It’s time to face reality. Having handily won the last three primary contests heading into Super Tuesday, Trump is the odds-on nominee for the Republican Party. Absent some as yet unforeseen circumstances, there is a very real possibility that Trump could be our next president.
You already hear the whispers; people you would not believe could be Trump supporters are voicing silent acquiescence for his candidacy. You hear it from intellectuals, those in the business community, and, surprisingly, from some African Americans who view Trump’s candidacy as an opportunity to break out of some of the stale patterns that have come to dominate racial politics and join in a broad-based experiment in nation-building. Many associate America’s continued success with their own personal fortunes, and some of them believe Trump can deliver on his promise to ‘make American great again.’
One would like to think the nation's intelligentsia calmly and rationally arrived at this conclusion. But they have not. In fact, Trump may win in spite of - not because of - their influence. That's the irony, and if he continues on his current trajectory, book upon book will be written to chronicle such an unorthodox rise. No one truly could have predicted just what Trump has tapped into.
The normal political logic has been turned on its head when it comes to describing Trump’s appeal to an increasingly large segment of the American people. He has turned insult and diatribe into a virtue masquerading as a sword of truth against the evil of political correctness. Trump’s unabashed predilection for saying the unmentionable has in a sense rendered him impervious to criticism. His refusal to apologize even when seemingly cornered is viewed by his supports as evidence of his courage. One of the most notable instances of Trump’s obstinate refusal to concede occurred recently on a CNN interview with Jake Tapper, when he refused to distance himself from white supremacist leader and former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke, stating “You wouldn’t want me to disavow a group that I know nothing about…I will do research on them, and certainly disavow if I thought that there was something wrong.”
To call that statement disingenuous would be treating it kindly. Trump certainly knows who David Duke is, and should not be given a pass for refusing to disavow the Klan on the basis of not having ‘done enough research.’ And yet, despite this blatant flirtation with racism, people are continuing to line up behind him.
It almost doesn’t even matter what he says anymore. His statements have gone so far past the limit of the dial on the shock meter that he is literally off the charts. No matter what happens in this election, Donald Trump has irreversibly altered the nature, tone and style of politics in this country. He has evolved as the founding archetype of the unfiltered candidate – impolitic, and purposefully so.
Donald Trump is no longer merely a brand. He has in essence become a movement. It is a movement that has no clear, specific aims other than its broad slogan – To Make America Great Again. The genius of this mantra is that it means so many different things to different people, and Trump clearly knows this. Part of his refusal to get cornered into specific policy positions or denounce certain groups comes from his desire to avoid being defined in terms other than those of his own choosing. That is not to excuse his inflammatory rhetoric, nor to deny its’ harm, but to try to couch it in strategic terms. Trump’s movement is against anything Trump says it’s against. And because he intends to ‘make America great again,’ presumably anything he opposes stands in the way of that lofty aspiration. His message easy to digest for an American populace that is too distracted to really care about the policy differences between the numerous candidates.
But the American voting public is not alone in its indolence. Because of Trump’s entertainment value, the media have largely relinquished their role in vetting him as a candidate. Other candidates have been vetted in the traditional manner. The media exhaustively vetted Dr. Ben Carson, even delving into a discussion of whether his breakthrough accomplishments in the field of medicine ultimately left his patients better off. They vetted Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio, calling into question their records as elected officials. But somehow Trump has gotten a pass. And it’s not because there aren’t obvious, dare I say – glaring – opportunities for further exploration in all areas of Trump’s public life and persona. The media has gotten so used to being able to just publish juicy tidbits of his scintillatingly unvarnished statements and generating outstanding ratings because of it that most pundits feel no need to actually do their homework.
What is it that we are missing about the popular appeal of this man who has marched on the national stage and taken it by storm? He has defied all conventional logic and broken all the rules, yet appears to be winning. We need to take a closer look at what is driving this new phenomenon. But in order to do so, we first have to take our heads out of the sand and finally acknowledge the reality of the situation: Donald Trump is an explosive force to be reckoned with.