An analysis of the Trump message

It seems possible that the past record of Trump with regard to women will lose him enough of the female vote for him to lose the election.  But, regardless of that, he has identified a huge section of the population that previously had no voice.  And they are not going to go away. There will be an ongoing desire to get the allegiance of such a huge voter bloc.  Both the GOP and the Donks will feel under huge pressure to move in a Trumpian direction.

So what is the Trump message?  It would not be a bad analysis to say that Trump simply speaks common sense but since common sense is not all that common these days, we need to dig deeper.

Everyone who has heard Trump has a view on what Trump's message is and there have already been many attempts to summarize it in writing.  There has however been a recent very extensive attempt to analyse the phenomenon by a respected conservative intellectual, Dr. William Voegeli.  I reproduce part of it below. But even the excerpt below is lengthy so let me assist time-poor people by attempting a summary:

He says that Trump speaks for many in believing that governments so far have been doing more harm that good and have in particular endangered the safety and security of ordinary Americans.  Many see rightly that they could be the next victim of a Jihadi attack and blame the government for not preventing the many such attacks that have occurred recently.  If the government cannot safeguard its citizens, what is it for?

He accepts that Trump is calling on tribal instincts:  Those who feel that they are Americans first of all rather than being primarily some other sub-group or intellectual clique. And, much as the Left deplore it, that feeling among a very large part of the electorate is not going to go away. The Left call it racism, which just antagonizes the people concerned.

He also says that the refusal by the political establishment to see Muslims as a threat is borderline insane and perceived as that by most of the electorate.  Trump is the only major figure who speaks any kind of sanity on the matter.

On political correctness he agrees with Trump that it has gone too far but to some extent excuses it as being well intentioned.  He has drunk the Kool-aid about Leftists being idealists.  Idealists who practiced mass slaughter in revolutionary France, in Soviet Russia and in Mao's China?  My submission is that hatred of the society around them is the only consistent explanation of what Leftists do.

But the point remains that Americans are being extensively dictated to in the name of assumptions that they do not entirely share and any criticism of that is vastly refreshing to many Americans - who do not like being dictated to.  So a bonfire of political correctness would be widely welcomed.

“We are screwing things up.” This is the subtext of the entire Trump campaign. Or, as the Atlantic’s David Frum describes its core message, “We are governed by idiots.” Moreover, the Trump movement is propelled by the fear that the idiots aren’t just screwing up the usual things, such as solvency, but the people’s security and the nation’s sovereignty.

The test of whether a government merits the people’s support, according to the Declaration of Independence, is whether it is “likely to effect their safety and happiness.” People are increasingly skeptical about government’s increasingly expansive promises to help make us happier, however, as shown by the consistently low approval ratings for Obamacare. Nor is there much to show for all the politicians’ talk about bringing back good jobs at good wages. Rendering our increasingly divided society a gorgeous mosaic hasn’t been a raging success, either.

But at least, people have a right to feel, government could do its most basic job and enhance our safety. Surely, in exchange for all the taxes we pay and forms we fill out, government can make life decidedly more peaceful than the state of nature. Elections analyst Henry Olsen reports that Trump’s support “skyrocketed” to “a position of dominance” against his Republican rivals after he responded to last year’s terrorist attacks in France and California by calling for, as his campaign put it, “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.” Olsen writes:

Trump voters believe they are threatened by Islamic terrorism. If Muslims come to America, they think, Americans will be more likely to die. Trump’s proposed ban seems to them to be common sense: The first duty of a national government is to protect its citizens from foreign threats. One must not underestimate how important the proposed ban is to Trump’s voters and to his appeal.

In the 15 years since 9/11, the United States government has done many things intended to thwart terrorism. Yet whether the security enhancements, if any, are commensurate with the high price the nation has paid is doubtful. In Afghanistan, America embarked on what has proven to be its longest war. No one can state with confidence how or when it will end, or explain the basis on which we could say we have accomplished our objectives. The war and subsequent occupation in Iraq—badly conceived, justified, managed, and terminated—poisoned American politics and destabilized rather than democratized the Middle East. The Arab Spring, likewise, raised hopes for a turn to liberal democracy, but resulted only in compounding the region’s tragic dilemma: only through authoritarianism can it stave off fanaticism. Al-Qaeda gave rise to ISIS, a group even more lunatic and lethal, which has engaged in pornographic brutality in the Middle East while directing or inspiring mass murder in Paris, Brussels, San Bernardino, Orlando, and Nice.

Donald Trump, by contrast, has campaigned from the outset against the job both parties have done in protecting Americans from terrorists. He secured the Republican nomination against a field of 16 candidates described last summer by George F. Will as “the most impressive since 1980, and perhaps the most talent-rich since the party first had a presidential nominee, in 1856.”

