Like most even mildly alert observers of American politics I have been intrigued by the Donald Trump phenomenon. In some sense it is like a car accident—you just can’t look away no matter how hard you try. Pundits from the right and left have excoriated him with such apocalyptic language that their warnings have guaranteed the elevation of his profile among a politically jaded public.
But there is more to my intrigue than that. As I watch Trump rise in the polls and see the deeply emotional responses of his supporters I am becoming convinced that something far more significant than a carnival show is at play. We may be watching the converging of elements that could well result in a Donald Trump presidency.
I first had this sense while watching his July 11, 2015 speech in Arizona. For over an hour he held an overflow, energetic crowd spellbound. I expected to be entertained but was surprised to find myself appreciating much of what he said. His candor is refreshing. His independence is attractive. His positive “can-do” attitude is contagious. His determination to turn setbacks into stepping stones is inspirational. Granted, his brashness can be off-putting (and at times outright offensive and disgusting) but I believe many people are willing to overlook that because of his track record of getting things done in the business world and his willingness to address important issues in plain language—something that most politicians, both left and right, hesitate to do.
In fact, it is fascinating to me to see the unified pillorying of Trump from leaders and pundits who otherwise are political adversaries. The fact that he has captured the imagination of a growing number of voters is distressing to the establishment leaders of both parties and, I think, may demonstrate how out of touch those self-designated experts are with a large segment of the American populace. Trump doesn’t play by the supposed rules of political decorum. The lobbyists and kingmakers evidently have nothing that he values so he is not intimidated by their threats or allured by their enticements.
My guess is that Trump has tapped into the deep frustration that has long lingered in the hearts and minds of voters who span the right- and left-center of the political spectrum. These are people who are tired of the same promises offered in each campaign followed by the same followup excuses between campaigns. They may not understand the intricacies of our monetary system but the burden of future-crushing national debt ($20 trillion and growing at a rate of $45.38 per second) looms large to them. Some remember living through the Cold War and the prospect of a nuclear holocaust seems closer today than at any time in the last 30 years. Others are sickened by the continued aborting of 1 million babies per year regardless of who our presidents and congressional leaders are. They may not know how a broken immigration system should be fixed but they are concerned about our porous borders and unwillingness of elected officials to protect them or enforce the laws when they are violated.
These are voters who, I sense, are jaded and disgusted with politics as usual. And if there is one thing Trump is not, it is usual. Though this class of Republican candidates strikes me as stronger across the board than at any time in recent history, the fact is that only 3 of them can lay claim to not being politicians (Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson are the other two). Interestingly, each of those three is polling surprisingly well with Trump leading the way. If Washington DC is broken then looking for leadership to someone who wasn’t a part of doing the damage makes perfect sense.
If fifty years worth of filth and rubbish have been piled on your house at the rate of hundreds of tons per day, someone who offers indelicate proposals to address the problem is attractive. Nuance and sophistication have their place, but for demolition work a wrecking ball is preferred. I think Donald Trump resonates with many voters as the kind of wrecking ball that is needed to start clearing out Washington DC.
To change the analogy a bit, he is a grenade thrower who isn’t very discriminating which way he launches his bombs. But, metaphorically speaking, if someone were to go stand in the middle of our bloated, broken federal government and indiscriminately start throwing grenades, tremendous good would be accomplished. Yes, there would be some collateral damage, but in comparison to the destruction of corrupt structures, policies and institutions the resultant benefits would far outweigh any negative consequences.
That is what I think is going on with Donald Trump and the current political climate. His presence in the presidential race has already disrupted many of the political protocols that politicians—at least conservative politicians—are expected to follow. And he has done so to the consternation of the political establishment and the delight of a sizable number of average American voters. Further, he seems to be paving the way for his fellow candidates to speak more plainly with appropriate moral outrage about many of the devastating, systemic failures of our current federal government.
I don’t know if a President Trump would be good for the country. But candidate Trump is already providing some benefit to the political process.
Note: This should be not be construed as an endorsement of Donald Trump. If you read it that way then please read it again. If it still strikes you that way then accept my apologies for failing to communicate my meaning to you.