Monday, August 15, 2016
They want to ignore the world that made Trump inevitable
I’ve been amusing myself during this election cycle by casually discussing trump with rabid the anti-Trumpers I encounter. In my own context, these are mostly older boomers who've avoided the pitfalls of our treacherous political system. Within fifteen minutes Trump will defined as a rabid conservative, a democrat plant, a racist, an idiot, a schemer and a Manchurian Hitler like candidate who wants to run concentration camps.
I should preface subsequent comments by stating that I do support Trump, mostly realizing that he’s a symptom of our current malaise and not the cause of it. I do accept reasoned opposition to his ascendancy to the Republican nomination, if only I could find it.
A typical conversation will go like this:
‘Trump is personally rude with no concept of acting Presidential’
‘Like Lyndon Johnson? That guy whipped out his wang in front of foreign dignitaries’
‘He also addressed his staff while sitting on the toilet, dropping a duece’
‘I mean he’s irrational, he’s a loose cannon’
‘Like JFK who was getting regular doses of speed and was a sex maniac to boot? Probably the most black-mail able guy we’ve ever had in the Whitehouse’
‘I guess, but Trump’s a fascist, he’s just like Hitler’
‘Like FDR, the only President to actually put American citizens in internment camps’
‘He also had a cabinet rife with Stalin Loyalists who facilitated a genocidal, gulag operating man getting atomic weapons’
‘Well… Hitler came to power the same way’
‘In what way? Hitler was a loner in Germany, an outsider to his adopted country’s mainstream who first came to prominence with an autobiography about his personal struggle for identify. A guy who played a cult of personality during a period of economic crisis. Doesn’t that sound like Obama?’
‘Obama’s no Hitler’
‘I agree, it’s a stupid comparison. Hitler is Hitler, Stalin is Stalin, Mao was Mao, Mussolini was Mussolini, Obama’s Obama and Trump is Trump. How else is he like Hitler?...’
‘Well… He says things you’re not supposed to say’
‘According to whom?’
At this point he or she goes quiet and we change the subject. I’m sure minds haven’t been changed because this conversation isn’t about Trump but attempting to be ignorant of the world that made him possible.
On one level, your old school Democrat voting boomer parents are right. Trump is a buffoon, he’s an opportunist and a crass carnival barker. He’s a salesman who has a history of promising more than he can deliver. The Trump of today running a Presidential candidacy in 1988 would be a joke. He’d get maybe 10% of the vote in the primaries and get Ralph Nader levels of support in a general election. Listen to the campaign rhetoric that came out of the Clinton and Dukakis camps and you’ll hear a lot of pandering to middle-class, specifically white middle-class, economic concerns. Trump would sound like a fringe candidate, a nutty Cassandra to a boomer electorate who are comfortable in their appreciating suburban homes with cushy corporate jobs. He’d do about as well as Pat Buchanan did in 1992.
That’s really the best comparison with Trump. Trump is basically running on Pat Buchanan’s 1992 primary campaign combined with a Sun Tzu like approach to dealing with a hostile press and the kinds of natural retail political skills of persuasion that Bill Clinton had in his prime. And this is where the Boomers your parents and uncles and aunts, have a real problem.
If Trump’s a serious candidate for the Presidency of the United States, then the world has gone in insane and you didn’t notice it. Using 1988 Presidential elections, or earlier ones that people think they remembered, as the standard upon which you judge today’s politics is about convincing yourself that the world is still as it was twenty or thirty-years ago with some minor cosmetic changes. Comprehending Trump’s appeal in sober terms is to accept that the world is a very different place than the one you grew up in, the prepared your children to navigate, the world of implicit assumptions you’ve made about how things work and how the future will look when you’re old and infirm.
But that can’t be right. The rot hasn’t reached your doorstep yet. You have a house that’s worth a lot of money, you’re 401k plan is flush. Your kids are in grad school and they’re having all kinds of adventures in the big city with new restaurants and cultural outings that you can follow on Facebook. They talk about their student loan debt and the employment situation but they don’t seem poor on first glance, not your mental conception of it. You read about crime and violence but that always seems to be happening somewhere else. You know what’s going on, you read the New York Times like other smart people, you watch CNN and those serious sounding talking heads remind you that everything’s fine, only some extremism that you’re too smart to fall for.
If Trump’s a serious candidate, then you’re not nearly as wise, informed or intelligent as you thought that you were. Your high class newspaper subscription was just for propaganda with a greater patina of intellectual sophistication than the papers at the working class donut shop. It means that the plumber you looked down your nose at may know something that you don’t. It means that everything that you’ve placed implicit faith in is a lie. If you’re smart ass son is right, then the news media that you’ve given your implicit trusts merely presents a limited view that’s meant to limit the range of questions you end up asking about why the status quo is the way it is.
