Ezra Klein wrote about Trump a couple weeks ago, and I dismissed him. But now, I think we need to listen:
I’m not here to clutch my pearls over Trump’s vulgarity; what was telling, rather, was the immaturity of the moment, the glee Trump took in his “she said it, I didn’t” game. The media, which has grown used to covering Trump as a sideshow, delighted in the moment along with him — it was funny, and it meant clicks, takes, traffic. But it was more than that. It was the frontrunner for the Republican nomination for president showing off the demagogue’s instinct for amplifying the angriest voice in the mob.
It is undeniably enjoyable to watch Trump. He’s red-faced, discursive, funny, angry, strange, unpredictable, and real. He speaks without filter and tweets with reckless abandon. The Donald Trump phenomenon is a riotous union of candidate ego and voter id. America’s most skilled political entertainer is putting on the greatest show we’ve ever seen.
It’s so fun to watch that it’s easy to lose sight of how terrifying it really is.
Trump is the most dangerous major candidate for president in memory. He pairs terrible ideas with an alarming temperament; he’s a racist, a sexist, and a demagogue, but he’s also a narcissist, a bully, and a dilettante. He lies so constantly and so fluently that it’s hard to know if he even realizes he’s lying. He delights in schoolyard taunts and luxuriates in backlash.
Trump answers America’s rage with more rage. As the journalist Molly Ball observed, “All the other candidates say ‘Americans are angry, and I understand.’ Trump says, ‘I’M angry.'” Trump doesn’t offer solutions so much as he offers villains. His message isn’t so much that he’ll help you as he’ll hurt them.
Trump’s other gift — the one that gets less attention but is perhaps more important — is his complete lack of shame. It’s easy to underestimate how important shame is in American politics. But shame is our most powerful restraint on politicians who would find success through demagoguery. Most people feel shame when they’re exposed as liars, when they’re seen as uninformed, when their behavior is thought cruel, when respected figures in their party condemn their actions, when experts dismiss their proposals, when they are mocked and booed and protested.
Trump doesn’t. He has the reality television star’s ability to operate entirely without shame, and that permits him to operate entirely without restraint. It is the single scariest facet of his personality. It is the one that allows him to go where others won’t, to say what others can’t, to do what others wouldn’t.
Klein goes on to say this — Trump’s demeanor — is what really terrifies him. You cannot really criticize Trump for his ideology — except for a few key issues (the “wall”, for example), it is almost non-existent. (In fact, talking about the mistake of the Iraq War, Trump is downright dovish compared to the other GOP candidates). So how can you take fault with a man who makes no promises? Klein again:
Trump; his temperament is so immature, his narcissism so clear, his political base so unique, his reactions so strange, that I honestly have no idea what he would do — or what he wouldn’t do.
And that means, I think, pushing the button.
So why is Trump so popular? Over and over again, when asked to explain what they like about him, Trump supporters exclaim, “He knows what I’m thinking!” And what these people are thinking is that he’s making it safe for them to be “politically incorrect” again, giving sanction to publicly express their resentment toward people who don’t look and act like them. There are certainly reasons why these voters feel that way, but they are not due to populist anger toward the 1 percent. After all, the man they are cheering on with such enthusiasm is a man who spends half his time on the stump bragging about his vast wealth and explaining that it’s perfectly normal for businessmen like himself to bribe and cajole politicians to do his bidding. He’s never promised to change that system, not once. And his fans have never once asked him to.
So what does a Trump victory mean? It means there is a man in the Oval Office who might to who knows what at any moment. Unvetted and not record of political accomplishment, no shame, and an ego the size of, well, Trump. And also an electorate who seems to think that political correctness is dead.