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Like a floundering wedding toast, Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy was deeply funny before it became deeply troubling. Much effort has been expended of late in understanding Trumpism—both what it means and what it portends. Truth being much stranger and crueler than fiction, the politicos have less substance to offer nowadays than the comedians and the satirists. It’s a bit like being forced to live through a comedic sketch, like a Futurama gag that went on many months too long.
Thinking about Trump in dystopic terms, as I tend to do, leads me to seek sanctuary in literature. A little before Huey Long’s political ambitions were cut short by a bullet, Sinclair Lewis penned his great political satire “It Can’t Happen Here.” Of course, the impossible does happen—the authoritarian Buzz Windrip wins the presidential election and marches America steadily along the road to totalitarianism. Perhaps also instructive in the matter is Phillip Roth’s more recent “The Plot Against America,” in which the fascist Charles Lindbergh rides a wave of anti-Semitic, populist support to the White House.
Much like these fictional despots, Trump is said to be a populist, yet everyone—aside from his supporters—seems to hate that he leads the Republican primary field. The Republican Party is scrambling to avoid further embarrassment, while the depleted stock of candidates speaks conspiratorially of brokered conventions.
Sun Tzu argued that to defeat your enemies, you must first know them. And so we must. First, the man: equal parts brash, brogue, and braggart. Then, the platform, as inaccurate an appellation as that may be: It is vapidity incarnated, where vague appeals to the superlative (constructions like “greatest,” “best,” and “all time”) masquerade as policy substance. It is also, fundamentally, an expression of majoritarian victimhood, an elaborate whine made amidst all this talk of greatness, lost or reclaimed. Instead of political incorrectness, as his advocates prefer to christen it, Trump seeks to parcel the blame for white disaffectedness on any scapegoat in sight: Muslims, Mexicans, Chinese, and anyone else.
The man’s a chameleon, a charlatan, a vindictive vulgarian. He says nothing, is bound to nothing—he is the least factual, substantive, and civil candidate that I’ve seen. And yet he is the likely Republican nominee, and perhaps, with the timely implosion of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, the next president.
How, oh how, could this happen?
This blame game is widely played: Trump is, after all, the hair-do that launched a thousand think pieces. Maybe it was Mitt Romney’s fault for seeking Trump’s endorsement in the last election? Or perhaps “Obama-era trends in liberal politics?” Or is it the untapped reservoir of “authoritarian” Americans, a modish new theory put out by one political scientist? (I’m skeptical that the assessment of “authoritarianism”—based on questions about child-rearing strategies—used in these studies actually captures something meaningful about voters.) One thing is for sure though: He’s not just a summer fling, as some within the commentariat had claimed.
I have another theory, one that is radical only because it gets no mention among polite society.
It’s the Republicans, stupid.
I happen to be of the opinion that the horridness of a political party’s elected standard-bearer actually says something about that party—even if their elites are of a different mind. That something has stunk about the Republican Party has been no secret to anyone, even the party’s leaders. They even commissioned an autopsy that predicted much of these misfortunes not long after they so splendidly squandered their presidential chances in 2012.
In the past, whenever someone pointed to the xenophobes, barely concealed racists, and conspiracy theorists congealing at the base of the Republican Party, they were labeled impolite and disrespectful. Bipartisanship has long been lionized, but its core assumption is that both parties have reasonable ideas that emerge from respectful differences of opinion.
Without a dramatic reconstitution of the Republican Party, by which I mean the disavowal and expulsion of the crazies, that idea can no longer hold. I pity the reasonable Republicans—and they do exist—who must publicly show their faces amid this debacle. Let’s hope we can make them respectable again.
Idrees M. Kahloon ’16, a former Crimson editorial executive, is an applied math concentrator in Dunster House. His column appears on alternate Fridays.
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