Donald Trump won. I’m not talking about the election. I think it will be closer than the polls predict but I have no particular insight. Some are predicting a blue wave Biden blowout. Maybe. Who knows?
What I mean by Donald Trump won is that for all practical purposes he has fundamentally changed American society in the direction he wanted. A couple of years ago, author Michael Lewis published The Fifth Risk. In a review of the book, Brian Naylor wrote: “The Fifth Risk paints a portrait of a government led by the uninterested.”
… fifth risk: the risk a society runs when it falls into the habit of responding to long-term risks with short-term solutions. Michael Lewis, The Fifth Risk
Here we are near the end of Donald Trump’s first term and what do we see—a meaner, crasser, and (dare I say) dumber society. I don’t apply these attributes to Donald Trump’s supporters. No, I apply them to our society as a whole. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tiktok and other immensely popular social media sites certainly share the blame but Donald Trump created, knowingly or unknowingly, the actual atmosphere of the new America, the Donald Trump America.
“All press is good press” says Donald Trump and the press with which he has a love-hate relationship writes about him 24/7.
“He is of the mindset that the more his name is dropped, the more a kind of hypnosis, for lack of a better word, there is to the American public,” Jim Dowd, the CEO of Dowd Ink, who did public relations for Trump from 2004 to 2010, told me in a recent interview. “He thinks even a negative piece is a positive for him.” Trump and The Dark Art Of Bad Publicity, Michael Kruse
One reason negative publicity doesn’t impact Donald Trump’s popularity is that his supporters don’t care about it in the least. Whether evangelical Christians, parents of young children, women for Trump, wage earners, military volunteers, etc. each of his supporters finds some way to justify or block out his personal behavior. For many, neither his policies, accomplishments nor failures matter. What seems to matter most to his supporters is his promise to “shake up the system,” “drain the swamp,” and return America to some mythical “greatness” that they feel they’ve lost. In plain words, they’re pissed off and they’re not going to take it anymore—IT being pushed around by the elites, pointy-headed intellectuals, foreigners, and perceived new world order overlords. Thomas Friedman writes about this eloquently in a recent New York Times opinion piece:
It has been obvious ever since Trump first ran for president that many of his core supporters actually hate the people who hate Trump, more than they care about Trump or any particular action he takes, no matter how awful.
The media feed Trump’s supporters a daily diet of how outrageous this or that Trump action is — but none of it diminishes their support. Because many Trump supporters are not attracted to his policies. They’re attracted to his attitude — his willingness and evident delight in skewering the people they hate and who they feel look down on them. Who Can Win America’s Politics of Humiliation?, Thomas Friedman
Whether or not Trump’s policies actually benefit his supporters is less important than the pleasure they get from watching him bash their enemies. There is an odd similarity to the countercultural machinations of the sixties or to the race riots that occurred in the sixties and still occur today.
However, since Trump finds himself once again in the midst of an election, he has the same problem any incumbent politician has—a record to be reckoned with. By any objective standard, Trump has not dealt well with the COVID crisis, “the largest national security crisis of [his] presidency.” He has not built his signature wall along the Mexican border nor has he forced Mexico to pay for it. He has not abolished Obamacare nor has he come up with a better health plan. He has not improved race relations. America is severely divided.
A time honored way of dealing with failure is by changing the subject, i.e. diversion, and Donald Trump is an expert in the art of diversion. In recent days we’ve seen both small and large attempts at diversion. For example, the endorsement of Trump by Osama bin Laden’s niece, Trump’s reversal on the Pentagon’s planned closure of the military’s independent newspaper Stars and Stripes, awarding the Medal of Honor to Sergeant Major Thomas P. Payne for conspicuous gallantry in the freeing of 75 hostages in Iraq, Trump’s surprise nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to achieve Middle East peace, removal of some troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the push to accelerate a COVID vaccine through Operation Warp Speed.
Whether voters will think of these recent events as diversions or welcome developments remains to be seen but clearly Trump is doing his best to change the subject from the failures on his watch. There are several books that have been or will be published soon detailing Trump’s failures, human failures and professional failures. For the reasons outlined above, I have my doubts they will have much impact on the election. The election is likely to be close. Americans seem very divided and entrenched in their positions.
Trump has won the recent battles. The system is blown. Government is never popular but it is more unpopular today than ever. Science, the elites, the professionals and the media have been greatly discredited. Donald Trump’s refrain of a rigged election and the fraud of voting by mail are right in line with his strategy of repeating a lie so often that it is eventually becomes the truth.
Those who think that wise and efficient governing might help are confronted today by a powerful movement to make government irrelevant as Michael Lewis points out in his timely book The Fifth Risk. Thomas Friedman
He has won the battle. It remains to be seen if he has won the war. We will soon find out. What Trump supporters want can be summed up in the one word title of Aretha Franklin’s most famous song, RESPECT. Personally, I don’t think Trump respects many of his supporters nor do I think they respect him. It’s a marriage of convenience. No wonder the rest of the world pities us.
“Over more than two centuries, the United States has stirred a very wide range of feelings in the rest of the world: love and hatred, fear and hope, envy and contempt, awe and anger,” he wrote, in April. “But there is one emotion that has never been directed towards the US until now: pity.” Fintan O’Toole, a columnist for the Irish Times