Donald Trump

Trump: An Elephant Man for the Beauty Pageant

Trump supporters hold up a funhouse mirror to a political class they find even more disgusting

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"What lunacy," wondered the newspaper mogul turned convicted fraudster Conrad Black last week, "has possessed [the] media to be so horrified at someone who expresses mass exasperation over 20 years of misgovernment, failed fiscal and foreign policies, crumbling infrastructure, state education, a retrograde health-care reform, hemorrhaging public debt, the invasion of the country by 12 million illegals, and a self-satisfied political class incanting soporific lullabies about the 'greatest nation in human history.'"

Black, like many of Donald Trump's fans, knows full well the answer to his own question: Many people, including scores of prominent Republicans, find Trump to be a vulgar boor and serial liar with inconsistent and routinely unsound policy ideas. As the following prominent conservatives (helpfully collated by the Hillary Clinton campaign) explain:

These complaints about Trump are not new; they've been part of the Republican conversation since last summer. The man has "comprehensive disdain for conservative essentials, including the manners and grace that should lubricate the nation's civic life," wrote the most syndicated columnist in the country, the conservative George Will, in a piece two weeks ago urging Republicans to help Trump "lose 50 states." The flagship postwar conservative magazine, National Review, noisily came out "Against Trump" in January, calling him "a philosophically unmoored political opportunist who would trash the broad conservative ideological consensus within the GOP in favor of a free-floating populism with strong-man overtones."

"Trump's infelicities are legend," Black eventually conceded in his piece, "and are disconcerting, though in some cases they have been exaggerated. But…."

Italics mine, to emphasize a rhetorical sleight-of-hand that hasn't been this popular since the Cold War. Back then, a favored argument style among communists on both sides of the Iron Curtain was whataboutism—You say the Soviet Union's human rights record is bad? What about American racism! You say the Sandinistas are bad? What about El Salvador! And so on.

In the hands of Trump supporters, whataboutism is not just a defensive tactic, it's an active selling proposition. Yes, we know you think he's ugly, the arguments go—well, that's exactly how we feel about the entire class of people who run Washington! It's no accident that Trump's chief competitor, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), ran explicitly against "the Washington cartel," or that political novices such as Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina enjoyed considerably more popularity during primary season than seasoned Washington veterans (and media favorites) like Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina). As the historian Paul Johnson put it last month, "Trump is a man of excess—and today a man of excess is what's needed."

The last time the Republican Party found itself "hijacked" in the presidential nominating process was 1964, when the southwestern small-government firebrand Barry Goldwater beat out the northeastern establishment favorite Nelson Rockefeller on the way to a historic defeat against Democrat Lyndon Johnson. "In your heart," went Goldwater's memorable slogan, "you know he's right":

While Trump's dystopian diagnosis for America does overlap with Goldwater's hyperbole, a more accurate bumper sticker for the reality TV star's candidacy might be: "In your heart, you know he's grotesque." That he triggers a gag reflex among the professional political class is not for his supporters some unfortunate side-effect to be overcome, it's the main point of his campaign.

Among his growing but still historically small cadre of active endorsers from the political world, you still see some mild equivocation on the centrality of Trump's repellance. Former House Speaker and failed presidential candidate Newt Gingrich says, with something less than conviction, that "in the long history of American politics, Donald Trump is not outrageously outside the norm." Vanquished competitor Carson, while heading up Trump's search for a vice presidential candidate, assured us that the private Donald is far more "cerebral" than the loudmouth busy sewing up the GOP nomination.

One encounters few such nods to political niceities when engaging with Trump fans in the wild. For them, Trump is a funhouse mirror forced into the hands of a corrupt, over-fed political class. You think Trump is gross? Well you're gross. You calling him a liar? Here's 13 minutes of Hillary Clinton lying her face off. You obsess about his historically high unpopularity, while rallying around the Trump-skepticism of the Speaker of the House of Representatives? Congress hasn't cracked 20 percent approval ratings since 2012. You say the Bush family is sitting this election out? Good riddance to bad warmongers.

While the elites fret about manners and strategize for the latest political "beauty contest" (an actual term of art in American politics), those who live in literal and metaphorical flyover country are inverting the rules of the game. If politics believes itself to be a beauty pageant, then they're nominating The Elephant Man.

The beauty of this pro-ugliness strategy is that it's self-reinforcing: When elites recoil, the base says "See??" As Newt Gingrich said about Paul Ryan and his ilk last weekend, "These pseudo-intellectual right-wingers who have made a living in Washington D.C. being brilliant while they alienated the entire American people are showing you by their hysteria the degree to which they are being repudiated, and they just don't know what to do. They're in a state of psychological hysteria that is really kind of amazing."

Such attacks are proving persuasive to wide swaths of the electorate not because they're dishonest, but because they contain a considerable amount of truth. The United States has been misgoverned by both major parties all this century. Washington is dysfunctional and alienated from citizens to a near-historic degree. The economy does feel sluggish at best for a majority of earners. The national debt is dangerously high. If this is where "respectability politics" has brought us, maybe it's time to give unrespectability a try.

Presidential campaigns, like beauty pageants, are often inherently ridiculous, this year more than ever. (It can't entirely be an accident that Donald Trump has more experience with the latter than the former.) There is something fundamentally crass and unintentionally revealing about the exercise of parading superficial qualities in front of drive-by audiences. But there is also at least one crucial difference: With beauty pageants, you can at least choose to tune out. As Americans are learning this year, when the Elephant Man gets this close to the main stage, it's almost impossible to look away.

(This article originally ran at Le Monde.)

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  1. (throws scarf around shoulder, lights Gauloises)

    1. I find the Gauls give off the best light when set afire.

      1. (takes drag, nods, stares moodily at the flower pot on the windowsill)

        1. clap

    2. If you need to borrow an orphan with a lighter, it’s okay to ask.

      1. “We are all orphans in a way, no?”

