November 8th, 2017

One year later: Trump the unlikely populist

[NOTE: Today is the one-year anniversary of the 2016 election, so I thought I’d repeat a post I wrote about Trump in August of 2015, when it was beginning to dawn on me that he was a very serious contender.]

I watched Trump’s speech in Mobile last night without ever planning to do so. I was flipping around looking for something to watch on TV (in the background while I was doing some cooking) and noticed that CNN was showing it with comprehensive, wall-to-wall coverage, as though it was of the same importance as a State of the Union message.

That in and of itself got my attention. Not only that, the commentary at CNN seemed surprisingly respectful and even serious—not a lot of mocking and derision. So I watched, despite the fact that (as regular readers here know) I don’t like to listen to political speeches.

Of course, Trump giving a political speech is not like anyone else giving a political speech. He’s in his element in front of a crowd. And even in Alabama, the New York shtick that you would think wouldn’t play so well there seems to be something they love when Trump does it. People are really really really sick of feeling impotent as Obama has thumbed his nose at them and lied to them, as the GOP has either disappointed or outright betrayed them, and as PC thought has taken over our values, education, the press, some churches, and many novels and movies.

Trump seems immune from PC considerations and also from the ubiquitous need to be beholden to conventional donors. He has the advantage of his familiarity to the public and his relaxation in front of the camera gained from years of being a showman and a TV personality. Trump has a populist appeal—you could see it very clearly during his speech—but he’s a rich-as-Croesus populist who doesn’t trash the rich as so many populists do; au contraire. Nor does he apologize for being mega-rich himself; he brags.

Trump has mastered not just the “art of the deal” but the art of giving a speech that sounds like ad-libbing stream-of-consciousness but is not. As he went along it occurred to me that what he is doing is cheerleading for America, reiterating over and over what he would do for America and what he would do for the people he is speaking to, and fitting his words to their desire that America be what it once was. It’s the flip side of Obama’s hope and change: they hope that he can change things back to a time when America was great, and that’s his explicit message and the slogan on the very flyover-country-looking hats he wears and sells. This is a guy who knows marketing, and it’s no accident that the slogan is also pretty much what Reagan used in 1980 (Reagan put the word “let’s” at the beginning of the phrase, but otherwise it was exactly the same).

Trump is a happy warrior, or at least talks like one. “I will rebuild the military so it’s so strong and so powerful that we’ll never have to use it. No one will ever mess with us” is a typical utterance. He lists stuff—trade, health care, women’s health issues—and says “we’re gonna fix it.” And I guess people believe him, or at least believe he’s sincere about trying. How he’ll get around the impediments that stand in the way is unclear, but people don’t want clarity. They like his style. They like his spirit

“We have a great lack of spirit,” said Trump, and he’s right; and he’s out to provide it, and he does. He says he had thought Obama would be “a great cheerleader,” (hmmm, I thought; I just perceived him as a cheerleader a moment ago, and now he’s using the word). Instead, Obama is “a great divider.” But Trump? “I am going to make this country bigger and stronger and better and you’re gonna love it, and you’re gonna love your president…and you’re gonna be so proud.”

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I’m not a Trump supporter, but that I also get his appeal. Watching him speak at length, I “got” it even more. He makes all other politicians look boring and stilted (hey, many of them are boring and stilted). He makes it all sound so simple—just as Obama did, but in a completely different direction and with a completely, and I mean completely, different style. Populist appeal is a neat trick in a man who’s a multi-billionaire and who grew up in enormous wealth and graduated from Wharton. But he’s got it, and although I’m sure he carefully nurtures it he manages to make it look natural.

From the start of Trump’s rise in the polls I’ve taken him very seriously as a phenomenon. I haven’t understood those who casually asserted “He’s never going to win the nomination.” I’ve long thought he could, because the force of that appeal is obvious, and he’s somehow made himself immune to being criticized for anything he says. His niche is “the more outrageous, the better,” and the more extreme his utterances the more his supporters seem to like him—although not all of what he says is extreme, of course, and some is just common sense.

If I were one of the other Republican candidates I’d be very very scared. And if I were one of the Democratic candidates I’d be scared, too.

ADDENDUM, November 8, 2017:

The Trump victory was nevertheless unexpected, and it was accompanied by GOP control of the US Congress. Since then, the GOP has not managed to unite and the Democrats—though also warring between their own (leftist) “establishment” wing and their (even more leftist) Sanders/Warren wing—seem more united at the moment than the GOP. Trump gives the Democrats something to hate, and hatred is a great unifier.

