I think it’s safe to say that the opposition to Donald Trump—in both intensity and scope—is greater than for any other president, and will stay that way. For many of those most upset, I think it’s the fact that a ridiculously boorish celebrity with no respect for how their great game of American politics is played beat them at it so badly.
What other than pride could have produced the willful blindness to actual events that prevented so many experts from even considering the possibility that Hillary would lose?
It is surely because of—and not in spite of—this attitude toward his candidacy from the very beginning, that gave Donald Trump the opportunity to do just what he did—pull off one of the greatest David v. Goliath victories in the history of politics.
I know it’s hard to picture Trump in the role first played by a red-faced and pious shepherd boy, but when you realize that he started his campaign eighteen months ago with only his huckster’s chutzpah and—in place of the sling shot—a Twitter account to challenge, in the role of Goliath, the not only the party whose nomination he sought, but the rest of the American Establishment, then the metaphor fits rather snugly.
I hestitate using the term Establishment, but there’s really no other term that can encompass the coalition of power centers that has owned an operated the the American empire since, at least, the conclusion of World War I—most notably the media (television news networks, newspapers, the “Hollywood” crowd, and popular voices from academia), the political class (Republicans, Democrats, and the ever-multiplying swarms of pollsters, ad buyers, consultants, and other assorted hustlers whose livelihoods depend on the perpetual campaign), the government itself (the White House, both houses of Congress and their staffers, the Pentagon, and the homeland security national intelligence gangs, led by the CIA), and, controlling it all, the money class (Wall Street, the military-industrial complex, and international bankers).
The Establishment is quite good at a) keeping most of the American electorate divided into interest groups of various sizes, then b) herding those groups into two roughly equal mobs—Republicans and Democrats—who are taught to hate and fear each other. When elections are contested with just two “credible” choices, they appear to be all-or-nothing affairs, with the winners getting the spoils and the losers left with no choice but to regroup and come back in two, or four, or six years. So, even though the positions of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney were strikingly similar, we were still told that the 2012 presidential election was “the most important election in our lifetime.”
This powerful narrative of a false dichotomy with all-important consequences is promoted by those who have the most to gain or lose—the political class (see above). But the political class hedge their bets by making sure it’s close every year—which is why political consultants only advocate policy on the basis of how it might affect this or that niche of this or that coalition, so long as it doesn’t anger the other segments of the coalition enough to result in a net loss of votes. Advocating bold moves that could actually change things is nearly as useless, for them, as considering the right or wrong of the matter.
In that sense, American politics is like the National Football League and its obsession with parity—both know that to keep everyone invested in the system long-term, that you have to make them all feel like they’re close enough to get what they want in the not-too-distant future.
But Trump, with no concern for the longterm success of his party or his own political career, was—and is—free to say or do anything he wants. He used this freedom to take up the issue of immigration. Neither big party, nor any politican on the national stage has been able, or even willing, to even attempt to press a coherent policy on an issue that has long been of immense importance to most American voters. He then followed up with another issue about which he is profoundly wrong—trade protectionism. But, it was also a winner for Trump—not surprising in poor economic times after the decades long bipartisan consensus of not free trade, but managed trade designed to benefit the big businesses who grow fat under the crony “capitalism” of the west and the state-run “capitalism” of China.
Trump’s positions on these two, and many other issues, are about as wrong as you can get, but democracy isn’t about being right. It’s simply a game of Us v. Them, and Trump never stopped playing offense. His contemptuous attitude to the Establishment kept them all off balance until right up until 9 p.m. or so on Election Night. Let’s see if he can survive—both figuratively and literally—the Establishment’s response to such an ignominious defeat.