A recent Newsweek article made an attempt to explain the current (as of September 2015) popularity of Donald Trump in the U.S. 2016 presidential race. Mostly it came down to a general disgust with the current politicians and looking for an “everyman” who was honest and said what he was thinking. I’m not sure how Trump could ever be described as an “everyman”, but I can certainly see how the general disgust with career politicians could translate into support for him. But I have a simpler explanation: many of his supporters aren’t much into policy at all, rather they are accustomed to be entertained, and his campaign is just one more entertainment.It is fairly unarguable that Trump’s actual policy credentials are pretty slim – a “mile wide and an inch deep” was one comment in the article, and it seems appropriate. And what policies he has articulated (if you can call it that) are all over the political spectrum.
Perhaps it’s the perception of him being honest. Unfortunately, Trump has a lifetime of doing whatever is in his own interest. If he could pursue his own interest in an honest fashion I’m pretty sure he would do so, just as I’m pretty sure he would pursue it even if it couldn’t be done so. He may be honest within himself, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to being honest with others. But then, honestly with others has never been the mark of a successful president – just ask Jimmy Carter.
I remember a movie about Howard Stern, the radio shock jock. His competitors were trying to figure out why he was so popular. His supporters listened because they never knew what he was going to say. It turned out that his detractors listened for the very same reason. In short, Stern’s show was entertaining, just like any number of mostly conservative radio talk shows currently are. I suspect of fair amount of Trump’s support falls into the same category. After all, actually tackling serious policy decisions in a serious way is a strenuous and difficult business, one that most of us would rather avoid.
It doesn’t matter that his policies make no rational sense, or that they are inconsistent, or that they exist at all. It doesn’t matter what he says, as long as he says it with enough bombast to entertain us. The crowd looks on approvingly as the raw meat is served up for their amusement.
I can’t help but reflect upon how much Trump’s brand of entertainment so closely resembles that of countless largely red-state megachurches, where their main attraction seems to be the show they put on. Many of them have theater setups that rival, in both size and capabilities, those to be found in actual live theater venues. Similarly to serious real-life policy-making being hard mental work, fully grasping theological arguments is also hard mental work.
I have to wonder how many of Trump’s supporters are also inclined to get their entertainment from a church, along with conservative talk radio shows. There’s certainly a common thread there.
The problem, of course, is that traditional entertainment generally doesn’t have the ability to harm others. Getting your entertainment from church or the radio could lead the listener to support policies that do end up harming people. Trump’s brand of entertainment could lead to a far more risky situation, where his proclamations delivered to us in such an entertaining fashion directly become real-world policies.
Will Trump implode? I’m guessing he will, but given the uninspiring state of America’s politicians, it wouldn’t be too shocking if he ends up having longer legs than I’m expecting. Time will tell, of course.