I wonder whether Trump’s victory last year was merely a function of his very idiosyncratic personality and qualities, plus a backlash to eight years of Obama as well as the unusual dislikability of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Can a lasting GOP trend be built on that? I don’t think so; the GOP probably won’t find such a combination of favorable factors again. I am very worried about the results of yesterday’s legislative elections in Virginia, and what they might portend for the future. That Gramscian and demographic march of the left does not seem to have abated, and the GOP doesn’t seem to know how to fight it.

Sorry to be so pessimistic.

19 Responses to “One year later: Trump the unlikely populist”

  1. j e Says:

    Your are (alas!) entirely correct in your assessment of the inability of the GOP establishment and mainstream Republicans to confront what you very well describe as “the Gramscian and demographic march of the left.” Even many publications supposedly on the right (e.g. National Review, now almost worthless except for VDH and A McCarthy) are clueless about the danger to our republic of uncontrolled third-world immigration and a system of higher education that functions largely to indoctrinate students with the ideology of social justice.

  2. neo-neocon Says:

    j e:

    I disagree with your assessment of National Review. They certainly were anti-Trump, but I think they are aware of the immigration danger and the problems in universities. I’ve seen plenty of articles there that indicate that, and not just by McCarthy and Hanson.

  3. AesopFan Says:

    “Trump has mastered not just the “art of the deal” but the art of giving a speech that sounds like ad-libbing stream-of-consciousness but is not.”

    Churchill had the same skill. IIRC from past reading, his seemingly “off the cuff” statements were practiced just as relentlessly as his formal speeches.

  4. Beverly Says:

    President Trump sounded the trumpet of American patriotism: remember that? I sure do. No politician has been unabashedly patriotic and gung-ho about America for decades.

    Patriotism. Love of America. The can-do spirit. Those who know Trump personally say the man really IS patriotic, and really does love this country; he also hates incompetence (see, e.g., the Central Park skating rink incident). He also really, really hates the chains of PC rules and regs, and always has.

    So love him or hate him, he means business. No one ever mentions this, but he’s our first pro bono President: think about that for a minute. Many in his Cabinet are likewise serving pro bono. So sure, I can see people disagreeing with different things they say or do, but I don’t see how they can doubt that these guys are serious about trying to get America out of the ditch.

    Trump is also a real “people person”: he likes the give and take with the crowd, and really enjoys leading the pep rally. But I think folks respond to him because, even though he’s a rich man, he’s a human being, and an enthusiastic American. We love our country and are heartily sick of the parsers and cavillers and “yes, But-ers”.

    “I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.”

  5. Darrell Says:

    For some additional perspective, I highly recommend Scott Adams new book, Win Bigly. Might shed some light.

  6. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    “That Gramscian and demographic march of the left does not seem to have abated, and the GOP doesn’t seem to know how to fight it.

    Sorry to be so pessimistic.” neo

    IMO, we have every reason for pessimism. It’s not that the GOPe doesn’t know how to fight the Gramscian and demographic march of the Left. It’s that they don’t want to fight it. Because to fight it, they have to endure personal sacrifice and the only sacrifice they favor is the public’s sacrifice.

    I now rarely read the National Review, so I can’t speak to their awareness of the danger from immigration and in the universities.

    But I can say that the GOPe is dismissive of that threat. As if they were not, they’d see that supporting Trump is the only hope they have of escaping the Marxist threat. A slower March to the Collective will still end at the gallows.

  7. MollyG Says:

    Regarding pro bono presidents, Kennedy donated his salary to charity, IIRC. Does that count?

  8. AesopFan Says:

    “…the commentary at CNN seemed surprisingly respectful and even serious—not a lot of mocking and derision.”
    * *
    That didn’t last past the nomination, and the election has totally blown their cool.

    From the original comment thread:
    Matt_SE Says:
    August 22nd, 2015 at 9:36 pm

    The left is watching Hillary crumble in real time, and are lending an assist by giving constant coverage to the spoiler on the right.
    * *
    The supposed aim being to promote a sure loser in the general.
    No wonder they got upset: people hoist on their own petard usually do.

  9. AesopFan Says:

    I wasn’t reading Neo in 2015 (my loss!), so I enjoyed perusing the comments from the past, since they give us a classic experiment in political prediction.

    There were people all over the map, but I think Frog and (by citation) Scott Adams were the only ones who “called it” correctly.

    Frog Says:
    August 22nd, 2015 at 11:17 pm
    Trump WILL BE on the ballot Nov 2016.
    I am close to predicting he will be the next POTUS.

