Lately there’s been a fair amount of hand-wringing about the racism and anti-semitism of some of Donald Trump’s supporters. Jonathan Weisman of the New York Times tweets out a Washington Post editorial critical of Donald Trump, and is met on twitter with a good old-fashioned two minute hate from Trump supporters.
Republican racism and anti-semitism — at least in the old party of… two years ago? — was a lot more genteel. It was the racist joke told in hushed tones over cocktails at the country club. It was the gentle shake of the head at people who “just aren’t our sort.” The old GOP was all about the established order — the obedient elected officials, carefully gardening the wealthy and powerful’s interests, the police quietly persecuting those too brown or too poor to ‘fit in.’
Donald Trump is only tangentially Republican. He isn’t even implementing a plan; he’s just transferred his self-promotional skills from TV to politics. His initial leverage came out of name recognition, based on a popular TV show. Alex Trebek could have had the same head start, if not for being Canadian.
What has happened is a perfect marriage of an a man of un-reflective intellect and massive ego, meeting with the ecstatic adoration of a mob of disaffected people, nostalgic for a fictional past where their tribe was on top. They knew his name, though most of them couldn’t name 5 US Senators. To them, government is like television, it all happens somewhere else. The difference for them is that nothing ever seems to come from Government.
They instinctively saw Barack Obama as a sinister interloper in their world. He doesn’t look like their idea of an authority figure: an old white guy in a suit. They blame him for everything that is difficult about their lives, even though some of their biggest problems — un- and under-employment, wage stagnation — were the inevitable outcome of Republican policies.
Along comes Trump. He has the common touch. He promises to kick some Washington elite ass. He isn’t going to pussyfoot around with threats foreign and domestic. He reinforces their idea — based on a complete disinterest in how government actually works — that there are simple solutions to the problems we face, but that the people in Washington are too corrupt or pointy-headed to implement them.
Maybe one shouldn’t blame Trump for the way white supremacists and neo-nazis have flocked to him. He’s not really those things, is he? But they see in him what they’ve been looking for: A white guy — German, actually — who is going to make America great again.
That’s a program so vague as to be a sort of universal political solvent. Trump’s natural constituency is everyone who feels like things used to be better for them. It used to be a country they felt at home in. They used to live in Bedford Falls, and now they’re trapped in a scary, unfamiliar Potterville.
It is nostalgia for a past that never happened, a golden age of one’s dreams. When men were like Ayn Rand’s heroes, standing arms-akimbo and fearless in the face of mealy-mouthed grey-area-ism. When women were attractive, not so flat-chested that they couldn’t hope to be 10s. Where foreigners stayed foreign, except for the clever ones who know their place: making delicious take-out food.
And even though he’s a crass, foul-mouthed womanizer, he appeals to conservative Christians, because they don’t care who he is, they care about returning to that magical past, where everyone had a friend in Jesus, where no one wore a hijab, food tasted better, your neighbors spoke the same language as you, and nothing hurt.
P. J. O’Rourke, America’s funniest conservative asshole, once said “God is a Republican. Santa Claus is a Democrat.” He describes God as stern and exacting, and Santa as “giving everyone everything they want.” He then says, “Santa Claus is preferable to God in every way but one: There is no such thing as Santa Claus.”
That is the problem with Trump: He is the Republican Party’s Santa Claus.