The Meaning of Mr. Trump

The Meaning of Mr. Trump, by Walter Russell Mead.

What energizes the Trump phenomenon is the power of “NO!”: people who think the train is about to head off a cliff want to pull the emergency cord that stops the train even if they don’t know what happens next.

[Trump] is the candidate for people who think the conventional wisdom of the American establishment is hopelessly out of touch with the real world … To many of Trump supporters, Hillary Clinton looks like Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest: the enforcer of a fatally flawed status quo and the personification of bureaucratic power in a system gone rogue.

What makes Trump so appealing to so many voters is that the establishment does seem unusually clueless these days. … With the PC crowd and the Obama administration hammering away at transgender bathroom rights as if this was the great moral cause of our time, and with campus Pure Thought advocates collapsing into self parody even as an epidemic of drug abuse and family breakdown relentlessly corrodes the foundations of American social cohesion, it’s hard to believe that the establishment has a solid grip on the moral principles and priorities a society like ours needs.

Trump appeals to all those who think that the American Establishment, the Great and the Good of both parties, has worked its way into a dead end of ideas that don’t work and values that can’t save us. He is the candidate of Control-Alt-Delete. His election would sweep away the smug generational certainties that Clinton embodies, the Boomer Progressive Synthesis that hasn’t solved the problems of the world or of the United States, but which nevertheless persists in regarding itself as the highest and only form of truth. …

Trump is hard to hit because his campaign is so negative:

[Trump’s] supporters aren’t united around a set of positive ideas, but they are united in opposition to the status quo. They believe that the emperor has no clothes, even if they can’t agree on a replacement wardrobe. …

This makes it easy and profitable for Trump to wage negative campaigns — against Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and the Republican establishment in the primary, against Hillary Clinton and the conventional wisdom of the center left in the general. It also makes it much harder for negative campaigns to hurt him: his appeal doesn’t stem from approval for particular policies, but from opposition to elements of the status quo. His supporters may not expect Mexico to pay for a border wall, but they believe that he doesn’t like unlimited illegal immigration and that he will do something about it. …

The main parties are failing and Trump is a response:

Myself, I don’t think the system is quite as corrupt as some Trump supporters believe or, perhaps more accurately, I lack their confidence that burning down the old house is the best way to build something new. But it would be equally wrong and perhaps more dangerous to take the view that there is nothing more fueling his rise than ignorance, racism and hate.

The failure of the center-Left to transform its institutional and intellectual dominance into policy achievements that actually stabilize middle class life, and the failure of the center-Right to articulate a workable alternative have left a giant intellectual and political vacuum in the heart of American life. The Trump movement is not an answer to our problems, but the social instinct of revolt and rejection that powers it is a sign of social health.