    He articulates the issues like no other. His grievances are our grievances. He doesn’t have to grub for donors. He has the freedoms that most of us have surrendered or lost.

    Now is not the time for policies. That is so Paul Ryan. Now is the time to express our grievances through The Donald, hear him express them in no quiet tones, and that’s why he is the Leader of the Pack. The other sled dogs are following…. He is telling you what’s rotten: Our downsizing, near-toothless military; immigration and the border; anchor babies; bringing in the wretched of the earth (it’s not 1902 any more), the health care disaster; VA health; economic globalization; the ass-kissing of Iran; the anti-Israel line. The fixes can come later…..

    I think he will most likely be the next Pres….Mobile migrants may well start self-deporting soon. [2017: many did].
    * *
    ” I’m going to predict he will be our next president. I think he will move to the center on social issues (already happening) and win against Clinton in a tight election.”

  10. AesopFan Says:

    Eric Says:
    August 23rd, 2015 at 10:12 am

    Many in the audience recognize Trump’s rhetoric for what it is. But they accept it because he’s the only one offering the product they want – a paradigm shift that recasts the whole Overton window. The other GOP candidates are not offering that.

  11. AesopFan Says:

    Domino theory in action. It isn’t just this one event, but the entire cascade that resulted from the Gramscian March (someone should put that to music). Donald Trump was the catalyst for the Tipping Point in waiting.

    jack Says:
    August 23rd, 2015 at 11:40 am
    Trumps #1 appeal is that …

    He says what he wants
    When he wants
    HOW he wants … you don’t like … TUFF!

    I think we are at a turning point on the PC mess we have today. A school band in Mississippi was banned from playing a certain song at halftime because someone decided it was religious. At halftime one by one the people in the stands stood and sang that song. This is the kind of thing that the american people have had enough of! And they are ready to fight back. They see Trump as the man that will do that and it does cut across much of the electorate, Repub,Dem ,Indie ETC.

    jack Says:
    August 23rd, 2015 at 11:46 am
    Hotair has the story and vid.

    (from HA) “People often scoff at the idea of a “slippery slope” in politics, but this is probably one of the prime examples of how real the premise can be. When the courts decided to ban prayer in school it opened the door to a virtual extermination of religion on school grounds. It’s simply ludicrous to believe that there is some threat being posed by a school band playing the instrumental version of a hymn. It also reinforces the politically correct idea that, beyond freedom of religion, your freedom of speech somehow includes the idea that you are protected against hearing any speech you disagree with. If we found a school where children of other faiths were being forced to participate in a prayer to a different god than the one they worship, I’d be right on board with criticizing them. But the idea that you can never be exposed to a different religion is insane.

    And while we’re on the subject, how did we wind up at the point where it simply applies to schools? The basis for that argument was that the schools were funded with taxpayer money, but wouldn’t the same rationale then be applied to any government function on all government property? How is it that the President can attend the National Prayer Breakfast every year? For that matter, when the current president was inaugurated, how is it that we could have an invocation, a benediction and the playing of the Battle Hymn of the Republic on government property? There’s a big disconnect in these rulings and this Mississippi judge is a prime symptom of what’s gone wrong.”

  12. Ymar Sakar Says:

    What many here attribute to Trum, came from the Alt Right.

  13. Tatterdemalian Says:

    “Can a lasting GOP trend be built on that?”

    Sure it can, we just have to fight back against false accusations of racism like Trump and Roy Moore did, instead of trying to pretend fighting back is somehow “beneath us” like McCain, Romney, and Gillespie did.

    Don’t worry about looking like an immature bully; the media will convince everyone that you are something far worse if you don’t act like an immature bully.

  14. arfldgrs Says:

    While media coverage of Donald Trump’s meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping Thursday focused on trade and North Korea, it was the wide-eyed crooning of the US leader’s granddaughter that stole Chinese netizens’ hearts.

    In a video that Trump showed Xi during their stroll through the historic Forbidden City Wednesday, his granddaughter, Arabella Kushner, greets “Grandpa Xi and Grandma Peng (Liyuan)” with several Mandarin ballads and a recitation of ancient Chinese poetry.

    China’s Xinhua state news agency, which circulated the clip widely on social media, reported that Xi said the six-year-old girl’s Mandarin skills deserved an “A+”.

    The Chinese public agreed, according to Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.

    “As a little ambassador of Chinese-American friendship, Arabella has already received the love of a vast number of Chinese people,” Hua said during a regular press briefing Thursday.

