Why Americans secretly love a gladiatorial blowhard like Donald Trump
Admit it. You're glad Donald Trump is running for president.
Maybe you think his candidacy will be a hoot. Maybe you think it will sink the fortunes of your political opponents. Maybe his candidacy has inspired you to deliver a high-minded lament of our corroding national character. Maybe you're actually a Trump true believer. (They do exist! Trump is in a respectable fifth place in New Hampshire, according to Real Clear Politics.) One way or another, you're probably going to take some pleasure from Trump 2016.
And let's admit this, too: Deep down, many of us are glad Trump is running because we're addicted to the sort of vapid, stakes-less bloodsport that has become his specialty.
In America today, it's often all about being instinctively combative, congenitally unapologetic, and perpetually on-message. We know that those with the greatest talent in attitudinal warfare have limitless opportunities. They understand how much our first commandment, Believe in Thyself, depends on the dark imperative to believe in your haters. Without provoking haters, you have little hope of earning the support of unwashed millions too obscure and put-upon to participate in the greatest show on earth, our public performance of mutual enmity. With an army of haters arrayed against you, as everyone from Kanye West to Amy Schumer can attest, the world is yours.
In the realm of national politics, this sort of militant divahood is fast becoming a necessity. The biggest stars are those who fight their way to center stage to make a show of pitting themselves against whichever foes we believe to have most inhibited our personal and collective self-expression.
In this sense, The Donald is hardly an innovator. Trumpery knows no party. On the left, as Will Wilkinson wrote at The Economist, we've seen "harmonious ideals of in-it-together mutual benefit" replaced with "a combative, zero-sum conception of politics that combines the lofty rhetoric of social and economic justice with a disenchanted view of democracy as smashmouth sectarian conflict."
In that corner, of course, the heavyweight champion is Hillary Clinton, whose "savvy" embrace of bloodsport as self-empowerment converts her "lack of charm, and her reputation for shady dealings, into assets. She's not here to make you like her. She's here to make sure that you get what you'd like." One couldn't make the case for Trump any better than that.
Or the case for Chris Christie, for that matter. Sure enough, the hectoring, larger-than-life governor so many of us love to hate was a not-so-surprise hit at Mitt Romney's latest confab of donors and moneymen. "In a handful of discussions with attendees — most of them off the record — Christie's name came up time and again as the one who opened eyes and exceeded expectations," the Salt Lake Tribune reported. At the big-time Park City do, it was fellow Republican Rand Paul who Christie put in the crosshairs. Not only has the Kentucky senator "made America weaker and more vulnerable," railed Christie, "he has done it for his own personal political gain and he has done it to raise money."
Even the most mild-mannered of donors salivates at the thought of just such an attack being aimed at Clinton herself. Christie is a longshot for the nomination. But our shared lust for bloodsport at the highest level helps ensure that when Christie "goes there," others will compete to follow.
So it is with Clinton, and so it is, double or triple, for Trump. In the crowded Republican field, there is little to be gained from trying to out-nice the competition. Candidates uncomfortable with SLAMMING or DESTROYING their enemies — "our" enemies — will soon find themselves ratcheting up their rhetoric anyway. The era of Tim Pawlenty is over.
A rising tide of vitriol lifts all boats. We love Trump because paying him mind helps rouse us from the neurotic, fatalistic torpor gripping so much of American life. He calls BS on China or Mexico or the people who invaded Iraq or whoever; an army of incredulous pundits calls BS on him. Let the circle be unbroken.
You probably disagree with Trump on most things. But by making it seem urgent for you to testify in defense of the most banally commonsensical things, Trump also may well make you feel a strange new relevance.
In a country so dysfunctional that it created Trump only to become the butt of his grandiose mockery, perhaps our own egocentric indignation isn't so crazy after all.