A Philosopher's Blog

Trumpernaut

Posted in Ethics, Law, Philosophy by Michael LaBossiere on August 12, 2016

When Trump began his bid for the Presidency in 2015, it was largely dismissed as a joke. He then trounced his Republican opponents. So as to not let them forget their shame, Trump still occasionally takes shots at his fallen rivals. As this is being written, Trump has a very real chance of winning the election, sending Hillary Clinton’s dream of being the first female president into the flaming dumpster of history.

Trump’s success was a shock to the elites of many realms, from the top pundits to the Republican leadership. Liberal intellectuals, who once mocked Trump with witty remarks between sips of their gluten free lattes, are now moping the sweat from their fevered brows with woven hemp handkerchiefs. Sane commentators predicted, with each horrific spew from Trump’s word port, that Trump would be brought down with a huge and luxurious self-inflicted wound. Now the sane commentators have gazed into the mouth of madness and have accepted that there seems to be nothing that Trump can say that would derail the onslaught of the Trumpernaut.

Trump’s run, win or lose, will be a treasure trove for many dissertations in psychology, political science and other fields as thinking people try to analyze this phenomenon from the perspective of history. There is, of course, considerable speculation about the foundation for Trump’s success. Or, more accurately, his lack of failure.

As someone who teaches critical thinking, one of the most striking thing about Trump’s success is that many of the reasons Trump supporters give for supporting Trump are objectively unfounded in reality. One of the main mantras of Trump backers is that Trump “tells it like it is.” The usual meaning of these words is that a person is saying what is true. After all, “like it is” is supposed to refer to what the world in fact is and not what is not. As a matter of objective fact, Trump rarely “tells it like it is.” The proof of this can be found on Trump’s Politifact page. 4% of Trump’s claims have been evaluated as true and 11% as mostly true. This is hardly like it is. Yet, Trump supporters persist in claiming that he tells it like it is, despite the fact that he does not.

One possible explanation is that his supporters believe his claims. If so, they would certainly think that he tells it like it is. This would require either never making an inquiry into the truth of Trump’s claims or refusing to accept the inquiries that have been made. Trump has, of course, availed himself of a sword forged and often wielded by other Republicans, which is the attack on the “liberal media” as biased. This allows any assessment of Trump’s claims to be dismissed.

Another possibility is that their use of the phrase is meaningless, a mere parroting of Trump’s talking point. This would be analogous to the repetition of other empty advertising slogans, like “it gets clothes brighter than bright” or, for those more cynical than I, “hope and change.” If someone is asked why they back Trump, they typically feel the need to present a reason, and this empty saying no doubt pops into the mind.

His supporters also claim that they back him because of his great business success. While it is true that the Trump brand is known worldwide, it is not clear that he has been a great success in business. Newsweek, which was once a success itself, has done a rundown of Trump’s many business failures. While it is true that Trump’s people have skillfully used the bankruptcy laws and threats of lawsuits, this seems to be rather different from the sort of business success that people attribute to him. Some critics have speculated that Trump is refusing to release his tax forms (which he can—the IRS does not forbid people being audited from releasing their forms) because they would show he is not as wealthy as he claims. This is, of course, speculation and Trump could have other good reasons for not releasing the forms. Of course, some might make use of the classic cry of “what is he hiding?” Trump can, obviously, claim to be something of a success: he is world famous and clearly has his name on many things.

Trump supporters also use the talking point that Trump is not politically correct. This is true—Trump relentlessly says things that horrify and terrify the guardians of political correctness. To those who are tired of the political correctness enforcers, this is very appealing.

However, Trump goes far beyond not being politically correct and, some would claim, he heads into racism and sexism. This has suggested to some critics that Trump’s backers are racists and sexists who like what he has to say.  He also routinely crosses boundaries of decency that, until Trump, most Americans thought no candidate (or decent human being) would cross. The latest example is his battle with the Khan family, whose son was an Army captain killed in Iraq. Normally a savage attack on a Gold Star family would be a death blow to a candidate. However, while Trump’s backers often condemn his remarks, they stick with him. One possibility is that although they condemn his remarks in public, they secretly agree with these claims. Another possibility is that the offenses are condemned but are not regarded as serious enough to break the deal. This would, of course, require that there be other motives to support Trump.

For many, the best reason to back Trump is that he is not Hillary Clinton. As pundits like to point out, Trump and Hillary have record high unfavorable ratings. There are also people who are party loyalists (or at least party pragmatists) who support Trump because he is the Republican candidate. Interestingly, Trump is also attracting support from voters who have traditionally backed the Democrats—that is, working class whites.