    3. I think you shoyld stay in character the rest of the month Gilmore

      1. “A month… A week…. What is time?. A character does not consciously change so much as an actor tires of repeating himself.”

        (the overflowing ashtray bursts into flames and he regards it with mild amusement)

  2. Gingrich talking about congresscritters alienating the populace is kind of humorous.

  3. Also = -1 Citroen for failure to use the term “Jolie laide”

  4. I AM NOT AN ANIMAL! I am a human being!

    1. Sad?
      Glad?
      Sinbad?

      1. VLAD!

        As crom as my witness, I’ll replace this keyboard.

    2. “bad” = ‘glad’ or ‘sad’?

      Perhaps it’s a pinata…

      1. I would say they are a plethora of pinatas

        1. What is a plethora?

          1. Its like a smug.

            1. It’s kind of like a placenta, except for men

              1. For a backdoor baby?

    3. Wake me when they bring back spitting image puppets

      1. Me too! I loved that show.

    4. I think that’s actually misleading. The paper mache head never went away in Mexico – its just that US protestors have started outsourcing their labor to foreigners now.

      1. Is it outsourcing when the foreign labor isn’t foreign?

        1. Stop trying to expand our vocabulary.

      2. But in Mexico it’s filled w firecrackers.

    5. I do wonder which forumite can play the bagpipes.

      1. On the Capitol Hill sidewalk, a man who was barely making sense was drowned out by a man who was making random noises.

        Sounds like a microcosm of this election.

    6. Trump: An Elephant Guy for the beauty pageant!

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    1. This will be the best comment on this post.

      1. Just vote Libertarian or not at all, guy.

        1. I’m not your guy, friend.

  6. It’s kind of the whole point. When a political elite has proven itself to be inept, the people with the pitchforks aren’t going to get too hung up on manners. In fact, they’re using Trump’s bad manners as a weapon to show just how disreputable they find their supposed political betters.

    Thank you, Matt.

  7. In short, this election is like a season of American Idol where we all laugh as William Hung and the “Pants on the Ground” guy make it all the way to the finals. Except the winner gains control of a shitload of nuclear weapons.

    1. Well we survived Reagan and I was assured by the Elite and Intelligentsia of the day that he was a dunce as well as a madman that would nuke the whole world.

  8. (Traduit de l’am?ricain par Emmanuelle Richard)

    The Frenchies seem to think that Matt writes in American.

    1. In fairness, they’re not wrong.

      1. I’ve never heard you say, do you speak/write French, if not, who translates for you?

        1. A French wife?

          1. Wow, I missed that. I knew Matt had a French wife, I guess I didn’t realize Emmanuelle Richard was his wife. Huh, convenient. I wonder if she takes grandes libert?s when she translates his articles.

    2. Darn, I missed that. Thought he wrote it in French. So what he posted here is a back-xlation?

  9. i feel like there should have at least been some jab at French politics in there somewhere.

    Like,

    “In France, everyone quits pretending to work and goes and throws rocks to express their dissatisfaction with reality; in the US, they nominate an obnoxious man to yell things. Throwing rocks is too labor intensive”

    1. Not really. You can hire a Mexican rock-thrower for $6 an hour. You have to pay his bail if he hits a cop, though.

  10. The politicians, cultural, and media elites have been preaching at, meddling with, and denigrating the American public for the last 16 years.
    People have started voting with their middle fingers. =D

    1. 16 years?

      How old are you?

  11. If I were French I would be interested less in Donald Trump and more in the Camp of the Saints enactment running at Calais or the guys who like to shoot satirical magazine publishers.

  12. Now Reaons is using a Hillary campaign commercial to bolster their antir-Trump tantrums? I NEW IT, JUST ADMIT YOU FAGZ R IN TEH TANK 4 HILLARY, TREASON!!!11!!!!!!! CUCK-FAGZ!!!11!!!!!1!111!!!!! /sarc

    1. Warty does that shit better.

    2. I think you rage-missed the shift button for some of those exclamation points.

  13. Yes yes, we know you speak some french Matt, not a reason to use big words like malotru or n?fastes. You could have just said he is a trou-de-cul and save us a few paragraphs to read. Be more North-American next time !

    Oh wait, translated by your wife ? SMDH

  14. it’s almost impossible to look away.

    Like this?

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  17. RE: Trump: An Elephant Man for the Beauty Pageant

    Please do not insult the Elephant Man by putting him in the same sentence with Trump the Grump.
    Otherwise the SPCA will have you hunted down and put in an animal shelter…and justifiably so.

  18. Awright, Matt Welch writes French! (While he tries to turn the other writers’ entries into passable English.)

    Interesting how the same root wound up with the different meanings of m?pris & misprision in the respective languages.

  19. In the hands of Trump supporters, whataboutism is not just a defensive tactic, it’s an active selling proposition. Yes, we know you think he’s ugly, the arguments go?well, that’s exactly how we feel about the entire class of people who run Washington!

    Wrong. The argument isn’t whataboutism, it’s that the Progressive Theocracy is a zillion times worse than Trump, and Trump actually fights them.

    Again, Reason spends it’s time attacking straw Trumps. One can only assume they just don’t have any good arguments for their case.

    I’m still waiting for the argument that christening millions more voters for the Progressive Theocracy is a win for freedom in the US.

    1. WHYCUM U NO WANT LOTSA FURRIN RESTAURANTZ DUM YOKEL?

  20. Lots of hand wringing over non-choices. That he’s a blowhard or that she is corrupt and awful is irrelevant: one has to win…

    or not? Smilin’ Joe Biden is still there, and Bernie is just waiting for HRC’s goiter to go Krakatoa.

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