Martin Gurri analyses brilliantly the peculiar character of the Trump candidacy phenomenon.
In American politics, Trump is a peacock among dull buzzards. That should be apparent to anyone with eyes to see. The one discernible theme of his life has been the will to stand out: to attract all eyes in the room by being the loudest, most colorful, most aggressively intrusive person there. He has clearly succeeded. The data above speaks to a world-class talent for self-promotion. The media noticed, and just kept the cameras aimed at the extravagant performance â€“ allowing Trump to represent himself to the public, a rare commodity for a politician. And the public, in its mood of negation, its hostility to the established order, also noticed. Trump lacked a political past. He was glamorous and a winner â€“ he looked different and acted different.
He also sounded different from other politicians. The most significant factor separating Trump from the pack, I believe, is rhetorical. Trump is a master of the nihilist style of the web. His competitors speak in political jargon and soaring generalities. He speaks in rant. He attacks, insults, condemns, doubles down on misstatements, never takes a step back, never apologizes. Everyone he dislikes is a liar, â€œa bimbo,â€ â€œbought and paid for.â€ Without batting an eyelash, he will compare an opponent to a child molester. Such rhetorical aggression is shocking in mainstream American politics but an everyday occurrence on the political web, where death threats and rape threats against a writer are a measure of the potency of the message.
The â€œangry voterâ€ Trump supposedly has connected with is really an avatar of the mutinous public: and this is its language. It too speaks in rant, inchoate expression of a desire to remake the world by smashing at it, common parlance of the political war-bands that populate Tumblr, Gawker, reddit, and so many other online platforms. By embracing Trump in significant numbers, the public has signaled that it is willing to impose the untrammeled relations of social media on the US electoral process.
Iâ€™m amazed by the rapidity with which this moment has arrived: that we have come to it, however, will surprise no one who has been paying attention. …
Put differently, the Trump candidacy is a test of democracy in America in 2016. The public is agitated and willing to vote for this strange and formless man. It is not directly engaged. The structures of democracy, on the flip side, appear to be near collapse. What should have been a brutal collision against unyielding institutions has turned into a strut over a landscape darkened by colossal ruins. The news business is dying and desperate. The primary elections are a crazy quilt of contradictory rules. The Republican Party, by all appearances, is more of a historical memory than a living organization.
Donald Trump, anti-establishment wrecker, has been fortunate in his moment. In 1960, 1980, even 2000, there would have been an establishment to oppose him. In 2015, the putative establishment champion was Jeb Bush. He had been away from elected office for nine years, â€œa longer downtime than any president elected since 1852 (and any candidate since 1924).â€ The Republican worthies who endorsed and promoted him had been out of office for an average of 11 years. If this once was the partyâ€™s establishment, itâ€™s now a claque of political corpses. The Bush candidacy, in brief, was a dance of the dead, and the Republican Party, at the national level at least, stands revealed as a ruinous graveyard over which nearly anyone, fitting any description, can lay claim.
The Revolt of the Public has been accused, with uncertain justice, of advancing a bleak vision of our political reality. In that spirit, I want to conclude with a dismal observation. At present, the leading candidates for the presidency are Trump and Hillary Clinton. One is a reckless smasher of institutions. The other is a fossilized specimen of the remote and protected elites. Both are creatures of the society of distrust, divisive to an extreme degree.
So my observation is this: regardless of who wins, the 2016 presidential election is shaping up to be just another episode in the grinding social conflict and disintegration of industrial forms that have defined our age. Nothing much, I fear, will be decided.
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