Implicit in Donald Trump’s promise to “make America great again” is the contention that the country has “lost” something called “greatness.” Also implicit in #MAGA is that Donald Trump is the only person who is prepared to help Americans reclaim what’s been lost.
On that, recall the following from Notes From Disgracedland:
Populism is like pornography: Everything is explicit, but the plot cannot be taken seriously. Populist reality is actualized through the positive feedback loop of suspension of disbelief: A political figure infuses a human interest and a semblance of truth into an unrealistic and far-fetched agenda, while the audience suspends judgment concerning the implausibility of the narrative. Populist politics has a very rigid form. Irrespective of its platform, its backbone consists of three basic building blocks: Flattery/seduction, self-pity, and vengeance. Systems in need of legitimation create especially fertile ground for populism. This is the key reason for its resurgence in the last decades. The mystique of populism’s appeal has the same origin and logic as pyramid schemes — when easy money (or quick fixes) is offered, we don’t ask for rationale. And we always take the bait believing that we are the perpetrators and not the victims.
Making promises gets politicians elected. Populists tend to make grand promises, but generally fall short of honoring them. They inevitably vouch to deliver greatness, bring country back to its citizens, restore the national pride, save the culture, create jobs and prosperity, and last but not least, kick some ass along the way. Populism is really there to restore the natural order of things. And while list of promises varies across regions, histories and personalities, restorative commitment to greatness is a must in all of them. Without it, there is no serious candidate.
Does that sound familiar to you? It should. And if it doesn’t, think about what we’ve seen and heard out of Donald Trump and then read it again with that in mind.
To borrow one more time from the piece excerpted above, the presence of the word “again” in #MAGA is key for three reasons one of which is that it evokes self-pity. The idea is that something has been taken from the people and it needs to be reclaimed.
The extent to which that’s true varies. In some cases – take manufacturing jobs – there might be plausible arguments to support it. In other cases, it’s patently ridiculous.
One of example of the patently ridiculous is Trump’s contention that there is “a war on Christmas.” This is a blatant attempt to pander to his base and reinforce the notion that America’s values and heritage have been hijacked. It’s part of the same “nostalgia” for something that he claims has been lost. Watch this clip from a Friday speech at the Christian public policy conference:
Trump: “They don’t use the word Christmas because it’s not politically correct … We’re saying Merry Christmas again” https://t.co/9NrQgpwCxn
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) October 13, 2017
Yes, “we’re getting near that beautiful Christmas season that people don’t talk about anymore.”
Absurd? Yes. Funny? Yes. But it’s important to understand it in the context of the populist message. Again:
Everything is explicit, but the plot cannot be taken seriously. A political figure infuses a human interest and a semblance of truth into an unrealistic and far-fetched agenda, while the audience suspends judgment concerning the implausibility of the narrative.