WASHINGTON, Dec. 31, 2015 — It’s socially risky to like Donald Trump. That, anyway, is the message from my social media networks.
“If you want me to unfriend you, say you like Trump,” warn Facebook faux-friends. Real friends like you for you, not for your politics. If you don’t try to convert me to your politics, then I won’t try to convert you to the Church of Dagon.
Don’t praise Trump in the faculty lounge if you don’t already have tenure. For that matter, don’t praise a Republican or admit to watching Fox News. Good manners should keep partisan politics out of the faculty lounge altogether, but good manners are as rare as careful analytical thinking on campus, so when everyone else is debating the relative merits of Bernie and Hillary, just keep your mouth shut.
As an academic with a lot of liberal friends, my comments about Trump are always prefaced with, “he’s a buffoon,” “I can’t believe he might get the nomination,” “he should read the Constitution some time,” and other expressions of earnest disapproval. But more and more, they’re followed by, “but …”
To be clear, Trump is a buffoon, which makes it incredible that he’s got a real shot at winning the GOP nomination, and let’s hope he reads the Constitution before – Heaven forbid! – he moves into the White House. But …
Donald Trump has upended the way major candidates do politics. He’s spent almost nothing on television advertising. He seems to say things that haven’t been written by political consultants or run past focus groups. Any other candidate who took as commanding a lead as Trump has would play it safe, start polishing up her image, refuse to talk off-the-cuff to the press, hire an image consultant and run as a grandmother, not a real candidate.
Trump has ignored the multi-billion dollar political campaign industry, and in consequence, he’s the only candidate anyone talks about. In every Republican debate, more of the questions have been to or about Trump than about anything else. When other Republican candidates get questions, they’re of the form, “according to Donald Trump …”
In September, 77 percent of CNN’s prime-time campaign coverage was devoted to Trump. According to CNN, through November of this year, Trump was covered for 234 minutes on the network newscasts, compared to 113 minutes for Hillary and 56 minutes for Jeb Bush. Trump’s news coverage exceeds coverage of the year’s most popular news stories – Charlie Hebdo, Ashley Madison, Mayweather vs. Pacquião, Cecil the lion, San Bernardino and several others—combined.
Much of that coverage—almost certainly most of it—has been negative, but Trump continues to suck the air out of the political room. If you aren’t aware that anyone else is running for the White House, you might almost be justified.
Establishment Republicans are horrified. Trump has ignored their consultants, their major donors and their agenda to go his own way, and Republicans are going with him. You might think Democrats should be delighted, but establishment Democrats are also a part of the vast political campaign industry. Trump is doing his best to make that industry irrelevant. Trump is the anti-candidate, and if the political industry can agree on one thing, it’s that Trump must be destroyed.
Trump has yanked a big, crusty bandage from the body of the GOP with a resounding “rip.” He’s pulled off scabs and a few hairs with that bandage, and the GOP is squealing in incoherent distress.
Good. And that’s the “but …”
Whether Republicans or Democrats control Congress, nothing much seems to change. There are differences at the margins, but Goldman-Sachs and General Electric know that, whoever wins, they win. The government continues to expand, sometimes at a gallop, sometimes only oozing here or there, but growth is monotonic.
That fact is less distressing to liberals than to conservatives, who are now ready to hurl pitchforks at Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan. Conservatives are beyond disappointed with GOP leadership; they are disgusted and furious.
President Obama first ran for office on the mantra of “change,” change we could believe in. And change there has been. But it hasn’t been the radical, transformational change his conservative critics think has hit America, but rather creeping change, the sort of change that Republicans won’t pay political capital to stop.
Donald Trump is scary, but he represents tooth-jarring, bone-rattling change. And for those of us tired of the mind-numbing, shuffling, mediocre sameness that flows from Washington year after year, there’s something fascinating about Trump. Many of his comments are outrageous, even repulsive, but if you look to the guy to your right and the gal to your left, you know that at least one of them thinks the same things, but is too polite to say so.
And you know that the president isn’t—for all the bile thrown at Obama—a dictator who can simply do as he pleases. Trump doesn’t represent the threat of an American dictatorship and a suspension of the Bill of Rights (my fellow university denizens seem to hate the First Amendment with more passion than Trump could ever muster), but a threat to Washington and business-as-usual.
Trump is a buffoon. Trump is the anti-Christ. And if the alternative is Hillary, who epitomizes the status quo and the lying, mutual back-scratching, business-as-usual Washington, will we really not vote for Trump?
Trump is the big red button on the political machine, and everyone is screaming, “don’t push it!” But a lot of us hate that machine. Maybe if we tap on it without pushing it. Maybe if we just run our finger around it. Maybe if we push it just a little.
Oh, Dagon, I really want to push that button!