Trump’s cam­paign of white griev­ance

Cecil Whig - - OPINION - Michael Ger­son

— What do most of the chief ad­vis­ers and sur­ro­gates of the Trump cam­paign have in com­mon? I’m think­ing of: Chris Christie, Roger Ailes, Stephen Ban­non, Rudy Gi­u­liani, Newt Gin­grich.

What could pos­si­bly unite this di­verse group? They are white, mid­dle-aged (and older) males — not that there is any­thing wrong with that. They are al­most psy­chot­i­cally syco­phan­tic. (Ac­cord­ing to Gin­grich, Don­ald Trump won an “enor­mous, his­toric vic­tory” in the first pres­i­den­tial de­bate. Both Christie and Gi­u­liani have called Trump a “ge­nius” for avoid­ing fed­eral taxes.) They are very for­giv­ing about cer­tain foibles (“ev­ery­one” com­mits adul­tery, ex­plains Gi­u­liani) and rather tough on oth­ers (Miss Uni­verse Ali­cia Machado, says Gin­grich, “was not sup­posed to gain 60 pounds”). They ap­par­ently lack the gene for irony (“Amer­ica’s mayor” is smit­ten with a can­di­date who has flirted with 9/11 con­spir­acy the­o­ries).

But most of all they are very un­happy about the state of Amer­ica. “There’s no next elec­tion,” Gi­u­liani has de­clared. “This is it! There is no more time for us left to re­vive our great coun­try.”

The as­cen­dance of peo­ple like Gin­grich, Gi­u­liani and Trump in the Repub­li­can Party, from one per­spec­tive, is suc­ceed­ing. A cam­paign of shout­ing, apoc­a­lyp­tic, white men has un­de­ni­ably ap­pealed to white men. A re­cent Wash­ing­ton Post/ABC News poll found Trump up 40 points against Hil­lary Clin­ton in this cat­e­gory. Up nearly 60 points among white men with no col­lege de­gree. These re­sults are re­mark­able, in­di­cat­ing both the lim­its of Clin­ton as a can­di­date and the fury in por­tions of mid­dle class and blue-col­lar Amer­ica.

If Amer­ica is truly in the midst of a wave elec­tion, fed by the fears and dis­con­tent of white males, it will have enor­mous con­se­quences in a coun­try that has moved con­sid­er­ably in the di­rec­tion of di­ver­sity, tol­er­ance and in­clu­sion. A very real cul­ture war will be in full swing, not be­tween so­cial con­ser­va­tives and so­cial lib­er­als, but be­tween a move­ment of white eco­nomic and cul­tural griev­ance and a party of so­cial elites and as­cen­dant mi­nori­ties. This strug­gle — rooted in race and class — would be far more bit­ter than the old cul­ture war of ideas.

Trump is an odd leader for this pop­ulist re­volt. Ev­ery pres­i­den­tial can­di­date presents not just a vi­sion of the fu­ture but a cer­tain con­struc­tion of the past — both Mil­len­nium and Eden. Ron­ald Rea­gan’s ideal, even though he was a prod­uct of Hol­ly­wood, was the small-town Midwest. For Ge­orge W. Bush (who chewed tobacco in the back of the class at Har­vard Busi­ness School) Eden was al­ways West Texas.

What is the mythic con­tent of Trump’s nostal­gia? In the telling of PBS’ ex­cel­lent po­lit­i­cal doc­u­men­tary “The Choice,” the young Trump was cap­tured by Nor­man Vin­cent Peale’s op­ti­mistic self-con­fi­dence and Hugh Hefner’s vi­sion of the good life. “He had a very Hugh Hefner Play­boy mag­a­zine view of suc­cess,” re­calls class­mate Michael D’An­to­nio. Oth­ers left the Play­boy phi­los­o­phy be­hind along with their ado­les­cence. Trump did not.

Trump’s ver­sion of Eden is loung­ing at the Grotto at the Play­boy Man­sion or smok­ing cigars in the back room at the Sands, with a lit­tle Stu­dio 54 thrown in. This is the man who pres­sured his fu­ture wife Marla Maples to ap­pear in Play­boy and ne­go­ti­ated the deal; who ap­peared in a soft­core porn video him­self (not naked, thank good­ness, but break­ing a cham­pagne bot­tle over a limo); and who re­cently took to Twit­ter to urge Amer­i­cans to view a sex tape. This is the man who boasted about his pe­nis size and made a men­stru­a­tion joke dur­ing de­bates and has a con­sis­tent his­tory of de­mean­ing women as “pigs” and “dogs.”

Amer­ica is see­ing a move­ment of white griev­ance led by an avatar of the Play­boy phi­los­o­phy. In light of this, Trump’s deep sup­port among evan­gel­i­cals is the hard­est for me to ac­count for. I won­der how Trump evan­gel­i­cals ex­plain to their sons and daugh­ters that this man is a suit­able leader for a great coun­try. I know that peo­ple in some mi­nor­ity groups are gen­uinely fright­ened by the pos­si­bil­ity of Trump’s elec­tion. (“We should frankly test ev­ery per­son here who is of a Mus­lim back­ground,” Gin­grich has said, “and if they be­lieve in Shariah, they should be de­ported.”) I also know that if Trump ends up los­ing in Novem­ber, it will be be­cause women rally in large num­bers to de­feat him.

Con­ser­va­tives ori­ented to­ward re­form and out­reach — long­ing for the lead­er­ship of Nikki Ha­ley, Tim Scott and Marco Ru­bio — are largely wait­ing in shel­ters for the storm to pass. But what of the Repub­li­can Party will be left?

Michael Ger­son is a syn­di­cated colum­nist. Con­tact him at michael­ger­son@wash­post.com.

WASH­ING­TON

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