One of Donald Trump’s crowning achievements in demagoguery was convincing large swaths of the American public to vote against their own self-interests.
It takes a magical combination of bombast, widespread stupidity and willing suspension of disbelief to produce an electoral outcome where scores of uneducated, low income Americans turn out in droves to vote for a billionaire real estate developer whose claim to fame is erecting golden monuments to his own ego.
The idea of Trump as champion of Flyover America was mind-bogglingly absurd, but if you look back at the history of populism, his ascent to the White House fits a historical pattern. Recall the following exposition fromNotes From Disgracedland’s Bjarne Knausgaard:
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.
Headed into the midterms, Trump doubled down on that dynamic by eschewing a campaign based on economic outperformance for a message couched almost entirely in terms of illegal immigration and a trade war of his own making.
There is no “invasion” of the U.S. southern border and there was no global trade war before Trump. Those are, in the final analysis, figments of Trump’s imagination that are only real because he’s made them so by, in the case of the migrant caravan, deploying thousands of U.S. troops to the border, and in the case of trade, starting a war with the entire world.
As documented extensively here over the past couple of weeks, Republicans are not pleased with the fact that Trump has intentionally backburnered the economy in favor of xenophobia and aggressive trade banter ahead of the elections.
But perhaps he’s right – where “right” just means he knows he’s created his own reality and his base is content to dwell in the abyss.
“Using Google trends data on internet searches, we see that healthcare, trade, and immigration are the top issues in the public consciousness (note that 100 = the highest concentration of weekly searches and 0 = the lowest)”, Deutsche Bank’s Torsten Slok writes, in a note dated last week, before observing that by contrast, “two major areas of potential pro-growth fiscal expansion – tax reform and infrastructure – barely feature.”
“The Mueller investigation, which sparked market volatility in May 2017 when it was started, has the potential to resurface at some point but the public does not seem overly interested in the topic”, Slok goes on to say.
Do try and wrap your ahead around how disconcerting this is. America doesn’t seem to care at all about the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, tax reform or an actual FBI investigation into whether the President of the United States conspired with a hostile foreign power to rig an election on the way to obstructing a probe into that same election rigging.
Meanwhile, voters are apparently in the throes of hysteria over an immigration crisis that doesn’t exist and a trade war that Trump made up out of thin air.