Trump and “the Trump phenomenon” (I)

On winning the May 3rd GOP primary in Indiana, Donald Trump emerged as the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party for the presidential election in November 2016. Trump’s win over sixteen other contenders for the nomination as an outsider, as a business tycoon with no past experience of running for an elected office, has been a most remarkable story in recent American politics. The last time the GOP nominated an outsider and non-politician as the party’s nominee for the presidency was Dwight D. Eisenhower. Books will be written on how Trump won, and why Senators Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, Governors Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Bobby Jindal, John Kasich, Rick Perry, among the more notable contenders lost.


I began giving attention to the GOP primary ahead of the primary season last summer when the contenders began to gather. Donald Trump announcing his candidacy in June 2015 spurred my interest. Just about every opinion writer in the mainstream American media was scornful of Trump, and dismissive of the very notion that he might be the eventual Republican nominee. Soon after the primary season opened in January 2016, I wrote to friends frequently sharing my thoughts with them on what I came to view as “the Trump phenomenon” in explaining Trump winning primary after primary.


Following the New Hampshire primary held on February 9, which Trump won, I wrote to friends the letter I reproduce below. In it I began to explore “the Trump phenomenon.” 



Dear Ron and friends:


As our conversation continues, you may have come across this op-ed by Mark Cunningham in the NY Post.


Cunningham gives an insight into “the Trump phenomenon” and how Trump is in the midst of putting together a whole new meaning to presidential campaign and insurgency politics. 


I published a piece some years ago in Here it is:


I wrote it as a letter from a concerned Muslim to Americans, and though there were many who misread me there were also many who got my message. I concluded the piece as follows: 


“The fault, as Cassius reminds Brutus, is in ourselves, a decaying civilization that will be saved (if it will be) not by the snobs in Washington and New York, London and Paris, Rome and Berlin, but by our version of the unsophisticated children of truckers who are now waking up from the drug-induced stupor of their parents’ and grandparents’ generation.”


I saw in the election of Obama the elites in the United States abandoning the people, the citizens who toil and keep alive the flame of freedom and democracy. This was a process that began more than two decades earlier, and it came to fruition in the election of Obama. With Obama in the White House, the politics of “progressivism” became untethered. “Progressivism” holds in contempt the binding emotions of nationalism as the love of one’s country and her values, and instead preaches the gospel of internationalism, multilateralism, open borders, endless immigration, multiculturalism, and the trashing of traditional values based on religion (Judeo-Christian). 


There were four seminal books that came out at the end of 1980s and early 1990s that warned of where America was headed, sold out by its elite both Democrats and Republicans. The first was Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind, which was a NYT bestseller, an amazing feat for a dense work of political philosophy; in it Bloom discussed how cultural relativism and what has now come to be described as post-modernism began to undermine American higher education. The second was Arthur Schlesinger’s The Disuniting of America, one of the first attempts in exposing the lie in the doctrine of multiculturalism; the third was Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, and in it Postman described how lethally the post-Vietnam generations of Americans (and, of course, we Canadians are included) were being dumbed down by the television age – the postscript to Postman’s book is the dumbing down accelerated by the social media, twitter, etc.; and the fourth book was Christopher Lasch’s The Revolt of the Elites, which discussed the long term consequences of the politics of “progressivism” for American democracy, a sort of updating of Tocqueville’s classic.


My own critique of multiculturalism in Delectable Lie: a liberal repudiation of multiculturalism built upon the work of the above-mentioned thinkers, and I brought to it my own cultural background and experience to shed light on the nature of the post-9/11 assault on liberal democracy.


All of the above works of American thinkers were warnings to awaken Americans, the common people, the citizens, to take back their country from the “progressivists”. Obama epitomize what “progressivism” represents in the early decades of the 21st century. The huge irony now is that Obama’s “progressivism” having put aside its mask of deceit is emboldened by its success in pushing the “one world” internationalist agenda in foreign policy and the anti-Judeo-Christian assault on American Creed and, consequently, Americans are now discovering that Obama’s “progressivism” is in fact a full-throttled cry of Socialism with Bernie Sanders leading the charge. Sanders’s success in the Democratic Party is the direct result of Obama’s presidency.


I had written, as I quoted myself above, that it will be with the blue-collar workers in America and their children upon whom will rest the burden of saving America’s republican democracy, just as it had been when America’s “greatest generation” went out across the oceans to destroy Nazism and Japanese militarism. 


