It’s time to start giving Donald Trump some credit.
The billion-dollar baby deftly figured out that the GOP has the immune system of an earthworm. The party’s warring factions, weak leadership and corruption of the campaign finance system have made it ripe for a parasite to infect and capture its host’s brain while it’s still praying for Jeb Bush to stop embarrassing himself.
He’s figured out how to signal to white supremacists that he appreciates their support—without engendering the media shitstorm you’d expect in a functioning democracy.
And he’s figured out how to out-conservative conservatives who have spent their entire adult lives engaged in a sort of drag show where they dress, talk and do the robot like some store-brand Reagan.
Check out this image that Marco Rubio’s campaign has been circulating to make the argument that Trump is unserious, ridiculous and most of all not conservative:
What Rubio’s team doesn’t get is that this word cloud might as well be The Conservative Manifesto. It’s exactly what Republican voters want to hear—I will give you your shit back so fuck the details.
Conservatism was supposed to be a complete ethos with a simple to understand through-line: We shrink government.
Of course, that’s nonsense.
Reagan and George W. Bush grew government—only cutting programs that help the poorest. Nearly all conservatives are in favor of growing the most expensive discretionary part of government and the part of the government that potentially offers the most limitations to our freedom—the military. And their pose of despising government regulations all but disappears when it’s time to legislate uteri, make it harder for black people vote or enable the miseries of factory farming.
Trump has recognized that conservatism is a mindset, a reaction. He may be the most fully realized living example of a conservative as described in Corey Robin’s The Reactionary Mind:
The conservative, to be sure, speaks for a special type of victim: one who has lost something of value, as opposed to the wretched of the earth, whose chief complaint is that they never had anything to lose. His constituency is the contingently dispossessed— William Graham Sumner’s “forgotten man” rather than the preternaturally oppressed. Far from diminishing his appeal, his brand of victimhood endows the conservative complaint with a more universal significance. It connects his disinheritance to an experience we all share—namely loss—and threads that experience into an ideology promising that what is lost can be restored.
People on the Left often fail to realize this, but conservatism really does speak to and for people who have lost something. It may be a landed estate or the privileges of white skin, the unquestioned authority of a husband or the untrammeled rights of a factory owner. The loss may be as money or as ethereal as a sense of standing. It may be of something that was never legitimately owned in the first place; it may, when compared with what the conservative retains, be small. Even so, nothing is ever so cherished as that which we no longer possess.
And even if the loss cannot be made whole, the conservative voter—especially the voter who left the Democratic party over civil rights or to join the Reagan Revolution—wants to know that their candidate is seeking to restore balance by taking things away from or stomping on someone else.
If there is a conservative ethos it’s “We will shrink government for ‘them’ and also grow it on ‘them.’”
The totality of what Trump is proposing is absurd. His $12 trillion giveaway mostly to the rich would bankrupt the government’s ability to keep our commitments to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid while decimating the economy in numerous other ways, while creating a wall that has no use, except to make some aggrieved voters feel as if they’re inflicting misery.
Trump’s plans are barely more absurd than Marco Rubio’s $8 trillion in giveaways mostly to the rich that the Senator is vowing to pay for by gutting the government and raising the retirement age.
Trump is just smart enough to recognize that you can promise conservatives anything—as long as you’ve vowing to take something away from someone else.
Some want to make the analogy to Bernie Sanders’s proposals, which are similarly expensive yet far more rational. We know Sanders’ proposals work because they work in some of the most advanced democracies on earth — unlike conservative dream policies, which have only created Gilded Ages.
Most importantly, Sanders is aiming to take power from the people who actually control our democracy—the rich and their corporations.
Trump’s villains are occasionally big corporations and hedge fund managers — but only insofar as they take things that could be given to you. Mostly his appeal is about taking power from the powerless—the undocumented, the “politically correct” and foreigners of all stripes
His willingness to call out the real enemies of conservatives without any concerns for decency or grammar makes him the most conservative of all. No ad or crafty campaign is going to stop a candidate who understands conservatism better than conservatives themselves.
[Photo by Gage Skidmore | Flickr]