Selling Trump

The last several months have been troubling and revealing in a way that’s both uncomfortable and somehow reassuring. That is what the matchup between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton — both skin-crawlingly unlikable candidates — has wrought: the truth of the political process in this country is now laid bare, naked and freezing, and we all (especially conservatives) have to contend with it and decide if we want to clothe it and nurture it, or leave it to die exposed in the elements.

There’s been a lot of finger pointing by conservatives; the Trump supporters point at the #nevertrump-ers who point at the low-info voter who point at the GOPe (that’s Republican establishment for the uninitiated or heretofore uninterested) who point at the progressives who point at the Trump supporters. It’s a circle of blame that makes exactly zero sense. But the one thing they all agree on is that there is something happening worthy of blame. It suggests that everyone knows that the 2016 matchup is a bum deal and we’re just going to have to make the most of it and try to do the best we can with the choices we’ve got.

Personally, that seems like a false, after-the-fact, mental band-aid to me. Trump and Clinton didn’t just happen — they were supported and nurtured and clothed along the way by the brokers and operatives and money men/women. In short they were the desired candidates. There’s nothing “outsider” about either of them. Sorry grassroots activists on the right, but you’re wrong about that regarding Trump. Just read this fascinating piece from WNYC public radio on Trump’s political relationships in New Jersey back in the 80s and 90s:

Everybody in New Jersey politics has a Trump story. That’s because for more than a quarter-century, Trump, self-proclaimed political outsider, played the ultimate insider’s game in New Jersey, where political deals require relationships and cash.

Trump golfed and broke bread with every major political power broker in the state. He used sweet talk, like with Kean, but he also deployed attack ads, like with former Gov. Christie Todd Whitman. He spent millions on New Jersey lobbyists, lawyers, spokespeople and political operatives, many of whom then contributed money to important politicians. This is how he survived his many failures, and how he caught a lot of breaks.

But I digress. What has always been of interest to me — less so about Hillary because she’s been promised this moment by her party for years, so how she got here is a pretty easy formula — is how Trump, a man who doesn’t even seem to take the position he seeks seriously, ended up the media and establishment darling. How could they do this to the nation they say (and I believe them) they love?

And then, after a conversation with the best political mind I know (my father. That’s not even bias. He truly is.), it became clear: capitalism.

Now, before leaping to the conclusion that this is me saying capitalism is flawed and bad, let me go ahead and — to use a well-worn phrase during the Obama years — be clear: I am a die-hard, flag-waving, supporter, defender, believer in, and promoter of capitalism as a philosophy. It works and it’s good.

But it did give us Donald Trump as the republican nominee. And here’s how.

Donald Trump could win.

This crunching of the data from the New York Review of Books makes that uncomfortably clear. Please note, I personally don’t agree with everything this article suggests (for example I think their assertion that his more extreme pronouncements are a real reflection of conservative voters’ own beliefs is a bit overdone), but their data looks solid. And what they discovered is that Republican voters — even if they didn’t like him very much and preferred another candidate — thought he could win.

As our data here show, Donald Trump’s primary victories on his way to the nomination were not simply a result of a crowded field. Among our national sample of likely Republican primary voters, Trump was favored over every other Republican candidate in one-on-one matchups. Moreover, he was viewed as the most electable candidate by a majority of Republican primary voters, and on his distinctive issues involving immigration even those favoring other candidates overwhelmingly agreed with him.

And, as any good capitalist knows, you go with what sells. And so the establishment and the media embraced the newest fad and sold it. They hope, I believe and I give them credit for the effort, to refine the product so that it is better functioning and higher quality (I have doubts about whether or not they’ll succeed). In short, they have, as good capitalists, taken the public appetite for something, embraced it, plan to tweak it as we go along to make it sleeker and safer, and hope that it it never faces a recall.

I actually, begrudgingly, see the wisdom in that decision. But something small and nagging in me knows that capitalism, as an economic system, works very well. I’m not sure it can be applied to humans with all their free will and vanity. Socialism likes the vagaries of the human spirit better, which is why is doesn’t really work all that well. Humanity turns on a dime if the emotional wind captures it, so you shouldn’t build your political or economic philosophy around it, like socialism does.

It remains to be seen if you should apply your political and economic philosophy that functions precisely because it relies on reason and logic (like capitalism does. It’s true it fluctuates with human whim, but it operates outside of it) to a very, very flawed human and expect it to remain pure and not be changed by the effort.

Anecdotally, a 20 something told me the other day — one who is conservative and is a capitalist — that the Trump University fraud case was simply a case of capitalism working, that those people were idiots and that’s what capitalism does, preys on those idiots and separates them from their money.

So, I dunno guys. We’re all taking the ride because we’ve been given the choice of Trump. But I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t concerned. And, frankly, a little annoyed that the media and establishment sort of cornered the market to do it.