The mysterious appeal of President Trump to the base
It is almost impossible for sane people to understand the appeal of Donald Trump to those who voted for him and who continue to support him. James Parker filed this report for The Atlantic to try to help us out.
It’s May 29, 1913, at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris: the premiere of Stravinsky’s ballet Le Sacre du Printemps, with choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky. A bassoon plays a brief wooing motif, then the orchestra condenses into heavy-metal downstrokes, the crouched ballerinas unbend and start bouncing like pagan robots, and boom, the place erupts. Roarings, punch-ups; someone (so goes the legend) challenges someone else to a duel. Scandalised tuxedoed oldsters are having it out with exulting avant-gardists—described by one observer as “radical Stravinskyites in soft caps.”
Or try this: It’s December 1, 1976, teatime in Britain, and the Sex Pistols and their entourage are being interviewed on live television. The beery drawl of Pistols guitarist Steve Jones filters louchely from the TV set: “You dirty fucker,” he says to the host, Bill Grundy. Then he reconsiders: “What a fucking rotter.” Gleeful giggles spread through the menagerie of punk rockers gathered behind the band. And somewhere deep in the folds of England, in a darkening living room, a truck driver named James Holmes surges from his chair and puts his boot through the TV screen.
They seem far away, don’t they, these primal scenes of culture clash? Very binary. Very 20th century. Which side are you on? But imagine now that you could have it both ways—that you could simultaneously be the incensed everyman viewer and the tittering punker; the spluttering theatergoer and the soft-capped art hooligan. That you could lose yourself in a fine reactionary had-it-up-to-here fury while also fully savoring the rupture, the novelty, the aesthetic challenge of the moment. That would be something quite new. That would be irresistible. And that’s what Donald Trump has been doing for his fans.
Trump can’t go off message, because his message is “Look at me! I’m off message!”
To be clear: Donald Trump is not Igor Stravinsky. And although, yes, he boasted about the size of his ding-dong in the middle of a televised debate (kick in that screen!), he’s not a Sex Pistol either. Nonetheless, with his followers—about whom one should not generalise, except to say that most of them would rather be waterboarded than sit through an episode of Wait Wait … Don’t Tell Me!—he has co-created a space in American politics that is uniquely transgressive, volatile, carnivalesque, and (from a certain angle) punk rock. He’s done it by harping on America’s most conservative intuitions—“chaos in our communities,” barbarians at the border—while addressing us in a style that thrillingly breaches every convention of political presentation. It’s as if the Sex Pistols were singing about law and order instead of anarchy, as if their chart-busting (banned) single, God Save the Queen, were not a foamingly sarcastic diatribe but a sincere pledge of fealty to the monarch. Electrifying!
Trump-space is not democratic. It depends for its energy on the tyrannical emanations of the man at its centre, on the wattage of his big marmalade face and that dainty mobster thing he does with the thumb and forefinger of his right hand. But it is artistic. Within its precincts, the most vicious and nihilistic utterances retain a kind of innocent levity: They sound half-funny, theatrical, or merely petulant. The scapegoating and bullying are somehow childlike. This is why, so far, no political strategy has succeeded against him. It rolls on, his power grab, his wild Trumpian trundling toward the White House, because he’s not doing politics at all. He’s doing bad art. Terrible art. He can’t go off message, because his message is “Look at me! I’m off message!”
Full story in The Atlantic here.
Image from wiki commons.