Trump has described his axial foreign policy precept as “America First.” Detractors fastened on the formulation as either obtuse about the term’s provenance, or a signal that he, like Charles Lindbergh 80 years ago, would fuse isolationism with nonchalance towards dictators who abused populations other than ours. But take away its historical echoes, which are probably inaudible to both Trump and his voters, and putting America first strikes many people as an entirely sensible commitment to expect from an American president.

The P.C. Shuffle

Several writers, including this journal’s editor, have explained Trump’s ascent as a reaction to political correctness. The idea is that Trump’s apparent incapacity to say anything other than what’s on his mind at any given moment appeals to voters fed up with proliferating rules about how to avoid giving offense.

But it is important to consider the question in relation to the dangers posed by terrorism. The salient feature of political correctness is hostility to free speech and, more generally, the idea of inalienable rights. Its most prominent manifestations include campus speech codes, hypersensitive reactions to “microaggressions,” and the vindictive denial of due process to faculty and students accused of sexual harassment or assault.

This zeal to restrict civil liberties is not free-floating, however, but serves the political goal of repudiating appalling injustices of the past by securing a very different future, one immeasurably more equitable and admirable. This project is, in the main, defined by identity politics, the belief that groups that have been abused and humiliated must assert themselves and be accorded abundant compensatory respect. The companion belief is that those sharing the demographic profile of the perpetrators of abuse and humiliation—above all, straight white males—must atone and defer. Merely refraining from abusing and humiliating members of groups previously victimized isn’t enough: they still enjoy privileges derived from “the system of murder and exploitation that benefits some of us at the expense of others,” in the words of one penitent, Emily Pothast, a Seattle-based writer and musician.

“The current politically correct response cripples our ability to talk and to think and act clearly,” Trump said after the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando. “If we don’t get tough, and if we don’t get smart and fast, we’re not going to have our country anymore. There will be nothing, absolutely nothing, left.”

Legions of commentators and political opponents dismissed that speech as still more hyperbole from The Donald. But Trump’s startling success in the GOP race has much to do with the feeling that identity politics has indeed left Americans less safe from terrorism than we need and deserve to be. Consider the term “Islamophobia,” defined by the Council on American-Islamic Relations as the “closed-minded prejudice against or hatred of Islam and Muslims.” The Center for Race and Gender at the University of California, Berkeley, gives this account, more expansive, tendentious, and explicitly P.C.:

Islamophobia is a contrived fear or prejudice fomented by the existing Eurocentric and Orientalist global power structure. It is directed at a perceived or real Muslim threat through the maintenance and extension of existing disparities in economic, political, social and cultural relations, while rationalizing the necessity to deploy violence as a tool to achieve “civilizational rehab” of the target communities (Muslim or otherwise). Islamophobia reintroduces and reaffirms a global racial structure through which resource distribution disparities are maintained and extended.

Note that Islamophobia is contrived regardless of whether the Muslim threat is real or merely perceived, which means that a vigorous response to any such threat is, by definition, prejudiced and irrational. “This is why,” the late Christopher Hitchens wrote, “the fake term Islamophobia is so dangerous: It insinuates that any reservations about Islam must ipso facto be ‘phobic.’” The reality, he insisted, is that in the purported “gorgeous mosaic of religious pluralism, it’s easy enough to find mosque Web sites and DVDs that peddle the most disgusting attacks on Jews, Hindus, Christians, unbelievers, and other Muslims—to say nothing of insane diatribes about women and homosexuals.”

Taking Sides

When Trump says political correctness cripples our ability to think, talk, and act against terrorism, he’s signaling that our response to terrorism is severely compromised by Islamophobia-phobia—the closed-minded, contrived, overwrought, unwarranted, misdirected, counterproductive fear that accurate threat assessments and adequate self-defense might hurt a Muslim’s feelings. “Public sentiment is everything,” said Lincoln of a republic’s political life, which means that those who mold public sentiment are more powerful than legislators and judges, because they make “statutes and decisions possible or impossible to be executed.” Our molders of public sentiment have made citizens more worried about accusations of bigotry than they are determined to report possible terrorism. A man working near the San Bernardino shooter’s home, according to one news account, “said he noticed a half-dozen Middle Eastern men in the area” before the attack, “but decided not to report anything since he did not wish to racially profile those people.”

By word and example, a diffident government encourages a diffident citizenry. Days after the San Bernardino killings, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch told a meeting of the group Muslim Advocates that her “greatest fear as a prosecutor” is that terrorist attacks will inflame anti-Muslim sentiment, leading to rhetoric that “will be accompanied by acts of violence.” Strange that a law-enforcement official’s greatest fear would correspond to something other than the greatest threat. Fifteen years after 9/11, the violent anti-Muslim backlash is an outrage permanently on the verge of taking place, while bombings and shootings by Islamic zealots remain mere realities.

