Musings —03.08.2016 01:00 AM—
[* Can you guess where that line came from? – Ed.]
Donald Trump is irrelevant.
Yes, yes, of course: the racist, sexist, extremist reality TV billionaire is the biggest news story on the planet, presently bigger than ISIS and Justin Bieber combined. Yes. He is newsworthy because he says outrageous, offensive things, and because the media cannot bring themselves to ignore him. Also true.
He isn’t merely newsworthy, either. Donald Trump matters because he is, per Yeats, a rough beast now slouching his way towards the Oval Office. He is the presumptive Republican Party presidential nominee, in fact, and that means he is closer to the presidency than anyone ever dreamt he could be, even in their blackest, cold-sweat nightmare.
But he isn’t relevant.
Men like Donald Trump come and go, you see. Up here in Canada, we most recently had Rob Ford, who was chief magistrate in our largest and most diverse city. Ford, as was well-established, smoked crack cocaine, drove drunk, cavorted with gangsters, and said some of the most distasteful things one could imagine.
In the United States, meanwhile, they have much greater familiarity with the Trump-Ford genus. There, mendacious, malicious, mean-spirited populist types are virtually a dime a dozen. Southern segregationist George Wallace, red-baiting polemicist Joseph McCarthy, redistributionist demagogue Huey Long, and on and on. They come and they go. Sometimes they achieve real power, sometimes they don’t. But such men persist.
What matters isn’t these men, per se (because they are almost always men). What matters is their audience – the voters, the citizens, who licence them to wield power. Who make them historically significant.
Demographically, the Trump-Ford constituency is populated by overwhelmingly white, older men with little or no post-secondary education. To a one, they harbour deep resentments and fears about all that is around them. They are profoundly distrustful of institutions that wield power (governments, media), and they feel greatly intimidated by societal change (particularly cultural change, be it race or sexuality or gender).
These men, as we have lately seen, number many more than anyone thought. They are not what Richard M. Nixon termed “the silent majority” – they are not particularly silent, these days, and they do not thankfully constitute a majority – but they are an important constituency, because of two things.
One, they vote. Two, they are completely, totally impervious to factual information.
Donald Trump calls Mexicans rapists and killers? Demands a ban on Muslims? Mocks the disabled? Attacks the Pope? Makes foul, filthy remarks about women and African-Americans, Asians, POWs and Seventh-Day Adventists? He has done all those things, and more, and here is how his surging legions of supporters respond:
They don’t believe it, because Big Media is saying it about their guy, and they detest Big Media. Or they don’t care, because they mostly agree with him.
Why? Because, to them – and as we have heard so many times, in recent months, it is like an Internet meme – he says the things that no one else will. Because he gives voice to the prejudices that they nurture in their tiny black hearts.
To beat Donald Trump – and, rest assured, we need to, because he is currently winning – we need to dramatically change the focus. We need to stop over-reacting to every loathsome utterance he makes, because our over-reactions help him. We need, instead, to start focusing on changing the changing hearts (such as they are) and the minds (ditto) of the angry old white men who support Trump.
It can be done; it has to be done. I’ve overseen political war rooms for a generation. To stop a runaway populist train, you must research the candidate, to be sure. But you must also research – and intrinsically know – everything there is to know about the populist’s popular base. You need to know what they like, and what they don’t. You need to know something about Donald Trump about which they are unsure, or which they sort of don’t like. Something unhelpful thing they are overlooking, perhaps.
And then your war room – be it Republican or Democratic – needs to bombard Donald Trump with it. Overwhelm him with it. Put your foot on his throat, leaving him gasping for air, and don’t remove it until Election Day is long past.
What is that thing that has been overlooked? What is that thing that hurts him the most, and will lose him the support of those angry, older white men? His tax returns? His big bank connections? His myriad lies? His four bankruptcies? His lack of religion? His eponymous university? It is out there. It needs to be found, and it needs to be used, over and over and over.
With it, Donald Trump can be beaten. And that, of course, is very – very – relevant.