The Meaning of Donald Trump

The Meaning of Donald Trump
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WASHINGTON-No one here seems to get it. Ask, and you get the same befuddled look on every face.

Same goes for Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco.

Other Americans, whether they do or don't support the presumptive Republican nominee, do get it: Despite Donald Trump's wealth, his unorthodox campaign style and seeming inability to capitalize on issues as a traditional candidate might, he still connects with many voters.

Yep, the guy who praised Saddam Hussein for being tough on terrorism (technically, Saddam was, because that is what dictators do to all of their people) — a statement that made newsrooms across the country gasp at his seeming ignorance — somehow resonates with average people.

It's been a year since Trump burst onto the political scene. While I freely admit that I believed he wouldn't be the nominee, I always understood why many voters were drawn to him.

He was blowing up the system; he did not use the same talking points that every other presidential candidate delivered; he dared to attack a political process into which many voters poured their hearts, energy and money, only to be disappointed when their team took power.

His successive primary wins were never about ideological principles, which is stunning for an electoral process designed to reward the candidate who checks off the most conservative credentials with voters. Instead, his victories came from an energized mix of angry Republican, disaffected Democrat and independent voters who decided that the only ideology that would attract their votes was blowing up the system.

If we don't examine why, if we just pooh-pooh that as a foolish adolescent phase that the interior of the county is enduring, we will never halt, fix or recognize the problems that face our nation.

Every morning, the political experts analyze what Trump said during one of his speeches or tweeted the night before. And, every morning, those experts are driven mad by what they think he should have done better, how he could have acted in a more sophisticated, disciplined manner.

Yet, at this moment, every time an opinion poll is taken, Trump remains within striking distance of Hillary Clinton.


Because he connects with average people — and not in the way that conventional political science dictates.

Take last week, when a scathing FBI report concluded that Clinton essentially lied several times about her conduct regarding her State Department Internet server and her handling of classified information. The headlines for two days afterward insisted that Trump failed to focus on Clinton's problems, that he was off-message.

Well, what the headline-writers didn't comprehend is this: If Trump had delivered a crisp, scripted message about Clinton to his supporters in suburban Cincinnati, he would have lost the audience; they were looking for vintage Trump and they got him.

Such Americans are tired of scripted messages; they don't want to hear about Clinton's woes, because that was pounded into them all day by the news networks and by social media.

They want to hear about Trump, from Trump; they enjoy his confrontation with the national media — just as they enjoyed his riff with NBC's “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd — or that he talks about his grandchildren and mosquitoes.

This race has never been about ideology, a strict platform that no candidate can veer from, scripted messages that are so coordinated that every candidate in the party repeats the same talking points.

This moment is about what happens when you spend an entire generation ignoring the will, the wants and the needs of your people beyond cosmopolitan America.

This is what happens when voters get tired of putting on their team jerseys and supporting their side, but get nothing in return when that team wins.

If politicians and academics begin diving into the whats and whys of Campaign 2016, instead of just walking around shaking their heads in judgment, then perhaps they will root out the results from 30 years of political correctness, of policies that benefit a select few, of creating a culture of “otherness” when it comes to the country's interior, of mouthing promises that they can't keep.

Then, maybe, we can retire our politics of the ridiculous and start to govern the country once more.

Salena Zito is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial page columnist. E-mail her at
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