Equally strange is the Department of Homeland Security’s policy that prohibited immigration officials from reviewing visa applicants’ social media postings. The possibility of finding information that indicates terrorist intentions was, apparently, outweighed by fear of “a civil liberties backlash and ‘bad public relations’ for the Obama administration,” according to ABC News. In the absence of such reviews, the government took three weeks to approve a fiancée visa application for Tashfeen Malik, who became one of the San Bernardino shooters, “despite what the FBI said were extensive social media messages about jihad and martyrdom.”

Us and Them

The oldest, most fundamental political question is Us and Them. Many people want to write a new chapter in human history, where nationality figures trivially in that distinction. On the right, economics—trade, specialization, growth, prosperity—should render Us and Them obsolete and irrelevant. “America should be a destination for hard-working immigrants from all over the world,” according to a 2015 press release from “top national Republican donors.” Libertarian economist Bryan Caplan contends that we discard cant in favor of wisdom when we come to understand that our “so-called ‘fellow Americans’ are mere strangers with no special claim on [our] time or affection.” On the left, social justice—tolerance, empathy, diversity, inclusion, renouncing and dismantling the Eurocentric structures of power and privilege—will promote comity, respect, and fairness among the earth’s 7 billion inhabitants, erasing tensions and distinctions among people of different colors, creeds, regions, and lifestyles.

The older sensibility about Us and Them, however, refuses to admit its own obsolescence. America is a nation dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. We must honor the proposition, since the republic rests on the conviction that no one is good enough to govern another without that other’s consent. But it is equally important to defend and cherish the nation, the vessel that bears and sustains the experiment in self-government. The Declaration of Independence begins with the assertion that it has become necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands that have connected them with another. Americans are a people, not just people, and not just any or all people who embrace the idea of human equality and its political implications. The preamble of the Constitution offers six reasons for establishing the new frame of government, the concluding one being “to secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.” This aspiration does not require indifference or antipathy to any or all others, nor to their posterity. But it does make clear, again, that We are not Them, and we may justifiably prefer our safety and happiness to theirs when conflicts between the two arise.

Consigning patriotic attachment to the dustbin of history ignores stubborn moral and anthropological realities, as recently described by columnist Megan McArdle:

Somehow, over the last half-century, Western elites managed to convince themselves that nationalism was not real. Perhaps it had been real in the past, like cholera and telegraph machines, but now that we were smarter and more modern, it would be forgotten in the due course of time as better ideas supplanted it.

That now seems hopelessly naïve. People do care more about people who are like them—who speak their language, eat their food, share their customs and values. And when elites try to ignore those sentiments—or banish them by declaring that they are simply racist—this doesn’t make the sentiments go away. It makes the non-elites suspect the elites of disloyalty. For though elites may find something vaguely horrifying about saying that you care more about people who are like you than you do about people who are culturally or geographically further away, the rest of the population is outraged by the never-stated corollary: that the elites running things feel no greater moral obligation to their fellow countrymen than they do to some random stranger in another country.

Our political leaders’ vigilance and competence must encompass not just their organizational skills, but their capacity to grasp the malevolence of those who want to kill our citizens and shatter our way of life. Officials who, instead, traffic in sentimental blather about how we’re all brothers under the skin, awaiting the call of freedom that comes to every human mind and soul, are busy rejecting the understanding it is most important for them to possess. Our dangers will increase by an order of magnitude if Islamic terrorists succeed in their long quest to acquire weapons of mass destruction. The murder of tens of thousands of civilians in a single attack will make admonitions like Loretta Lynch’s after the Paris massacres—“we cannot be ruled by fear”—seem even more blithe, obtuse, and stupid.

Given his manifest, widely discussed defects as a prospective president and as a human, the rise of Donald Trump cannot be read as anything other than a vote of no confidence in the political class that has guided our anti-terrorism policies over the past 15 years. Those who believe that problem to be America’s most pressing are right to fear that Trump’s flair for the sensational, his inaccuracies and distortions, will do more harm than good to the cause of anti-terrorism, just as Joseph McCarthy did to the cause of anti-Communism. This danger makes it all the more important to satisfy the people’s urgent demand: leaders and policies that don’t squander, for the sake of secondary considerations, the moral and practical resources we need to thwart terrorists. In opposing Islamic terrorism, as in any other critical endeavor, the main thing is to make sure the main thing is always the main thing. Trump’s voters feel that he, like them, is unequivocally committed to this imperative. About his political opponents, they feel no such confidence.


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