One of the ironies of the Trump phenomenon is that his most ardent supporters and his many opponents focused on the man, when it was never about the man. Ten years ago, no rational person would have picked Donald Trump as the face of populist discontent, much less the most consequential political figure in generations. When he ran, it was assumed it was a publicity stunt, as he had spent his life as an entertainment gadfly, finding ways to draw public attention to his real estate schemes.
Yet, as the Trump era draws to a close, both his supporters and his enemies have developed a political cult around the man. His supporters are sure he has some last trick up his sleeve to do something to save the country. His opponents are sure he has some trick up his sleeve to steal their democracy from them. So much so, in fact, they have turned the tiny internet fad called QAnon into a subversive conspiracy. There are more anti-Q fanatics now than genuine followers of it.
The thing is, Trump was always an opportunist. In fact, he is the extreme expression of the opportunist, which is how he went from Queens landlord to one of the most famous and successful real estate developers in the world. Real estate, especially the business of high-profile resort properties, is about opportunity. You find a deal before everyone else and cash in before the next big thing. Trump got rich finding the next big thing before everyone else realized that it was the next big thing.
Trump got into politics for all the same reasons everyone else runs for office in a modern liberal democracy. He wanted affirmation. Unlike the narcissistic robots that fill up both parties, Trump saw an opportunity outside the system. The swelling ranks of disaffected whites, unhappy with both parties, looked a lot like a neglected property with tremendous promise, if the right investor came along. Most important from Trump’s perspective, they were a motivated seller.
The first eager seller was Ann Coulter, who was one of the most prominent celebrities to get on the Trump train. Well before anyone thought Trump was a serious threat to the Republican nomination, she was saying he would not only win the nomination but win the general election. Queen Ann completely bought into Trump being the daddy she had been waiting for her whole political life. She went to war for Trump the man, believing he was the answer.
She was not alone in thinking Trump was the savior. The alt-right that had been forming up on-line in the Obama years also went all in on Trump. They convinced themselves he was the American Pinochet. Mike Enoch of The Right Stuff jumped on the Trump train with the same enthusiasm as Ann Coulter. Richard Spencer was a full-blown MAGA man. The alt-right went to war for Trump in the 2016 election, so much so that even Hillary Clinton felt the need to notice them.
The trouble is, Trump was never that man. He could never be that man. He could never have won the nomination and the general election if he was that man. Only an opportunist with no regard for what he was saying could have gamed the system the way he did in 2016. Unlike Pat Buchanan and Ross Perot who came before him, Donald Trump won because he was not constrained by the truth. Like every opportunist, he was only focused on exploiting the opportunity.
Of course, when this reality became too obvious to ignore, many people jumped off the Trump train and became droning critics. Like jilted lovers they could not stop talking about how the mean old orange man did them wrong. They were not wrong to point out Trump’s faults. Their error was in thinking he was their savior or that any man can be the savior in this political system. They were sure and remain sure that you can vote your way out of the defects of liberal democracy.
There are three lessons here. One is that Trump could never have existed without the realty of the masses that supported him. He was just a front runner, a guy who jumped to the head of a wave of people coming to terms with the fact that we are entering a new era of politics. With or without Trump, those people exist and will continue to exist with the same grievances and concerns. Just because the dull knight vanquished their champion, does not mean they cease to exist.
Another lesson is there is no way to reform this system. The sort of person who can win an election is either a careerist sellout like every member of the GOP or an outlandish outsider with no ability to govern. The only way forward for dissidents is to focus on building outside the system. A third of all adults and close to half of white people no longer think the system is legitimate. Every day the people in charge convert more people to this view with their authoritarian actions.
The final lesson here is that the old political labels are no longer relevant. That is what the Trump era demonstrated. It is no longer about conservative versus liberal or red team versus blue team. It is not socialism versus capitalism. It is about those who live in the lie of liberal democracy and those who live in the truth. If you live in the truth, you not only oppose the people running the system, but you also oppose the system that allows these criminal aliens to rule over us.
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