Charles R. Kessler does not agree with NeverTrumpers like myself, but he does accurately perceive Trump’s flaws and has interesting thoughts about the rise of Trump in his current essay in Claremont Review of Books.
Trumpâ€™s own business record is indistinguishable from his career as a celebrity. He stubbornly defends his crudity, anger, and egotism as integral to the Trump brand, which he promotes incessantly, and as in touch with the working class voters he covets. To conservatives enamored of the gentlemanly manners of Ronald Reagan and the Bushes, this indecency offends.
Yet it hasnâ€™t disqualified Trump as a candidate, because it helps to certify him as a non-politician, a truth-speaker, and an entertainer. Trump seems to know the contemporary working class well, its hardships, moral dislocations, and resentments. Readers familiar with the new working class described by Charles Murray in Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960â€“2010 (reviewed in the Summer 2012 CRB) will have a roadmap to the America that Trump sees and rallies to his side. As the Obama team got a jump on its rivals by exploiting new campaign software and technology in the 2008 race, so Trump got a cultural jump on his rivals in the 2016 primaries. He saw that the older, politer, less straitened America was fading among the working and lower middle classes. Downward mobility, broken families, disability and other forms of welfare supportâ€”these were increasingly the new reality for them.
This left them lots of time for TV (as Murray shows), especially for reality TV shows. Trump was more in touch with these developments, and also with the anxieties of the working part of the working class who feared falling into this slough of despond, than any of the other candidates. To put it in business speak, as the New York Times did, Trump â€œunderstood the Republican Partyâ€™s customers better than its leaders did.â€ It didnâ€™t help that much of the rank-and-file had lost confidence in those leaders. Trump ran rings around them, and employed new media to do it. Steve Case, the founder of AOL, described that part of the achievement in an email to the Times that had the odd rhythm of one of its subjectâ€™s tweets. â€œTrump leveraged a perfect storm. A combo of social media (big following), brand (celebrity figure), creativity (pithy tweets), speed/timeliness (dominating news cycles).â€
Every republic eventually faces what might be called the Weimar problem. Has the national culture, popular and elite, deteriorated so much that the virtues necessary to sustain republican government are no longer viable? America is not there yet, though when 40% of children are born out of wedlock it is not too early to wonder. What about when Donald Trump is the Republican nominee for president? Many conservatives think thatâ€™s also sufficient reason to worry the end is near.