable reaches its conclusion, the reader is advised that while each of them was partially right, all of them were completely wrong.
Just like the blind men and their elephant, political observers have taken a particular feature of Trump’s persona and used it to define the entire candidate. Consequently, he continues to befuddle the political experts. With the primaries in full throttle, Trump’s popularity and support remain strong, and it seems that we’re no closer to a real consensus.
There’s no shortage of explanations. Libertarian and former congressman Bob Barr compared Trump to a third world strongman. Columnist Jonah Goldberg concluded that Trump has no chance of winning, yet offered no substantial reason why. John McCain shrugged off Trump as someone who had merely “fired up the crazies.” Pullitzer prize winning commentator Paul Greenberg referred to Trump as an “ugly American” and compared his candidacy to the Know Nothing party of 1860. There’s a common thread that runs through just about every theory: an arrogance that implies that Trump supporters just aren’t thinking rationally if they’re thinking at all.
One of the best examples of this elitist attitude comes from Thomas Sowell, columnist and senior fellow of the Hoover Institution. Sowell thinks that much of the Trump support is purely an emotional response to the current political scene. He considers Trump little more than a crowd pleaser and demagogue not unlike Hitler or Juan Peron. Comparing today’s American politics to Germany of the 1930’s or Argentina of the 40’s and 50’s is a nonsense comparison. And it’s also a poor take on history. Sowell is smarter than that and should know better. GOP consultant Rick Wilson has been more direct, though just as off-base. Referring to GOP primary voters as “low information voters” Wilson has described Trump as a mere showman with a “juvenile put-down machine more suited to an 8th grade locker room than a presidential candidate.” No wonder Trump supporters are responding emotionally.
If these know-it-all critics would listen carefully to their own words, they might gain some insight into a phenomenon they have so much trouble grasping. In all of their criticism, the pundits and commentators have shown little regard for the public they profess to be informing. The politicians are no better. They’ve dismissed Trump’s supporters as a rabble of low-browed riff-raff who’ve abandoned the niceties of sensible politics. And then they wonder what’s causing all the animosity. Throughout the primaries, Trump supporters have had to endure derision, disdain, and mockery—a lot of it coming from the GOP. Belittling your party constituents can’t possibly be a good campaign strategy.
When the Trump campaign continued to gain momentum, the experts had little choice but to adjust their analyses. Even so, pundits remained convinced that Trump’s demise was just around the corner. Wishful thinking, perhaps. Of course, it never happened. Only recently have a few Republican leaders acknowledged that Trump’s popularity might mean that he could win. Yet they still struggle for an explanation of how and why. It might be time to fire your consultants.
Trump is singularly unique among all the candidates in that he hasn’t used any particular ideology to further his message. He’s driven by results. You may disagree with the result, or the means by which he wants to achieve it, but no ideology has been consulted. It’s one of the things that makes him so popular. Americans have gotten tired of politicians preaching their political philosophies, especially when nothing ever seems to change.
Many Trump supporters share his apparent disregard for ideology. They want real solutions to real problems. If your house is on fire, you don’t care if the Fire Department sends you a response unit of strict constitutionalists or judicial activists, just as long as they put out the blaze. The anti-Trump constituency has interpreted this lack of a philosophical foundation as a lack of intelligence. Perhaps it’s the political establishment that needs to examine their own thinking.
It was none other than the far-left progressive Norman Lear who may have the most accurate and succinct analysis of the Donald phenomenon. He described Trump as “the middle finger” of the current political scene. Though he meant it as a criticism, Lear may have been closer to the truth than he knows. Let’s not forget that “eff you” in some instances is the correct and appropriate response. When someone insults your intelligence by trying to pawn off a bogus bill of goods, you might be inclined to tell them exactly where to step off.
Every few decades our country experiences significant changes in politics, culture, technology, or some other aspect of society that turns out to be tectonic in magnitude. People who like to sound intelligent call it a paradigm shift. Whatever you want to call it, when such things happen, great change follows. And like other watershed moments in American history, they’re difficult to define or predict as they’re happening. Many Americans have gotten much of the Trump effect wrong. Although they acknowledge that there seems to be a significant shift in political attitudes, they won’t likely know what hit them until it’s long over.
Politicians take note: Trump supporters are far from alone. Theirs is a dissatisfaction that spans the entire political spectrum. The age of ideological politics may be coming to an end. Today we’re living in a country where many voters have grown weary of holier-than-thou lectures from tone deaf politicians interested only in maintaining their elite fiefdoms. The political consultants would be well advised to take a hard honest look at a political landscape that may be changing before their eyes. To merely dismiss the Trump phenomenon as an aberration would be foolishly shortsighted. The evidence suggests there might be a much larger picture in the making. One that even a blind man could see.