Well, I could not have imagined that it would be a business tycoon from New York who would emerge as the spokesman and leader of the blue-collar Americans, and who would be prepared to fight the good fight against “progressivism” and its statist assault upon individual freedom under the cover of political correctness.


But then this is why history is so fascinating. There is nothing linear or entirely predictable about what happens in history. It took a child born to an American woman of some notoriety and a man of English nobility, a direct descendant of the Duke of Marlborough and the victor of the Battle of Blenheim against the French ambition to dominate Europe a century before Napoleon’s vain attempt – in other words, Winston Churchill – to rally a demoralized Britain and its working class against Hitler’s Germany in control of all Europe from the Atlantic to the borders of Russia. No one could have predicted this outcome, and the rest is history.


Similarly, none could have predicted that a b-grade actor despised by the Republican establishment would have the chutzpah to rally American blue-collar workers – the Reagan Democrats, as we now remember them – after Jimmy Carter had scolded them in his “malaise” speech, and lead them in making America great again while winning the Cold War.


I may be ahead of the story, but I see in Donald Trump more and more of the elements coming together to energize, inspire, and mobilize American blue-collar workers to undo one more time the lure of  “progressivism”. 


Conservatism means little if it does not contribute to the sense of pride, and to the conserving of those values that give a people and the nation a sense of its own worthiness. This is why the Ted Cruz(s) and the Marco Rubio(s), however attractive they are in sound bites and in their résumés, do not measure up to Donald Trump as he now strides the Republican stage given his résumé as a man poised to renew the sense of pride in being American that the blue-collar workers yearn for and in their wish to rebuild America once more into the vibrant thriving republic that now appears to them as receding from their lives and the lives of their children.


As I reflect upon Donald Trump and “the Trump phenomenon” to explain what it is about the man that is so appealing to so many Americans, I find the answer at once simple and yet powerful. 


Trump’s fortune comes as a builder, a real-estate tycoon. This is a line of business in which he is in direct touch with the blue-collar workers, unlike the billionaires from Silicon Valley whose enterprises are the products of nerds and white-collar professionals. A Bill Gates can fire up the imagination of the people in boardrooms of the Fortune 500, but workers with hard hats and boots would be at a total loss around him. But Trump finds himself at ease and at home among them.


When I saw the last debate, and heard Trump go after the Bush family with a wrecking ball I saw a man totally confident of himself and what he was doing.


This will be analyzed for a long time to come. It was a moment when the internal fissures of the GOP were hammered and brought out into the open. And the remarkable thing was, at least as I write this letter to you, my friends, that Trump’s support went up and did not melt. 


The division inside the GOP between the Bush clan and those who claim the mantle of Reagan goes all the way back to the fight between Bush 41 and Reagan. The division was never healed. This division was a replay of the division between the East-coast Republicans and the West-coast Republicans, between those who looked up to Nelson Rockefeller and those who rallied behind Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Nixon in 1968. Two different visions of Republicanism, two different cultures within the GOP. Again, the details of those past divisions are fascinating in the culture wars of American politics on the right. The Democrats have their own that led, for instance, to the eventual triumph of the “progressivists” in the Democratic Party over those who came to be labeled “neocons” during the Cold War years and who then left to join the GOP.


The difference with Trump is that he is not an ideologue, and has no interest in ideology. Those who look at American politics through the lens of imported ideology have a distorted view of American politics since, as noted by many observers, America itself is an ideology – in other words, its founding documents are the expression of American exceptionalism. Trump's “Make America Great Again” captures this idea of America as an ideology at work, of American exceptionalism and, therefore, an openly proclaimed healthy love for the country. So Donald Trump is readily embraced by the blue-collar workers as one of their own, and as a patriot.


If Trump does become the nominee (and we will know this in some definitive form after South Carolina votes), then truly the November election will boil down to a full-throttled defence of American exceptionalism against Democrat’s unbridled push for more “progressivism” and a sell out of American culture and economy to internationalism and multilateralism. Trump’s attack on the Bush family was to clear the deck on the GOP side to fight the November battle, since the Bush family inside the GOP tent came to represent the Republican “sell-out” to “progressivism-lite” through the politics of globalism and unrestricted free trade (the Chamber of Commerce interest in American politics).