A final talking point used by Trump supporters is that he is against the elites. This is amazing in its irony: Trump was born into wealth and has always been among the moneyed elites. That said, Trump does have a persona that some would regard as crude and non-elite. Trump is tapping into a very real sense of anger and desperation among Americans who believe, with complete correctness, that they have largely been abandoned by the elites. I certainly get this. I am from Old Town, Maine—a very small town that relied on the paper mill for employment and tax revenue. After ownership of the mill shifted a few times, the last owner shut down operations, presumably going overseas. When I was a kid, the mill smelled bad—which my dad called the “smell of money.” That smell is now gone, and my hometown is struggling. My dad said that there are about fifty abandoned houses in town, and on my runs I saw many empty houses—including the house I grew up in. Meanwhile, we get to see app billionaires on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert talk about their billions. Those who dig into the numbers see that the elites have consistently gotten their way at the expense of the rest of us; that the economic success at the top has not trickled down, and that we will be worse off than our predecessors. Our elites have failed us and we have failed by making them our elites.

Trump, the elite billionaire who got his start with a “little loan” of a million dollars from his father, is able to somehow tap into this anger. Most likely because Hillary is clearly identified with the elites that have failed us so badly. That is, Trump is seen as the only viable option, the only voice for the non-elite.

This itself is a sign of the failure of our elites—that so many people regard Trump as their only hope. Or perhaps they see him as someone who will burn it all in an act of vengeance against the elites. While I do understand the rage against the failures of the elite and get that Hillary is the elitist of the elite, Trump is not the savior of America. Voting for Hillary is essentially voting for more of the same. But voting for Trump is to vote for disaster.

 

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  1. ronster12012 said, on August 12, 2016 at 8:24 am

    Michael

    Perhaps too it is a recognition that politics now are not as much left versus right as globalism versus nationalism. And that globalism is not and can never be democratic.Therefore, people are voting on whether they want their democratic rights diluted or negated.

  2. joseph elon lillie said, on August 12, 2016 at 9:05 am

    I think few in our country are voting for the candidate of their choice. This election seems to be largely about who we do not want to hold the office rather than who we would choose to hold it.

  3. ajmacdonaldjr said, on August 12, 2016 at 9:06 am

    I Know Why Poor Whites Chant Trump, Trump, Trump http://www.stirjournal.com/2016/04/01/i-know-why-poor-whites-chant-trump-trump-trump/

  4. TJB said, on August 12, 2016 at 10:32 pm

    Peggy Noonan. This is why Trump is not considered part of the “elite.”


    The larger point is that this is something we are seeing all over, the top detaching itself from the bottom, feeling little loyalty to it or affiliation with it. It is a theme I see working its way throughout the West’s power centers. At its heart it is not only a detachment from, but a lack of interest in, the lives of your countrymen, of those who are not at the table, and who understand that they’ve been abandoned by their leaders’ selfishness and mad virtue-signalling.

    On Wall Street, where they used to make statesmen, they now barely make citizens. CEOs are consumed with short-term thinking, stock prices, quarterly profits. They don’t really believe that they have to be involved with “America” now; they see their job as thinking globally and meeting shareholder expectations.

    In Silicon Valley the idea of “the national interest” is not much discussed. They adhere to higher, more abstract, more global values. They’re not about America, they’re about . . . well, I suppose they’d say the future.

    In Hollywood the wealthy protect their own children from cultural decay, from the sick images they create for all the screens, but they don’t mind if poor, unparented children from broken-up families get those messages and, in the way of things, act on them down the road.

    From what I’ve seen of those in power throughout business and politics now, the people of your country are not your countrymen, they’re aliens whose bizarre emotions you must attempt occasionally to anticipate and manage.

    In Manhattan, my little island off the continent, I see the children of the global business elite marry each other and settle in London or New York or Mumbai. They send their children to the same schools and are alert to all class markers. And those elites, of Mumbai and Manhattan, do not often identify with, or see a connection to or an obligation toward, the rough, struggling people who live at the bottom in their countries. In fact, they fear them, and often devise ways, when home, of not having their wealth and worldly success fully noticed.

    Affluence detaches, power adds distance to experience. I don’t have it fully right in my mind but something big is happening here with this division between the leaders and the led. It is very much a feature of our age. But it is odd that our elites have abandoned or are abandoning the idea that they belong to a country, that they have ties that bring responsibilities, that they should feel loyalty to their people or, at the very least, a grounded respect.

    I close with a story that I haven’t seen in the mainstream press. This week the Daily Caller’s Peter Hasson reported that recent Syrian refugees being resettled in Virginia, were sent to the state’s poorest communities. Data from the State Department showed that almost all Virginia’s refugees since October “have been placed in towns with lower incomes and higher poverty rates, hours away from the wealthy suburbs outside of Washington, D.C.” Of 121 refugees, 112 were placed in communities at least 100 miles from the nation’s capital. The suburban counties of Fairfax, Loudoun and Arlington—among the wealthiest in the nation, and home to high concentrations of those who create, and populate, government and the media—have received only nine refugees.

