Will Trump be our next president? One poll says that 20% of likely Democratic voters are willing to vote for him – meaning that if the final contest is Trump vs. Hillary, Trump wins. Other polls say the opposite: They suggest that Hillary will trounce Trump, meaning a Republican primary vote for Trump will help put radically pro-abortion Hillary Clinton in the White House.
In either case, the rise of Trump is a troubling phenomenon. How did we get here? In hindsight, four major political fails make it look inevitable.
First, we have become too relativistic to see that Trump doesn’t make sense.
Yuval Levin tried a little experiment. He listened to the major Republican Candidates’ stump speeches as objectively as he could, to try to understand the candidates from their own perspectives.
Here is his assessment of Trump:
“His stump speeches are almost unbelievably incoherent, yet his basic thrust is rarely difficult to understand. Trump doesn’t make arguments; he effuses. It is possible (if not easy) to take him seriously only as a diagnostician. When he moves from diagnosis to prescription, he shows no sign of having any grasp of what government does, what the president’s role is in our system of government, what the American Constitution is or means, or how he might even try to think like a conservative.”
How can someone who doesn’t understand our system of government or the Constitution be a leading candidate for President? It seems like you would have to not be able to think clearly to vote for Trump. But guess what. After a generations-long descent into relativism in our education system, many of us can’t.
Second, the partisan media, like the boy who cried wolf, has lost its credibility.
The media painted Mitt Romney as an out-of-touch wealthy aristocrat, but not Hillary Clinton, even after she claimed to be “dead broke” when she was paying the mortgages on her “houses” after leaving the White House.
The media told us that pro-lifers who help unwed mothers and their children are engaged in a War on Women, but the businesses that prey on them to pay to kill their kids are the rescuers of women.
The media told us that the occupy movement ‘s members were brave dissenters speaking truth to power, but that the Tea Party Movement were ridiculous extremists.
The media told us George W. Bush was an incarnation of Orwell’s Big Brother for tapping phone calls, but gives Obama’s much more aggressive domestic spying a pass.
The examples are endless. After a while, the one lesson people learn from the media is that you can’t learn lessons from the media.
So now, when a loud-mouthed, incoherent, self-contradictory demagogue arises, no one believes the media when they call him a loud-mouthed, incoherent, self-contradictory demagogue.
Third, we have devolved past even soundbite politics.
Imagine you needed to hire a nanny to watch your children, and the only exposure you got to each candidate was a five-second snippet of something they said, taken out of context. Worse, imagine the soundbites were chosen by someone who may have a dramatically different understanding of what makes a good nanny from what you have.
We would never consent to hire a nanny that way, but this is exactly the exposure most voters get to a candidate. Trump benefits greatly from this circumstance.
In fact, it’s worse. We have gone from 5-second soundbites to social media blurbs as a criteria for voting for candidates. In (ironically) a Facebook post, Patrick Ruffini offered brilliant analysis of the tendency of the media to fixate on “amazing Trump photos” (like this one).
“A surge in media coverage and interest for a candidate invariably leads to a surge in polling for that candidate. And it doesn’t matter if that coverage is good or bad. As long as Trump is the focal point, he will lead in the polls. The longer he leads in the polls, the more likely it is he will be the nominee. … As a master media manipulator for more than 30 years, [Trump] understands that traditional media is dying, and what remains of it must morph into entertainment in order to survive. The media needs clicks and eyeballs. Trump provides them. And the price to be paid for them may be our democracy.”
People who listen to Trump’s soundbites find him funny and honest, without ever learning that he is incoherent. But most people don’t even hear those — and they just love that he’s popular.
Fourth, the administration at the moment makes an alternative look good.
We live in a scary time — it is a time of domestic terrorism like San Bernardino and international crises like Syria’s refugees. It is a time of economic instability at home coupled with a new open borders policy. The current administration tends to get blamed for bad news like that.
Obama is in the odd position of being a president denounced for his failures by both the left and the right. Obama failure to lead, and his missteps from attacking religious freedom and expanding abortion at home while welcoming China despite its human rights abuses abroad is part of the perfect storm that made Trump possible.
What to do now? Pray, obviously. And promote the candidates in the race who can help bring order back to the political universe.