Surveying the model airplane parts scattered around you as a kid at Christmas, you reached for the instruction manual and the comfort it provided.
Maybe that same confusion those scattered parts caused is there again as you watch Donald Trump flatten all comers. To add to your confusion, this is happening while countless political pundits, experts, and analysts have been diminishing their reputations a bit with (continuing) predictions of some religious miracle that will soon bring him down.
The result is a proliferation of Trump soothsayers and “experts” popping up—writing forensic texts that will take you deep into the hearts, minds, and intentions of Trump and the American people to explain this phenomena.
So I will offer an explanation as an instruction manual, a salute to the time honored reliable source your Dad might have poured over while assembling your bike. I’ll try to bring us back to the fundamentals as Trump would, (I say this with some embarrassment). I believe this is where much of the truth to the Trump phenomenon lies, and I’ll outline this with my instruction manual steps:
Instruction Manual Step 1: The Resurrection
I’ve never seen someone so publically, mercilessly (and deservedly) eviscerated before a national audience than when President Obama at a White House Correspondence Dinner, suggested maybe Trump could now investigate the moon landing after Obama presented the long form version of his birth certificate. This continued relentlessly and Trump never laughed and finally apparently stormed out.
I thought it was over for Trump and since then I saw him as a rich but beaten man, the subject of endless late night jokes, and I don’t think one can underestimate what that can do to an extremely proud, competitive, and vain personality.
What a glorious feeling he must experience now to get off his helicopter to adoring crowds and say the Russian, Chinese, and Mexican leaders are so much smarter and tougher than our leaders (guess who). This is part of an extraordinary comeback which must at least in large part be driving him forward.
Instruction Manual Step 2: The Perfect Storm
Donald Trump has been the supreme benefactor of some colliding political and social forces, some of the most important I will explain below.
Instruction Manual Subtext A: Political Chaos
Hillary is experiencing a public meltdown, combined with an ineffective staff unable to forecast or control events and unable to manage Hillary’s forever defensive pose (no apologies necessary).
The biggest casualty here is that her moral authority to confront Trump or the others has been weakened.
–Republican Primary Challengers
Probably the biggest political spectacle I’ve seen is the crowd of challengers to Trump who seem to be waiting around for something to happen. Trump couldn’t ask for a more perfect group of foils. Rather than a robust challenge to his dubious, sometimes outrageous ideas, they seem to timidly mimic or appease him so as not to disturb the bear. Jeb Bush is probably the worst offender and has the most to lose with this strategy.
—Ideology Doesn’t Matter
Trump has proven that personality trumps ideology. He plays conservative and liberal roles brilliantly by nimbly straddling the fence using personal flair and entertainment. This is why it’s so hard to attack him despite what have been called egregious and cynical position changes.
Trump just keeps his eye on the ball, profiting by those factors mentioned above, and must see an open road ahead.
Instruction Manual Subtext B: The Culture of Fear
–Trump as Saudi Arabian Emir
I wrote a short piece in Worldpress.org about the Saudi Arabia which certainly cannot be used as a comparison, but there are some very interesting social and political parallels
If people only perceive that their cherished world and value system are being seriously threatened by forces beyond their control (in my article it was westerners and corrupt leadership) they can become politically agitated and organize as has been the case here (the Tea Party is an example) in an effort to return to a romanticized past.
And there is no lack of research which concludes that in the US wage stagnation, globalization, and other political, social, and economic factors are creating an enormous amount of anxiety and discomfort in the American people about what they value most in their lives.
Whether Trump capitalizes on this fear or some other charismatic leader does, they defy the normal political science election models and are more a social phenomenon.
–Lack of Faith in Leadership
Fear and unease have been exacerbated by the perceived weakness in Congress, particularly with the Republicans.
The failure of countless threats and promises against Obama (who is still there by the way) has been keenly felt by the base. For example the promise to kill Obamacare has led to over 50 futile legislative attempts which didn’t fool anybody and a disastrous and humiliating government shutdown.
In addition Obama has had some liberal wins lately (Obamacare in court, The “Dreamers”, Gay marriage and others) and his executive orders increase this perception of Republican Party’s impotence.
Instruction Manual Step 3: Power Versus Money and Why He’s Here to Stay
Some years back, my crowded taxiway at Raleigh Durham Airport was suddenly halted and the pilot said all airspace was closed between Raleigh and Washington. I knew something significant was happening, and then noticed out my window a military helicopter patrolling the airfield and perimeter back and forth and back and forth about 20 feet above the ground.
Then I saw them. Three marine helicopters arrived in formation and just before landing, two of them which were decoys broke off and the one remaining pulled up close to Air Force One which in the meantime had been brought up.
Air Force One then moved quickly to the runway facing the opposite direction that we were assigned and began its takeoff roll right away. As it roared down the runway there was a high speed helicopter accompanying it which positioned itself between Air Force One and our jets as it passed by and lifted off. It was Reagan at the time and I will never forget it.
You can’t buy that kind of supreme authority as you can’t buy the position of most powerful person on earth.
I believe Donald Trump understands and covets this so don’t believe those who say he will get tired of this and leave soon to go home and make more money. I think he’s got the taste for it now
Instruction Manual at Completion (or Why is He Here At All?)
Trump has been viewed from the start as some kind of aberration that would self-correct shortly and we could then get back to that comfortable predictability of traditional politics and eating a lot of fried food in Iowa.
But after a review of my manual with its conclusions, you might have begun like I have to think his presence appears much more understandable if not inevitable. This is supported by the unexpected success of the lessor known faux Trumps in the race. These “anti-establishment” burn-the-place-and-start-again candidates are proposing some equally implausible and extreme policies yet are rewarded and not mocked for them.
Some say that this is a healthy expression of all sides. But I would say that this is an especially unhealthy phenomenon, and that the political impulses created are outgrowths of the negative factors outlined in the manual. They are certainly not appealing to our better nature, but instead to extreme pitchfork politics (apologies to Pat Buchanan), which reside in many of us I’m afraid.
The system works when there is a robust environment characterized by genuine diversity, tolerance, and respect. However this might require some long term repair of the historical, political, and social aspects discussed here.