But the mental paradigm shift is even deeper than that. If you’re an older professional who’s lived a placid life of upper middle-class existence, you’ve worked within large corporations and worked up the ranks. You were educated in well-funded Universities managed by bland, friendly people in suits. You’ve been treated by doctors who work for large insurance networks and grew up during the last days of good governance institutions. To accept Trump is serious is to accept that all the major organizations you’ve placed your implicit trust in for your entire life have rotted out from underneath you, lied to you, bamboozled you with a long con, and you didn’t even notice it. It means that the advice you gave your children was mostly bullshit that may have made their lives worse. It means that you either were a terrible steward of the country or you never had a voice in the first place.
I believe that it’s not a coincidence that the majority of the intellectual luminaries on the alt-right are from Generation X. These are people who are old enough to remember the last days of consensus America, but still young enough to accept a major paradigm shift in their entire view of reality without growing nihilistic or wanting to flee and embrace Big Brother. To folks still in the status quo, we sound like Cassandra’s bringing doom and gloom warnings to ruin their placid lives. Think about it, when do our comments ever strike an optimistic point about the world? The world isn’t an optimistic place right now, but takes a certain personality to stare into the abyss and continue to live a normal life.
It’s one thing to realize that the adults in your life have been lying to you, or simply deluded, when you’re still in your twenties and early thirties. It’s another to willfully accept this change when you’re in your fifties and you’ve been personally isolated from the worse of the societal decay. Or you just blame a spray tan who used to be a character on WWE for bringing these issues to light, and you go to sleep, ignorant and blissful.
This is all true but it’s a fixed aspect of the world we live in now. Hut how do you convince the true believer in the status quo that Trump isn’t a shallow nutcase, but populist response to elite contempt for the lumenprole masses? As I stated earlier, making rational arguments won’t go anywhere because all your out of touch boomer audience will hear is this:
‘I think you’re out of touch, ill informed and stupid. Just like you thought your parents were’.
Their mind will shut down and they’ll make some rationalization about his bankruptcies (like they know about them), his divorces (like anyone actually cares) or his rhetoric (based on a very selective reading of his speeches).
Remember people have a deep need to protect their egos at all costs. You have to give your clueless boomer a series of arguments that they can use to rationalize at least a neutral view of the man so that they can save face, even to themselves. I’ve had more success saying that this nation’s been here before and it survived. Today’s era is reflected in the Gilded age, an era defined by massive immigration flows from overseas, massive wealth divides with the robber baron class, waves of terrorist violence with the anarchist bombings in major cities. Brash populists who came out of that world would’ve appeared insane in elections held twenty years prior or after. If you’re looking for a comparison to Trump, McKinley and Teddy Roosevelt are the best analogues to the man and his present context. The country survived them, and larger, saner movements built around their examples. This argument isn’t for yourself but someone who wants to believe that Trump is an existential level threat because he would otherwise have to lose his Rose colored glasses.
They won’t learn to actually appreciate the man, because they have too much ego invested in the way things are and the way things were. But it will give them a psychological out to accept him as a viable statement of revolt from a lot of the country. By framing Trump as part of a larger cycle in American politics is to make him less of an existential threat and more like natural part of the weather cycle, something that may be damaging, but which can be weathered and recovered from. He or she may not learn to love him, but they’ll start to make hedging comments about how he’s not as bad as people say he is. That’s about all you should expect.
Avoid talking about Hillary’s banana republic scale corruption because you end directly challenging their egos. These are, mostly, people who believed in the media myth made about the Clintons. They’ll resist hearing that they were easily duped morons who placed faith in her.
Focus on making her a victim of a corrupt process which has overwhelmed her. Don’t make a narrative of Hillary as a Machiavellian Lady MacBeth with an unquenchable thirst for power, but a normal woman who was taken advantage of by scheming advisors until she was too lost to find her own way. Make the narrative about how this woman who’s having some major health issues is being marched out into a Presidential campaign because these backers couldn’t care less about her or her family, only getting back their investments in her. Tell them that you doubt she could drop out even if she wanted to because the people in the shadows won’t take kindly to her wanting to spend time with her family (stop laughing, this isn’t to convince you!).
This is a narrative that most Boomers can place themselves in, even sympathize with. It probably has some basis in reality, but that’s not the point. The narrative of Hillary Clinton as a pathetic victim of devious traitors is ultimately a narrative of pity. We sympathize with the pitiful but we don’t respect them and we don’t want to be ruled by them. It’s also a narrative that doesn’t immediately imply that the sky is falling. Just like Trump, Hillary is a symptom of an elite that’s grown isolated and contemptuous of everyone below them in social station. Most people aren’t prepared to accept that.
What they may be able to stomach is the story a blowhard who stumbled onto a movement by accident and was clever enough to ride the tiger running against a woman who has been used as meal ticket by unscrupulous backstabbers.
The trick is to give them a narrative that allows them to believe they knew the real score all along.