It seems a lifetime ago when Donald Trump proclaimed that if he shot someone on New York’s 5th Avenue, he wouldn’t lose a single vote. The statement sounded delusional, even demented, and certainly false.
Trump still hasn’t shot anyone, but he has done everything short of it. Indeed, he was wrong in that he has lost a lot of votes that Republican presidential candidates can always count on, even the votes of Republican governors, members of Congress and big donors along with countless Republican women and Latino Republicans. Still, a few days before the election, the political oracles give him a chance of winning. Thus, the essence of Trump’s boast hasn’t been proven wrong. He has behaved as a barbarian and still has a lot of support.
After a campaign consisting mainly of lies, insults, intended and unwitting expressions of sexism, racism, general xenophobia (with a special vengeance toward Latinos and Muslims), mockery of the handicapped, and finally the threat to disrespect the verdict of the ballot box unless he wins, polls and pundits are declaring Trump within striking distance of Hillary Clinton. The minds of many boggle at this.
Not mine. To make it clear: I don’t agree with those who are predicting a Trump victory or even an especially close result but rather a clear, even overwhelming Clinton victory. But neither am I in the camp of the perplexed. Sure, Trump should be out of the race if politics were mainly about reason, justice and decency. That he is still in it speaks volumes about the mindset of millions of Americans.
I have a deep appreciation for the achievements and virtues of the American people and of U.S. civilization. I also have an equally sharp awareness of, and aversion to, the deep-seated prejudices of far too many of the people of this country and of the unspoken and unspeakably ugly side of U.S. history. That is why, when Donald Trump kicked off his campaign with a vile and slanderous attack against Mexican immigrants, I wasn’t surprised that suddenly he was the frontrunner in the Republican primary campaign.
“Mexican immigrants” have replaced “welfare queens” as the reigning Republican scapegoats. But, as the largest group of “outsiders,” Mexicans are symbolic not only of the growth of all things Latino but also of a much broader demographic and cultural transformation underway in this country.
The people who make up the Trump bandwagon are those who resent these changes. They are the millions who want to make America great again (for them) by bringing the old America, where white was always better than black, “red-blooded American” trumped Latino, women were the second sex, gays were in the closet, and Denali was Mt. McKinley. Changing gender roles, bilingualism, the normalization of LGBT identities, and the rise of an African American middle and professional class annoy, upset, or enrage them. The presidency of Barack Obama is both the supreme emblem of the nascent new reality and the supreme insult to the fading old hierarchies and their beneficiaries.
The malevolent genius of Donald Trump was to realize that the tinder built up by years of growing fear and resentment had reached a critical mass and could be ignited by fire-breathing demagoguery. What Trump has done, among other things, is to take over, radicalize, and broaden the counterrevolution Republicans have waged since the eruption of the civil rights movement and the counterculture of the 1960s. The modern Republican party, after all, owes its success—more than to any other factor—to white backlash against the Democratic party’s embrace of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
Revolutions, it is said, swallow their children, but so do counterrevolutions. With Trump, the Republican counterrevolution has reached its radical apex. As in the French Revolution, the most extreme faction, the one led by Trump, replaced the former fiery radicals, led by Paul Ryan and company. Trump has already threatened to politically behead Ryan if he doesn’t toe the line. And that’s a threat to his own party leader. As to his ideological adversaries, he plans to put Hillary Clinton in prison.
The political fracture that began with the civil rights movement has by now become deeper and more complex: a political/demographic fault line. In the 2012 election Romney got 59 percent of the white vote. But he lost because he got less than a quarter of the minority vote: 27 percent of Latinos, 26 percent of Asians, and 6 percent of African Americans.
These numbers are why I think Trump will lose the election. Polls indicate Trump won’t even get the percentage of white voters Romney received. And I can’t imagine he will outperform Romney among minorities. Where will he get the votes?
Based on looking at studies over the last fifty years, the political scientists Cristopher H. Achen and Larry M. Bartels, (quoted in The Nation) reached these devastating conclusions about the U.S. electorate: “the political ‘belief systems’ of ordinary Americans are generally thin, disorganized, and ideologically incoherent…” They “routinely fail simple tests of political knowledge and base their votes on a sloppy mixture of group loyalties and short-sighted assessments of their own well-being—assuming they bother to vote at all, which in the United States, most of the time, they don’t.”
There is no better way to say it: there is a significant number of idiots in the electorate, in the classical Greek sense of idiot, a person who doesn’t take a serious interest in the affairs of the community. Trump’s ideology too is thin, disorganized and ideologically incoherent. Along with the political/ethnic fault line, the existence of this inchoate mass of political idiots who can take Trump’s whoppers, contradictions and ignorance in stride and continue to back him explains much of Trump’s resilience.
Such voters will probably spare Trump what he richly deserves: total humiliation. But when you consider the race/ethnic breakdown of the last election and the fact that Trump has done much more to alienate minorities, educated white men, and women in general than Romney ever did, the numbers don’t add up to a Trump victory.
In the probabilistic rather than deterministic universe of quantum theory, nothing is a sure thing. But I judge the probability that Trump will sink like a stone much higher than that he will emerge victorious.
The law of gravity trumps the power of positive thinking.