Do you know what the secret of Trump is?
It’s simple. He’s not about remaining trapped in the political dynamic that chains us to depression and anxiety – the alternatives for 2016 outlined in such a discouraging way by Peggy Noonan, in this week’s Wall Street Journal column.
Noonan may be describing her feelings about the election accurately. But she isn’t describing the feelings of Trump supporters.
That’s it. It really is just that simple. There’s a whole industry built around keeping us chained to the old dynamic, whose animating concepts I call the old consensus. Anyone who tries to break out of it is marginalized – usually demonized – under one or more of such handy pretexts as “racism,” “homophobia,” “privilege,” and so forth.
Old-consensus Republicans and conservatives keep the chains in place by fearing to have those totems shaken at them, and requiring that everyone else in their camp fear it too.
But where Trump sees a need to break the chains, he drops the defensive fear, without apology. Many people have flocked to him because he doesn’t counsel fear. He counsels end-states, and to a lesser extent, action.
This isn’t about whose ideology for political economy is better. I’m not fond of Trump’s, as it happens. It sees trade as a bugaboo that kills jobs, for one thing, which is the opposite of what trade is.
But I’m also not blinded, as the old-consensus right is, to the fact that the old consensus itself is a system of chains and slavery. The old consensus – paying for enough big government to keep the Democrats from executing their implied threat to burn everything down – has been an ingenious racket, giving liberty and free enterprise a bad name for decades.
Old-consensus politicos want their confreres on the right to keep on saying Yes and Amen to that. Depression; anxiety – they’re willing to just keep defining the choices that way, because they fear something else more.
Trump doesn’t operate on that model. Again, I’m not here endorsing the end-states and actions he proposes. I’m pointing out that he goes straight for them, without doing ritual homage to the old consensus; i.e., wasting people’s valuable time addressing why he’s not really a racist sexist bigot homophobe. He talks like there’s a whole world out there of positive living, beyond this windowless prison of depression and anxiety that is the old political consensus.
Has our “elite” become so distorted in its humanity that it doesn’t realize that’s a good thing?
People don’t actually want their communal life to consist of endlessly “dialoguing” about how hurt, annoyed, held back, underserved, and dissed everybody feels. Our politics — and our government — are built around that now. But Trump, with all his faults, has found a shortcut to the exit door from that smothering dynamic.
It’s interesting that so many people in politics and the media can’t hear this. There are quite a few who know nothing about what happens at a Trump rally, and who reflexively assume that Trump rallies are where all the “negativity” is. Reality is more nearly the opposite. People at Trump rallies have hope, and want to get on with it.
Why be trapped in the set of failed assumptions that have produced the problems around us?
I remember when the iconic conservative magazine National Review was known for its mantra: “Standing athwart history yelling, “Stop!’”
Today, NR is all but subsumed in the old consensus, and its stance is more a case of standing athwart hope yelling, “No!”
Let’s be clear about one thing, too. The old consensus is not about constitutionalism. Trump isn’t either, but a vote for the old consensus in any guise isn’t about constitutionalism. We left constitutionalism behind us a long time ago. Americans aren’t having their legitimate rights protected and upheld by government, as a first and irreducible principle, anymore.
The old consensus can’t point to its requirement that the people keep paying its price, and say that that’s “constitutionalism.” It’s the opposite of constitutionalism. It’s been more of an extended coup unfolding against the Constitution for the last 100 years.
So don’t try to pull that one. This election isn’t about the Constitution versus tyranny. If those are the terms, tyranny has already won, in all but name.
Nor is this election about depression versus anxiety. It’s actually about hopelessness versus hope. To see that, you have to be able to see beyond the fear of not measuring up to the impossible standard set by the old consensus: the standard of never being “criticizable” even though the goalposts are always moving.
Trump and his supporters look beyond that, and rightly dismiss the fear out of hand. People who have hope are always criticized by those who don’t.
It might be remarkable that there are so many people who don’t get how important that is. But in political terms, America has succumbed to an age of judgment now, and despises mercy. Like the rest of the world, the ruling spirit of our politics today is about being held prisoner by the past. Too many people keep crying out to that great bronze idol and expecting to finally get some satisfaction from it that they can’t even define.
Trump’s supporters propose to not be held down any longer by a regimen of enforced brooding over past sins – a regimen that never reaches an end-state. This isn’t about perpetuating injustice. It’s about having hope and a future, which no one can have who won’t let go of the past. That truth of human life constrains politics and government, as much as it does everything else. Politics has no power to transcend it.
If you don’t like Trump’s take on the end-states for a good future, come up with your own. But don’t tell people their only options are to choose between depression and anxiety. They’ll just reject your premises and do something else. And they’ll be right to.