How he got over: The Trump his followers see

25 Nov
Contrary to how he was portrayed in the mainstream media Trump did not talk only of walls, immigration bans, and deportations. In fact he usually didn’t spend much time on those themes. Don’t get me wrong, Trump is a racist, misogynist, and confessed sexual predator who has legitimized dangerous street-level hate. Most of all, Trump is a fraud. And his administration will almost certainly be a terrible new low in the evolution of American authoritarianism. But the heart of his message was something different, an ersatz economic populism, which has been noted far and wide, but also a strong, usually overlooked, anti-war message. Both spoke to legitimate working class concerns.
Furthermore, his message was delivered with passion and a strange warmth. Dare I say it? Donald Trump has charisma. It is a mix of almost comic self-confidence, emotional intelligence, a common touch, but also at times slight vulnerability. Let’s face it, even the aura of sex around Trump—sleazy and predatory, sometimes sophomoric, as in the “small-hands” jokes—was at least part of a libidinal aura.
And here comes that Peter Thiel line you’ve been hearing:
One of the few coastal elites to have cracked the Trump discursive code is the otherwise odious Peter Thiel, who told the National Press Club, “the media is always taking Trump literally. It never takes him seriously, but it always takes him literally.” Voters on the other hand, said Thiel, “take Trump seriously but not literally.” Bingo!
Or to translate this into the academese of Roland Barthes, perhaps Trump’s discourse was more “writerly” (scriptable) than its simple sounds suggested; that is his meanings, because of the form of their delivery, were open to multiple understandings and re-assembly by the listener. Even his endlessly invoked wall, in reality a proposal for more militarized policing, could sound like a public works scheme, an infrastructure based jobs program. […]
In Trump’s discourse A does not necessarily connect to B. If you don’t like A, just focus on B. The structure of Trump’s discourse will never demand that all the pieces be connected. That, in part, is what he meant with the Orwellian phrase “truthful hyperbole.” He has even described his own statements as mere “opening bids” in a negotiation.
Style and the little guy:
Choppy as they were, Trump’s speeches nonetheless had a clear thesis: Regular people have been getting screwed for far too long and he was going to stop it.
Trump’s anti-war message:
Then he might read a few poll results, mock an opponent, and move on, perhaps to praising veterans. “So backstage, I met some of the vets, the greatest people we have in this country.” From there he would slide into anti-war, anti-NATO, maybe even anti-imperialist riffs, delivered not in a “woke” fashion, but rather in the let them fight their own wars vein of American isolationism.
“She made a terrible mistake on Libya. And not only did she make the mistake, but then they complicated the mistake by having no management once they bombed the you-know-what out of Gadhafi.”
He told his audiences what many of them already knew but never saw discussed on TV, that US foreign policy has delivered apocalyptic outcomes: “We would be so much better off if Gadhafi were in charge right now. If these politicians went to the beach and didn’t do a thing, and we had Saddam Hussein and if we had Gadhafi in charge, instead of having terrorism all over the place, at least they killed terrorists, all right?”
Meanwhile, Hillary ramped up her anti-Russia and anti-Assad rhetoric giving voters the impression she would deliver yet more war.
Trump also linked war to economic suffering in America. Consider this, from a New Hampshire speech: “We spent $2 trillion in Iraq. China is taking a lot of the oil, just so you understand. ISIS may have it and Iran may have it, but China is taking out a lot of the oil. Can you imagine? We spent—we never do anything right with China. We spent $2 trillion. Thousands of lives of great people, mostly young, beautiful people, wounded warriors, who I love, all over the place, all over the place, not treated properly by the way.”
Pick and choose what you want to listen to:
Much to my surprise, the young Yemeni American shopkeeper at my local convenience store in Brooklyn supported Trump. Why? Because, instead of hearing in Trump’s rhetoric a threat to round up Muslims, he heard a promise to stop supplying Saudi Arabia with bombs to drop on Yemen. “Over a thousand school kids killed by those bombs! Just little kids!”
Mainstream media typically treats American imperialism as sacrosanct, beyond criticism, and so Trump’s anti-war message was mostly just ignored. But in much of the heartland – where the people who actually fight America’s wars come from, and go back to with their PTSD, missing limbs, addictions and related financial burdens—there is deep if quiet concern about the broadly defined costs and apparent failure of our belligerent foreign-policy. Even the average “low information voter” —while perhaps confused about the details—knows that the country is at war, that this is expensive, kills people, and doesn’t seem to lead to peace.
How Trump got over:
My point is not that we should like Trump but rather that the left must understand why almost 60 million Americans voted for him. The answer seems clear: it was Trump’s ersatz populism, anti-war message, and his ability to, in a Bill Clinton style, “feel” people’s real pain.
Ultimately, the Democratic establishment brought this loss on themselves. They spurned and tried to sabotage Bernie Sanders and his class message. Trump took the Bernie-style populism, emptied it of real class politics, reduced it to a jumble of affective associations, and used it to beat-up the smug liberals of the professional managerial class. It worked.
Alas, too bad for all those well meaning Trump voters and everyone else. Trump is a fraud, a ripoff artist who leaves unpaid bills and collapsed casinos in his wake.

One Response to “How he got over: The Trump his followers see”

  1. David Porush November 25, 2016 at 11:42 am #

    The lizard brain’s discourse follows completely different rules than cortex-based languages we use to navigate civilization. Even Thiel’s parsing of it, which captures the surface disconnect, doesn’t get at its core. The lizard brain speaks a language whose lexicon is all impulse, self, appetite, reaction, defense and threat. Quotients like “truth,” “sincerity,” “logic” are completely orthogonal to the universe the lizard brain inhabits. And yes, it’s the most charismatic song in the world. It confuses, dismays, and hypnotizes its prey before feeding

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