I’m still trying to get a handle on Donald Trump’s unexpected success. This post, therefore, isn’t about whether Republicans should or should not vote for him. It is, instead, an effort to analyze why voters from both parties are drawn to him. Because I believe that Trump is essentially a pop culture figure, my analysis today looks at him through a pop culture lens.
My starting point is the 1970s, which was a turning point in America culture, much as we are in a turning point today. Back then, the Depression and WWII generation had hit middle age and older, and the Baby Boom generation was starting to control society.
Into this transitional era came All In The Family and Archie Bunker. The show’s creator, Norman Lear, and his stable of liberal writers, envisioned Archie Bunker as a truly malevolent character whom they could ridicule to comedic effect, while simultaneously destroying the “primitive” shibboleths of the Greatest Generation.
Lear and his cohorts were surprised and chagrined when Archie, instead of being a reviled figure, became one of the most popular characters in TV history. If you read about All In The Family’s success, the conventional wisdom is that Carroll O’Connor was such a brilliant actor and decent human being that he imbued Archie with a humanity that appealed to viewers no matter what words they put into his mouth. That conventional wisdom, of course, comes from Leftists.
I’d argue that Archie’s appeal was a lot more simple than that. Archie may have been crude and insensitive in the words given him, but the audience quickly figured out that he was the one who spoke to old-fashioned values and practical common sense. The show didn’t destroy the old ideas. Through Archie, it gave them a voice.
Or least that was the message received by audience members from an older generation that hadn’t been mentally corrupted by the Vietnam War protests and the Leftist takeover of the education establishment. Back in the mid-1970s, that part of the audience was huge. Where his Leftist creators saw a Luddite buffoon, the audience saw a truth speaker.
Trump is also a truth speaker for Americans sick unto death of being told that their every utterance is somehow racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic, fat shaming, cultural appropriation, or whatever other cultural Marxist form of censorship is on the Leftists’ radar.
A perfect example of Trump’s appealing truth-speaking is his instantly infamous Cinco de Mayo tweet:
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 5, 2016
The tweet doesn’t have a racist word in it, but it had barely appeared on the internet before the usual race hustlers on the Left castigated it as racist. On the right, those who dislike Trump fully understood that it wasn’t racist, but nevertheless castigated it as a dog whistle to Trump’s racist supporters. What it really was, of course, was something that Trump has been doing to such great effect since day one — it was a full frontal attack against political correctness.
Americans have witnessed the rise of the latest front in the political correctness battle: “Cultural appropriation.” Under this brand new rule, people who are not members of the white, Judeo-Christian culture are now barred from engaging in any way with cultures that aren’t white, Judeo-Christian cultures.
While a Mexican person may speak English and embrace the uniquely First World, Western tradition of American education and capitalism, someone who wears a sombrero to a party, listens to mariachi music, or eats a taco is engaged in an impermissible, imperialistic, condescending act of cultural appropriation. And while an entirely black cast can get an unprecedented number of Tony Award nominations for their rap homage to America’s very white, very Christian Founding Fathers, God forbid a white person should wear cornrows or dreadlocks in his or her hair.
Normal people, those not bathed in the toxic stew of Marxism and censorship, understand that motives and intentions matter. If you are obviously showing affection and admiration for another culture, you’re not doing anything wrong. Moreover, if you want to add a piece of that culture to America’s larger culture, that’s not an insult, it’s a compliment. To be castigated as an imperialistic racist thief is ridiculous.
This “normal person” worldview means that, when Trump ignores the “cultural appropriation” charge and boldly says, “I love Hispanics and their food, especially their food as blended into the American culture,” millions of people around America cheer. What’s going through their head isn’t “That’ll show those lousy Mexicans.” Instead, it’s “Hell yeah! That’s the normal way to do things. Trump’s tweet is neither racist nor a dog whistle. It’s how all of us were raised to love and want to add to the American melting pot before the lunatics took over the asylum.”
Looking at Trump through the Archie Bunker filter, it seems clear that, to those Americans fighting the cognitive dissonance of life in Leftist land, Trump is a truth-speaker who blows up Leftist censorship and thought manipulation.
Having said that, even if one admires Trump’s disdain for the thought police, what is one to make of Trump’s endlessly shifting political views?
First of all, there are, thankfully, a few things that Trump seems to believe in no matter what. Thus, he seems strong on the Second Amendment, for which I am grateful.
Just as Charles I of England understood that Protestant efforts to destroy the Anglican church hierarchy would inevitably reach up to and destroy the throne (“no bishop, no king”), we all need to understand that no Second Amendment means no First Amendment. If you don’t have the Second to defend the First, all you’ve got are meaningless words on paper, and a government that can quickly shift from being overbearing to being openly tyrannical with nothing to stop it.
Other than guns and a sort of inchoate fondness for America that’s lacking on the Left, most of Trump’s other issues are malleable, to say the least. Today he wants to raise taxes. Tomorrow he won’t. Yesterday he was about building a wall. Today his position paper supports amnesty. For every issue, he’s got at least two opinions, and he never apologizes for any of them, let alone for changing his mind as rapidly as others change their shirts. Yet he’s forgiven for flip-flops that, in retrospect, make John Kerry’s 2004 run the essence of stability.
What’s that all about?
So here’s my other idea about Trump’s quixotic popularity: In Jerzy Kosinski’s Being There, Chance the Gardener is a genuine blank upon whom people project their beliefs and their desires. I believe I may have been the first to point out that Obama’s anodyne statements during the 2008 campaign made him a Chance the Gardner political figure. Because he kept carefully hidden his hard Left attitudes, he was the perfect foil for everyone’s own ideas.
Trump the Opinionated isn’t Chance at all. Instead, he is Chance’s mirror image. Think of Trump as one of those giant billboards with rotating advertisements. Wait long enough and the billboard will advertise some product you may want to buy. With Trump, the non-stop stream of words, ideas, and often-conflicting opinions creates the promise that there is something there for everyone.
UPDATE: Robert Arvantis is correct that this video goes a long way to explaining Trump. Condell is unusually adept at verbalizing these things, but I know others share his thoughts: