TRUMP: THE NATIONAL PASTIME OF MISSING THE POINT
By Mark Joseph Mongilutz
Raised in Washington (though born elsewhere), Mark is a writer, a military veteran (Army), an occasional scholar, and an amateur blacksmith. A man of letters through and through, Mark writes on foreign policy, on sociocultural matters, on the human condition in a broader sense, and occasionally dabbles in the authoring of narrative fiction. He lives for the pen and harbors a sincere earnestness where preserving, enriching, and improving the American experiment is concerned, particularly where contributing thusly is achievable via the written word.
Donald John Trump is, as of this article’s writing, running a viable campaign to become President of the United States and (perhaps more importantly) commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces of the only superpower presently populating this pale blue dot our species calls home. That is a fact—an irrefutable fact—and one which many a decent citizen finds rather troubling. That said, let us look closely at how Mr. Trump’s candidacy and its effect upon the national conversation has been exactly as predictable as it has been anomalous.
Predictable? Yes. Stay with me, if you please.
Donald Trump’s more incendiary of campaign pronouncements have been characterized by a tone generally reserved for Friar’s Club roasts, his substance more at home in the Opie & Anthony studio, and his disdainful condescension not unlike the demeanor of a Mussolini impersonator. He is, above all, something rarely observed on the campaign trail: comfortable in his own skin. It is often said that a certain blindness to one’s own flaws and shortcomings is essential to achieving the “cool” factor for which so many an uncool person yearns. Whether or not such a contention is psychologically defensible goes beyond the scope and purpose of this piece. That said, one does not come away from a Trump speech with the impression that the man spends overly much time reflecting upon his failings, his regrets, his deficiencies. Nor does one come away with the impression that Mr. Trump is “cool” in any Hollywood or popular culture sense of the term. What he is, however, is aggressively unafraid of media derision, which, by political standards, renders him far cooler than many a Bush, at least one Clinton, and every Romney ever to have sought the POTUS title. Indeed, the press and any number of talking heads before whom many a candidate has prostrated themselves have been met, to varying degrees, with indifference and hostility by Mr. Trump. The short-term gain is wide popularity with a swath of Republican primary voters who have felt voiceless, betrayed, and taken for granted since the latter half of George W. Bush’s second term, while a long-term vulnerability is the vicious, unfaltering, and energizing contempt of well over half the American electorate. And that much, I daresay, has been very much predictable.
What is anomalous, and what deserves our attention, is the lifespan of a candidacy which was not expected to outlast the speech during which it was announced. That it has survived this far and left crippled in its wake many a “stronger” candidate does in many ways constitute an anomaly, but the sheer insanity of the circumstances has resulted in a nationwide missing of the damned point. At a minimum, we have collectively sidestepped the only question worth asking on the matter—if Trump’s candidacy has persisted thusly, what on earth has allowed for as much?
To inquire as to why Donald Trump speaks so venomously to and about his primary competitors is to ask why the rain falls; that is what rain does—it falls. To question the man’s business acumen is to wander away from the matter at hand; he has enjoyed successes and setbacks—the end result being that he is now extraordinarily wealthy, period. To criticize the man’s appearance is to lower oneself to a truly base and despicable standard; were one to do the same to Hillary Clinton, cries of sexism would drown out all else for a half-dozen news cycles. To ask, on the other hand, whether or not such a candidacy would have been in any way imaginable (let alone plausible) in, say, 1956, or 1996, or even in 2012 is to approach something resembling a relevant and useful inquiry. The answer to 1956 and 1996 is almost certainly “No.” The answer to 2012 is a resounding “Probably not.” The answer to 2016 is, well, turn on CNN and pay attention for at least three minutes’ time; his campaign will either be verbally acknowledged or a matter pertaining to it will appear somewhere in that occasionally informative bottom-of-the-screen ticker rubbish.
Why is Trump possible?
Why not in 1956? Why in 2016.
Ask a registered Democrat and you’ll receive an answer along the lines of, “Trump supporters are racist, sexist, homophobic, nativists with more kids than teeth and an ‘Us against them’ mentality.”
Wide of the mark? If so, only by the slimmest of slivers. And wasn’t racism and the like far more pervasive in the 1950s than in the here and now? The American Left holds so-called Trumpsters in contempt to an extent which dwarfs any loathing they might feel for our nation’s foreign enemies (many of whom exhibit sexism of a rather brutal sort). But even if the charges of racism, sexism, homophobia, and nativism are in some small way credible, that assessment is not possessed of sufficient truth to explain the enduring national political presence of a man who, in a humbler era, would have been regarded as far too outspoken and irreverent to wield the enormous power and prestige inherent in Presidential office. And while we’re on the subject, we might consider collectively acknowledging that pervasive and unabashed racism, sexism, and nativism of the sort that populates fevered far Left imaginations simply do not exist in modern America. The culture has done an effective job of marginalizing such socially diseased people to the fringes of American experience. And while a controversy-hungry news media complex has time and again proven itself willing to amplify such crude voices when they do surface, conservative American audiences tend to be cognizant of a crackpot who has been afforded microphonic amplification disproportionate to the actual cultural capital he/she would otherwise have at his/her disposal.
