The Persistent Myths of Donald Trump
Say what you will about 2016, but it’s never boring. From privileged college students at elite universities suffering mental breakdowns over the burdens of their campus “social justice activism”—yes, this is really happening—to disillusioned “burn the whole system down” political defectors, a significant sector of Americans have enthusiastically wrapped themselves in a series of self-made rage cocoons, many spun with a series of myths.
Some of these myths contain half-truths, and many of them, unsurprisingly, are tied to billionaire media sensation and national Republican poll leader Donald Trump. Let’s break down a few here.
Myth 1: Donald Trump Fights for Free Speech
If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: Donald Trump “tells it like it is.” He crushes political correctness. He breaks through the stifling verbal confines that have paralyzed and weakened America. After eight years of the Obama era, in which we can’t even seem to call Islamist terrorism by its name, Donald J. Trump will manage to both kick rear ends AND take names, while restoring the right of Americans to say what they want when they want.
This certainly has some truth to it. Political correctness has wreaked havoc on American society, and Donald Trump demolishes it with flair. The irony, however, is that he does so while instilling speech codes of his own. Trump is infamous for threatening legal action against those who cross him—recent recipients include the conservative Club for Growth and Sen. Ted Cruz. Just this week, Trump issued the following threat against the wealthy Ricketts family on Twitter: “I hear the Rickets (sic) family, who own the Chicago Cubs, are secretly spending $’s against me. They better be careful, they have a lot to hide!” (“It’s a little surreal,” Tom Ricketts told reporters on Wednesday, “when Donald Trump threatens your mom.”)
Liz Mair, a GOP strategist running a struggling anti-Trump super PAC, recently told Politico that “major donors are shying away from her group partly because they are scared of incurring Trump’s wrath.” At a recent rally, meanwhile, Mr. Trump remarked that he wanted to punch a protester “in the face,” and that in the good old days, the interloper would have been “carried out in a stretcher.” Hey, maybe that’s your cup of tea. It’s certainly different from Obama, and Americans certainly know how to pull off a good old-fashioned backlash. But let’s not pretend this is about free speech.
Myth 2: His Policy Positions Matter
Media pundits, particularly on the conservative side, have tied themselves into Gordian knots agonizing over Mr. Trump’s ever-morphing policy positions. He wants to defund Planned Parenthood! No, wait, Planned Parenthood is amazing, except for the abortion part! Obamacare is garbage! No, wait, the individual mandate is terrific! Hey, how about that Scottish single-payer system? We’re going to axe Common Core! No, no, wait: We’re going to keep it!
Here’s the cold, hard truth: None of this matters, at least not in terms of Trump’s popularity, and no one cares. Trump’s fans don’t like him because he’s a “conservative.” They like him because he’s Donald Trump, and he’s funny, and he’s different, and he’s not a smug D.C. insider. They like him because they hate politicians, and they hate Washington, D.C., and they’re mad as you-know-what.
Which leads us to…
Myth 3: We’re All Entitled to Be Mad as You-Know-What
“We’re mad as hell and won’t take it anymore,” Mitt Romney—Mitt Romney!—told an audience in Wellesley, Mass., on Wednesday. Mitt went on to list “global warming” as a leading factor in making everyone “mad as hell,” which is hilarious and completely out of touch, but you get the point. This now-standard line—“Americans are mad, and they deserve to be, and we all deserve the hot fire of our fellow citizens’ wrath”—has morphed into the most conventional of today’s conventional wisdom. But what if, like most of the conventional wisdom surrounding the 2016 race, it’s simply not true?
If I had a dollar for every time some television commentator said that Trump’s competitors need to tap into America’s “anger,” I’d be as rich as—well, I wouldn’t be as rich as Donald Trump, but I’d be able to at least buy a $989 pair of highly impractical shoes, maybe even with emu feathers on them or something. Here’s the thing, people: You can’t out-Trump Donald Trump; similarly, you can’t harness the anger that only he, apparently, can cure.
It's worth remembering that we live in a country that is mind-boggling in its resources, freedoms, and opportunities. Sure, there are plenty of reasons to be mad in America, but most of them involve a capricious government abusing its power. Trump, if you listen to what he actually says, hints at continuing that trend.
The real irony of the “burn it down” caucus, in the end, is that it could simply lead to more of the status quo. Such, perhaps, is the power of myth. This election season, unfortunately, we’ve seen more than our fair share.