Monday, February 29, 2016

Understanding Trump

If you're like me, the subject of Donald Trump running for, and likely winning, the Republican nomination for President of the United States is baffling.  Outrageous?  Sure.  Terrifying? You betcha.  Half-decade abroad? Depends on whether your work skills are transferable.  But ultimately, behind all of that, baffling.

In pursuit of my 2016 goal of using more question marks than exclamation points, I've taken every available opportunity to talk to those who support Trump to find out why.  And despite the stereotype, I have the good fortune of having smart, contemplative, and well-educated friends who have found themselves in that camp.  They don't wear the red hats with the braid across the front.  They don't go to rallies.  But they do support Trump.

So "why"?  Admittedly, they do share some of his professed beliefs.  They are isolationist at home and interventionist abroad.  They think America is "losing" and want to see it "win so much we'll be bored of winning".  Nevertheless, those positions tend to fold under questioning.  Mostly the question "What do you mean by that?"  And after one conversation with a Trump supporting friend, he gave up the ghost.

"You know what, Tom - I just think we need to blow the whole thing up and start over.  If Trump wins the Presidency, he'll blow up the government.  If he can't win the Presidency, then I think we need to blow up the Republican party."

Violent imagery aside, I think that's the key to understanding the Trump phenomenon.

There is an apparent contradiction (some would even say "deceit") in the candidacy of a modern day Republican: they are running to lead an organization that they hate.  They proffer the unquestionable merits of free enterprise, but reject that career pursuit in favor of writing laws.  Drowning the government in a bathtub is something that an outsider can say, but it's not something you expect to hear from the soap.  And as the anti-government rhetoric has heightened, deal-making, however one-sided, has only enraged those who expect to see the whole thing burned down.

The Republican party has not always been this way.  There was, and in many corners still is, a GOP that stood for government as a way to organize and manage societal change.  Low taxes, but not no taxes.  Compassion for the blameless poor with an emphasis on getting people back to work.  And nothing I write here should be read to suggest that this reasonable element of the Republican party is extinct.  I'm just not sure it is in charge.

There are no longer moderates among the top three Republican contenders.  In fact, they pride themselves in their extremism.  The difference is that one candidate embodies the destruction of the federal government as we know it, while the other two promise to effectuate this destruction through the regular means of governance.

I have a great deal of respect for the Republican world-view.  I don't share it, but there is intellectual heft and good reasoning behind most of the ideas my Republican friends hold dear.  I feel genuine compassion and empathy for them right now.  I would say the Republican party is at a precipice (as Senator Rubio is fond of saying), but I think the party is already over the hill.  Trump is not an aberration.  He is the party.  And if given the opportunity, you can be sure that something, either the Republican Party or the US Government, is going to drown in that bathtub.

Have a great Monday doing what you love!