    “This kind of special arrangement is actually very sweet and warm-hearted. We believe that this has helped to further bring closer the affection and distance between the Chinese and American people.”

    Arabella also played a starring role at the state dinner organised by Xi in Trump’s honour at the Great Hall of the People on Thursday night.

    IF he wasnt conservative, he could have been made to appear in the public like kennedys… funny, but that is true, if one knows how this magic works and how completely gullible the left public is among the rest quite often. (the number of now known completely working disinformation campaigns that we think are history are staggering if one knows they are not valid history by filling in the history of the histories creation for the public)

  15. arfldgrs Says:

    Weibo had people saying this:
    “She’s too cute!” users gushed. “Let’s hope that she marries into a Chinese family.”

    There was once a story, and i dont know if its true, a story, a history… sorry… but the question was from the british to the chinese when he asked if all this would worry the chinese as to things changing. the response was something like, it does not matter, in less than a few generations your children will be chinese..

    meaning the larger can not be diluted by the smaller
    at best the smaller is spice… to a huge stew

    a bit of food for thought… heh

  16. TommyJay Says:

    Neo: “… hatred is a great unifier.”

    Amen. But Geoffrey is right. Most Republicans are unwilling to get their hands dirty and return the favor. The scripted hatred from the left is not really directed at the most objectionable ideology or dog-whistle racism. It is directed at those most able to win elections and pass legislation. Period.

    “… Trump’s victory last year was merely a function of his very idiosyncratic personality and qualities …”

    I recall the 1980 campaign where the left claimed Reagan was only “a dumb actor,” and the right fought back that the campaign had nothing to do with him being an actor. Well, his acting skills were very important on the plus side.

    It is pretty clear now that any future Rep. presidential candidate must have some charisma, toughness, and self-confidence; and probably name recognition.

    I’ve been tempted to re-watch Eddie Murphy’s old “The Distinguished Gentleman.” It’s a broad and cynically humorous take on a congressman who gets his start with name recognition. Increasingly, such cynicism (the whole film) looks like truth telling.

    The Gramscian March

    While the effect of immigration is a huge factor, the complete take-over of virtually the entire education system is also a huge factor. David Horowitz has been standing on university stages for decades with people throwing things at him, trying to stem the march.

    In the economic realm, the left talks endlessly about the gap between the rich and poor while facilitating the importation of a couple million/year of the penniless. What the left never mentions is that within 10 or 20 years a large fraction of those new immigrants do move into the middle economic quintiles, even if they don’t always declare it on their income tax returns.

    If you look at properly worded (not leading) polls of Latinos you do see a considerable conservative bent. There is some real “Susana Martinez” effect. She was a Democrat when it was only a fashion statement to her. Once she thought about her politics, she became the Republican gov. of NM.

  17. TommyJay Says:

    There is also the fact that yesterdays elections were not just off-year elections, but off-off-year elections. Deep motivations (e.g. hate) matter more the further one gets from a presidential election year.

  18. AesopFan Says:

    AesopFan Says:
    November 8th, 2017 at 4:25 pm

    There were people all over the map, but I think Frog and (by citation) Scott Adams were the only ones who “called it” correctly.
    * *
    I correct myself, because Mark Steyn was also on-board the train. His usual trenchant analysis mirrors much of the retrospective of this week.

    One year ago today, the media’s long predicted Hillary landslide came to pass, as Donald Trump was wiped out in the greatest electoral humiliation in decades. No, wait, that’s the Newsweek Clinton commemorative presidential edition. Instead, Election Day went a little differently. Here’s how I saw the day as it happened:

    8am Eastern: I said on the radio in September that Trump will win, and I’m stuck with that prediction whatever happens. So feel free either to hoot and jeer or hail my prognosticatory genius in twelve hours’ time.

    If both left and right regard Trump’s victory as a horror show, well, you created the monster: The establishment of both parties spent the last year telling his supporters they no longer mattered – they’re too old, too white, too male, too bluecollar, too rust-belt, too too tootsie, g’bye; they’re old and fading and they’ll be dead soon. This is, in fact, an over-broad generalization: Trump pulled more millennials than Romney, and more of the Latino vote, and he doubled Mitt’s share of the black vote.

    Even so, it was too much to expect this New America to wait for this old, irrelevant America actually to kick the bucket: they had to hasten ’em into the grave by endless taunting that everyone matters more than you.

  19. Ymar Sakar Says:

    Even so, it was too much to expect this New America to wait for this old, irrelevant America actually to kick the bucket: they had to hasten ’em into the grave by endless taunting that everyone matters more than you.

    Due to Bush II.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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