Kevin Williamson at the National Review really, really doesn’t like Donald Trump. Every day it seems he puts out a new column just hammering the guy, usually with the perfect amount of snark. In one titled The Art of the Con (after Trump’s book The Art of the Deal), he comes out swinging again.
Trump brings out two of the Right’s worst tendencies: the inability to distinguish between entertainers and political leaders, and the habit of treating politics as an exercise in emotional vindication.
Whatever Trump’s appeal is to the Right’s populist elements, it isn’t policy. He is a tax-happy crony capitalist who is hostile to free trade but very enthusiastic about using state violence to homejack private citizens — he backed the Kelo decision “100 percent” and has tried to use eminent domain in the service of his own empire of vulgarity — and generally has about as much command of the issues as the average sophomore at a not especially good college, which is what he was (sorry, Fordham) until his family connections got him into Penn.
If it’s not the issues, it’s certainly not the record of the man himself. Never mind that he’s a crony capitalist, he’s not even an especially good crony capitalist: The casino racket is protected from competition by a strict cartel-oriented licensing regime, but Trump, being the type of businessman who could bankrupt a mint, managed to be the biggest loser in Atlantic City, which is no small feat.
He certainly has a point there.
“But he speaks his mind!” shout the Trumpkins. Indeed, he does, in a practically stream-of-consciousness fashion: His announcement speech was like Finnegans Wake as reimagined by an unlettered person with a short attention span. The value of speaking one’s mind depends heavily on the mind in question, and Trump’s is second-rate. “He’s the candidate who will take the fight to Hillary!” protest the Trumpkins. Maybe, maybe not: He is on record as a supporter of Herself, and he’s not on record as a presidential candidate, having not bothered to file the FEC paperwork making his candidacy official. “He’ll build a wall on the border and make the Mexicans pay for it!” Unlikely, but even if he did, half of illegal immigrants arrive not on the banks of the Rio Grande but in the airports. Trumpkins: “He’ll show the political elites who’s boss!” They already know, because they already own him: You don’t get into Trump’s game without being a creature of the ruling class. Neither casino licenses nor Manhattan building permits find their way into the hands of the unconnected, in this case the heir to — not the creator of — a New York City real-estate empire.
Trump is a sort of action star for the sedentary, a boardroom gladiator, and that is what makes him so successful as a reality-television freak…
Trump may be made out of cookie dough — he has a lot more in common with Paris Hilton than with Henry Ford — but he plays an iron man on television, and a certain sort of man — forgive me for pointing this out — finds the theatrical preening of Trump’s alpha-male act erotically compelling. (Properly understood, The Apprentice and its ilk constitute a subgenre of pornography.) That is not entirely surprising: We live in an age of economic insecurity, and it is attractive to imagine having Trump’s wealth and confidence, even if neither of those rests on as sure a foundation as Trump would have us believe. It’s better to be the boss — to be the man who says, “You’re fired!” — than the man who has to go home emasculated and face his wife’s disappointment.
I think he nails it there. Those are exactly the kind of arguments made by Trump supporters. It’s all just nonsense, generic “he’ll show ’em!” bullshit. The only thing Trump knows how to do is bluster and that has great appeal to insecure people who want to imagine themselves as rich and powerful. Trump is like a character in professional wrestling, playing out his — and the audience’s — desire to fantasize that they’re brave and daring and powerful when they’re really just braindead automatons responding to a script that pushes the most basic buttons in their psyche.