Now that Donald Trump has finally secured the GOP nomination, we can look back at the last year and see unfolding events with greater clarity. The media frenzy surrounding this election, the 24/7 news-cycle, and Trump’s gumption ensure we’re constantly talking about him, analyzing his every move.
Although the most fascinating presidential election in decades, it can get rather exhausting, and there’s no end in sight. It will continue through the general election, Trump’s tenure as president, and beyond. Commentary on the Trump phenomena will outlive the man and all of us.
The spotlight on Trump has been so bright, often to the point of blinding and often intentionally so. Whatever you want to call them — the establishment, the mainstream media, the Consultant Industrial Complex, et al. — there has been a concentrated effort to undermine Trump even before he famously descended the escalator.
Fourteen months later, and the beat goes on. In an effort to prop up the Democrat’s pathetic candidate, that beat has become a clamorous gong — banging out the same notes we’ve heard all year: Trump’s kaput. Fini. Toast.
Angering the Arbiters of ‘Who We Are’
Aside from measured analyses coming from some quarters, many criticisms of Trump have been rather hysterical, sophomoric, and downright lewd. As if set on auto-repeat, headlines, tweets, and the like squeal XENOPHOBE! FASCIST! RACIST! DEMAGOGUE! PUDGY FINGERS! Eerily in sync, media outlets and Trump haters described his convention speech — and his soul! — as DARK!
The pile-on continues. Why, since the convention, he’s become Vladimir Putin’s lapdog (or is the other way around? I can never keep that straight), and his campaign is in shambles.
Trump’s critics have gone even further over the year, taking false narratives about the candidate and applying them to his supporters and staff: Corey Lewandowski is a thug; Hope Hicks is a thug-enabler; Paul Manafort does the bidding of tyrants; and Stephen Miller is the dark soul behind Trump’s dark soul.
How exactly did the fourth estate become such a third-rate mess? For these are all lies. If you’re Trump and you advocate an America First agenda more akin to the Founding Fathers’ positions than say, those of the Bushes, then you’ve made distinct claims and set yourself against enemies on multiple fronts. These are the formidable forces Trump is up against and says he must “punch through” to reach us. Since so much is at stake, Trump’s critics must repeat the lies and the snide asides. But whether promoting Hillary Clinton, a globalist agenda, or so-called conservative principles, their arguments all but bleat against the rise and roar of American populism.
Attempts to destroy Trump have exposed these self-appointed arbiters of “This Is Not Who We Are” to the derision of the American people. Much of America, that is, but unfortunately not all.
The Trumpian Narratives Contradict Each Other
False narratives, like parasites, have a tremendously powerful influence upon their hosts. In an intriguing article, “The Theory of Narrative Selection,” author Sarah Perry describes how stories behave like biological organisms. If a story is to be true and “successful” (i.e., memorable, repeated, adaptive, long-lasting), it must evoke curiosity, suspense, and surprise. But most important, it must be cohesive.
To meet such a high threshold, true stories are thus naturally and “heavily constrained.” False stories, by comparison, can pretty much run amok, be internally contradictory, and may or may not have some basis in fact. In short, anything goes as long as there’s something credible in the tale.
So we often hear contradictory claims about Trump such as how he will behave as president, even though he’s never held elected office. We are told on the one hand he’s a loose cannon, the village idiot who cannot be trusted with The Red Button or the Constitution. But no, wait! He’s cunning — the scheming King of Ponzis, able to hoodwink politicians, government bureaucrats, investors, and many others all in his effort to reach billionaire status.
Or how he hates women, even though he employs them in positions of power, often paying them more than their male counterparts in a male-dominated industry. Or how he hates Jews, even though his son-in-law, two of his daughters, and three of his grandchildren are Jewish, and he has been a vocal advocate of Israel for decades.
Or how he hates blacks, Hispanics, and foreigners, even though he employs them, befriends them, partners with them. Or how he engenders violence, even though the outbursts at his campaign rallies have been caused and encouraged by Soros-funded Bernie Sanders supporters, members of Black Lives Matter, and other leftist malcontents.
Or how he’s divisive and destroying the Republican Party, even though he’s earned more primary votes than anyone else in GOP history and is attracting new and crossover party members and people from a diverse range of demographics. I could go on.
We Believe the Narratives We’re Primed to Accept
Are there things concerning about Trump? Yeah, sure. That’s true of everyone — especially politicians — so that’s as useful a concession as, “No, I don’t agree with everything such and such person says.” Ever notice how disavowals are always demanded of Republicans about other Republicans and now even more so about Trump? Heck, even Ann Coulter doesn’t always agree with Trump, and it’s fair to say that outside of his family, she’s been his most vocal supporter from day one.
But the din of false narratives reverberates throughout society, and not only the ones about Trump. Take your pick, for the list is long (e.g., The Founders were evil, American women are oppressed, licentiousness is real freedom). We are saturated in them, particularly in our schools and in pop culture. Multiply these stories and their variants by days, years, decades, and it is axiomatic that they will affect our individual and collective psyches. Start them early enough in a child’s life, and — proceeding without intervention — he will grow up to hate himself and his country, completely inured to patriotism and the appreciation others feel on Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. This is the same sad sack who responds to Trump’s campaign slogan with, “When was America ever great?”
Make a society primed to believe that patriotic citizens — especially white ones — are repugnant at best and evil at worst, and what you have is an all-too-willing host for parasitic false narratives the media and others mercilessly repeat.
How to Break Through the Lies
But there is good news, sort of, getting back to Perry. She says we each have the capacity to develop what’s called memetic immunity to false stories. Through skepticism, logic, but especially life experience, we can begin to fight off their negative effects.
Building such an immunity can start small, and seemingly insignificant items can become a watershed moment. And it can happen in countless ways. Maybe it’s that wall surrounding the home of someone who favors open borders. Or when you listen to what Trump said about that crying baby instead of what someone else says he said. Or when you read the headlines that blame a truck — and not the human on a jihadist rampage — for killing 84 people on Bastille Day. Or when you read a tweet that arrests your attention, causing you to laugh and then think some more. Or it’s the person who challenges the meaning of a word, phrase, or policy you thought you understood but really had no idea what it meant.
Whatever may come in the months and years ahead, this nation has changed. We cannot see with clear eyes what happened in San Bernardino, Orlando, Dallas, Baton Rouge, Paris, Nice, Brussels, Bavaria, and far too many other places around the world and stay the same as before. We finally learned what really happened on the second floor of the Bataclan Theatre. It’s just too much, the utter depravity and horror. Something’s gotta give.
With Trump, there is a way out, at least a way forward. Just by being himself — talking plainly and unapologetically about the things that are broken in us and our country — he has described the American dilemma as it really is. Endless whining about his style, his tweets, or how many times he says “Constitution” is ultimately a distraction from the larger, more important issues. As Phyllis Schlafly so eloquently described it 52 years ago, we finally have a choice, not an echo.