Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Donald Trump: Merchant of Outrage

I don't know whether to feel contempt or pity for those who continue not only to support Donald Trump in his bid for the GOP nomination, but to feel even more emboldened every time he ups the ante on offensiveness.

How devoid of passion must someone be to find salvation in Trump and the increasingly bombastic nature of his rhetoric? I've heard it said by his fans that "he says out loud what everyone else is thinking." If those are the thoughts that everyone is keeping to themselves, then God help us one and all.

In The Donald we are seeing a thorough composite of every cynical lesson that electoral politics has ever had to offer, with little if any pretense of trying to inspire anyone with positive change. Rather, we have a Frankenstein haphazardly lashed together with the rancid body parts of every worst instinct known to (political) man.

What sort of individual would consider Trump their savior? Is there really nothing more to one's sense of civic duty than simply supporting whoever mirrors their own xenophobic bitterness? In Trump do they see someone who will break the seal on a heretofore suppressed desire to eradicate any lingering progressive instinct in America's institutions?

Particularly when reading the comments sections of various right wing news sites, which after all is where you'll find the id of the American right laid bare, it becomes apparent that Trump's momentum is being propelled by a bottomless well of punitive-minded anger, and that Trump is providing a release valve for that negative energy.

In a previous post ("Trump support: angry populism as therapeutic entertainment?"), I concluded:

What Trump is tapping into is a simple desire for a culture war (against Mexicans, liberals, gays, etc.), as opposed to any notion of improving the economy, the overall quality of life, and the institution of democracy itself.

Not much has changed from that July 5 writing, except that my views on Trump (and right wing populism in general) have hardened and coalesced around a single word:

Outrage.

I came to this conclusion recently while tuning in to 'conservative' talk radio programs, where it seems that the hosts are never trying to actually enlighten or inform, but instead just find things in current events that will stoke the anger of their listeners - as long as that anger is never directed towards conservative politicians.

One morning it hit me: these people are selling nothing more than outrage. Furthermore, I realized that the people who tune into this stuff day in and day out must be looking for little more than to be outraged themselves. Why? Is it because stoked anger is a replacement for spiritual energy, and that a little shot of outrage is needed to get them through the day? After all, who doesn't feel centered until they've popped a vein in their head by mid-morning?

And so it is also through that lens that I have come to view Donald Trump and his unflappable army of supporters. He is a merchant of outrage, and they are nothing more than willing outrage consumers. It is a two-way deal with an unspoken and unwritten understanding, and so far each are delivering on the other's expectations.

That is the only way to explain the longevity of Trump's support despite his infantile rants and slurs, as well as the futility of trying to engage his supporters in any sort of rational debate about his qualifications for the job at hand.

As for things that remain unchanged since my July 5 post, I still don't think Trump has broad enough appeal to win any presidential race (assuming his campaign thus far hasn't been a kind of stealth prank on behalf of the Democrats).

Up here in Canada we've just finished witnessing our incumbent Conservative government increasingly ratchet up the bigotry over the course of the recent federal election, only to find that pandering to the most hardened rightward crust of their base did not pay enough dividends once the ballots were counted. And so by assuming the worst in Canadian voters, Stephen Harper inadvertently handed Justin Trudeau the keys to the Prime Minister's Office. (In fairness, Trudeau consistently campaigned on positive change, and so intentionally or not, he was able to exercise a kind of judo by using Harper's own political weight against him.)

Of course, the GOP establishment probably understands this paradigm with or without the Canadian example to draw from, and therefore sees a Trump victory in the primaries for the political trainwreck it is sure to be.