Conservatives are also acutely cognizant of their legitimate concerns regarding national security, immigration policy, wage laws, et cetera having been routinely (and lazily) dismissed by a condescending press as the ravings of backwards, blindly patriotic simpletons. These days, contempt for the American experiment and for Western Civilization carries with it an inherent implication of sophisticated and nuanced thinking, particularly in popular culture. Institutional self-loathing has become a hallmark of academia, of the filmmaking industry, and of left-leaning newsrooms in which cultural pride and reverence for those things this republic of ours has gotten right over the past two centuries is cruelly and habitually scorned.
Trump is not a political candidate. He is cultural blowback. Okay, and he is also a political candidate. But, more importantly, he is a response to oppressive political correctness which seeks not to promote rational discourse, but to silence it entirely. An increasingly voiceless Middle America finds itself the butt-end of situation comedy humor, ignored by mainstream media outlets, and systematically undermined by the very colleges and universities from which they once hoped their own children might someday graduate. Middle America (black, white, Hispanic, and so on) grows our food, they drive our trucks, they manufacture many of our goods and wares, they build our homes and stock our grocery store shelves. They are the lifeblood of a country whose high culture has no respect for their mores, for their cultural identity, for their way of life. They are disenfranchised not in the sense of being forbidden to cast one’s ballot, but within the nation’s artistic communities who will extend themselves mightily to identify with cultures far and wide, but scorn that which populates those lands between our coasts.
An exhaustive list of those great many things the Right has gotten wrong in recent years would require a page-count beyond that which this journal is inclined to publish. Whether it be foreign policy or social issues, the GOP (and many in its orbit) has either supported foolish actions, failed to distance itself from maniacal ideologues, or simply fallen into a state of tone-deafness which inexorably placed it at odds with a cultural elite predisposed to loathe conservatism in all its forms.
But the Left is not without a shortcoming of its own. Namely, its collective tendency to bully into submission those who hold opposing views and to do so in a manner which serves only to poison the waters of civil discourse. The reflexive labeling of ideological opponents as racists, for instance, has done untold damage to our national conversation in recent years. Otherwise race-neutral criticisms (regardless of their validity) of President Obama are readily derided as racially-motivated lunacies not to be taken seriously in polite society. In what universe can level-headed debate flourish when the toxic charge of racism is harshly poised on the tip of so many a liberal tongue? The effect has been an incarceration of innumerable thoughts and sentiments, most of them perfectly rational and legitimate, within the minds of social and political conservatives who fear the scarlet lettering (“R”) which often follows on the heels of seemingly innocuous public opining.
I have recently come to suspect that a catharsis of sorts exists within the mind of many a Trump supporter. This phenomenon is not solely attributable to any strong sense of affinity for Mr. Trump himself; rather, it is gleaned from the sense of satisfaction they experience when observing liberals and establishment Republicans tie themselves in knots over the man’s stubborn unwillingness to fade away as so many understandably predicted he would. Such political satisfaction (albeit of a less cathartic sort) I have observed in only one other instance since I began paying attention to such things. It is observable in the way ardent Clinton devotees smile sardonically when presented with litanies of Bill and Hillary’s alleged misdeeds both in and out of political office. The smile can be translated loosely as either, a) “He presided over the best economy in human history, or b) “Kiss my ass.” Either way, the joy of supporting Clinton stems less from any love of the family and more from knowing—just knowing—that mere mention of the name is often sufficient to spike an elderly Republican’s blood pressure to dangerous highs. Politics is, after all, a contact sport. Touchdowns are fun to watch, but so are tackles.
The “Why?” of Trump has nothing to do with what many regard as lack of suitability for high public office. The “Why?” of Trump instead has everything to do with what has become of our national conversation. How has the schism between Left and Right manifested to such a degree as to leave one side feeling silenced in the realms of entertainment and journalism, and the other harboring such a severe sense of detachment from the Heartland? Answering this question would surely satiate the curiosity of a many a political scientist, political pundit, and political enthusiast. But addressing and ultimately solving those problems which stem from the aforementioned schism would go a long towards healing a nation very much at war with itself. We are collectively in need of a cultural corrective, one which facilitates understanding as opposed to fostering mutual disdain. Damning labels and the reflexive suspicion of hateful motive on part of one’s ideological opponents must be strongly curtailed, lest a further descent into darkness continues befall the country with each successive political cycle. A Trump-like candidacy would have found no purchase in the America of our ancestors, and neither side of the aisle is blameless where tracing the origins of this anger-fueled movement is concerned. In order to foster a spirit of bipartisan discourse, we must first confront the truth as it exists within ourselves.
Author’s Note: I am very seriously considering the possibility of not casting a ballot in this year’s Presidential election. Where a vote for one of the probable candidates would place me very much at odds with my intellect, the other would force me to part ways with a conscience I have worked hard to honor as best as I am able.
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Today, we post the first guest submission, a opinion article by Mark Mongilutz. Mark is a writer and veteran of the United States Army. His submission piece is found here and below.
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