    Some of the detachment isn’t unconscious. Some of it is sheer and clever self-protection. At least on some level they can take care of their own.

    http://www.wsj.com/articles/how-global-elites-forsake-their-countrymen-1470959258

  5. Anonymous said, on August 15, 2016 at 8:14 am

    It’s easy to get caught up in all of the media hype – to allow yourself to be swayed by left-wing interpretations of what the right-wing guy said and vice versa; it is very difficult to stay on point and true to the issues that are most important to YOU, the voter. Trump is, no doubt, a loose cannon and there are some very serious questions about his suitability for this position.

    I have to say that every single time I have supported a PERSON, rather than a POLICY or ISSUE, I have been more than disappointed. Therefore, I look to the issues that are the most important to me, I look at a candidate’s position on those issues (to the extent I can believe them), and vote accordingly.

    To me, most of the real issues that face us domestically come down to a burning question – “Is this an area where I believe the Federal Government needs to be involved, or in control?” Sometimes this comes down to a question of government in general vs. the free market, and sometimes it comes down to the federal vs. the state governments.

    In general, I tend to fall on the side of the free market or state governments – and to boil it down to the most simplistic reason, with those two entities I can opt out. I can refuse to do business with large corporations with whom I disagree, I can refuse to give my money to any entity to whom I object. I can also continue to be an American citizen and move to a different state if it comes down to it. With the Federal Government, i have no choice.

    One of the biggest issues that we face right now, perhaps the biggest one that will have the most far-reaching effect on our lives for the longest period of time is the upcoming appointment(s) to the Supreme Court. There is an excellent essay in IMPRIMIS that outlines the importance of this issue here –

    https://imprimis.hillsdale.edu/next-supreme-court-justice/

    with the most salient arguments occurring on the third page, in the last 7 or 8 paragraphs. The Supreme Court, in its most basic form, is charged with protecting our form of government and the separation of powers among the three branches.

    The next President of the United States will be gone in perhaps four or eight years; almost not enough time to do too much really serious damage – but the court appointments he or she makes will potentially last 40 or 50 years. We cannot afford to allow media misinterpretations of public comments, made for the express purpose of inciting anger or selling papers, to sway us from this tremendously important upcoming act.

    Nor should we allow ourselves to be swayed by the fact that we might agree with them today – when a branch of government retains too much power, that power stays. Today we might agree, tomorrow we might not, but if the power has been granted it’s too late to do anything about it.

    The third issue that is important to me is that of corruption. Corruption in government is completely out of hand; I believe that most of our senators and representatives have been or can be bought and sold by lobbyists, donors, or outside (conflict of) interests. I will vote against corruption every time.

    In this election, as in most national elections, I am in the unfortunate position of believing that my vote does not count for much, if anything at all. I live in a solidly Blue State – so solid that it has been a foregone conclusion in every election since I have lived here. My vote is a symbolic gesture at best. (I also happen to live in a state that is, by most metrics, one of the most corrupt state governments in the union).

    Perhaps that is a good thing – I don’t have to vote for either of the major candidates, and I can vote third party. The more votes a third party candidate gets, the more legitimate the third parties become, and the greater chance we have as a nation to break the Republican/Democrat stronghold the powers-that-be have on our country today.

    • wtp said, on August 15, 2016 at 10:04 am

      have to say that every single time I have supported a PERSON, rather than a POLICY or ISSUE, I have been more than disappointed. Therefore, I look to the issues that are the most important to me, I look at a candidate’s position on those issues (to the extent I can believe them), and vote accordingly.

      Bingo. Politics often descends into personality cults. This is what makes discussing actual issues so difficult. The effort from the left that was emphasized in the 60’s (though roots have always been there) to “make the personal political” degenerated our political tolerance of one another. As politics became more an more personal, people became enamored with politicians who were “just like them” or “cared about people just like them”. So now we get to a point where if one agrees with certain political positions of a candidate or such, those positions get tied to whatever the prominent political personality who is espousing them and then the logical fallacy that if one agrees with one position of a politico, the strawmen of all other positions are thrown at one.

      In general, I tend to fall on the side of the free market or state governments – and to boil it down to the most simplistic reason, with those two entities I can opt out. I can refuse to do business with large corporations with whom I disagree, I can refuse to give my money to any entity to whom I object. I can also continue to be an American citizen and move to a different state if it comes down to it. With the Federal Government, i have no choice.
      Exactly.


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