Saturday, March 12, 2016
Donald Trump And His Appeal To Older Americans
A recent Gallup poll shows that a majority of older Americans have an unfavorable opinion of Donald Trump (54 percent). In one way this is not surprising. Trump is unlike any presidential candidate in recent memory. Older Americans are not agile enough to imagine the radical shift in electoral politics that Trump represents; nor can they envisage a Trump presidency. If they are Republicans, they remember Ronald Reagan, a transformative president who faced down the Soviet Union and the labor unions – an honest, humble man of principle who understood the threat of Communism no less than Winston Churchill a generation before; and who saw the liberal assault on individualism as corrosive and degrading. Liberalism, Reagan said, was eroding America’s core beliefs., and he wanted to restore the primacy of the fundamental religious and moral principles that had guided Western civilization for a millennium.
Donald Trump, although faithful to some of Reagan, has none of his empathy. Reagan was sympathetic to the poor, the marginalized, and the outcast, but refused to believe that government was the answer to their plight. Government is not the solution, Reagan famously said. Government is the problem. Trump has no less commitment to the poor but is far less sympathetic to their plight.
While Trump echoes these sentiments, he has none of Reagan’s charm and appeal. More importantly, he is post-modern - disruptive of the canonical social order and little disposed to accommodate to it. Not only is the Republican establishment’s concern with business, lower taxes, and military strength predictably tame, it is contextual. The issue is not aircraft carriers, F-35s, and phalanxes of troops, but a fight against a culture, a worldview, a religion, and an unprecedented amoral force. These old-guard GOP stalwarts, used to an unrestricted flow of funds from aerospace, Grumman, and Northrup, and a classic confrontational conflict of armies, do not get Trump’s panegyric against Islam, terrorism, and immigration – all ingredients of the composite enemy.
Trump for the Republican alte kocker crowd is too dangerous, too unpredictable, too showy for a confrontation with America’s enemies. Yet they cannot see how his deliberate conflation of socio-cultural and political factors is not only sensible, but necessary.
Older Republicans are faced with an impossible choice – voting for an anti-establishment Republican who has all but dismantled the Party; or opting for a venal, self-serving, ambitious, uppity woman whose lack of moral and political principles is unprecedented.
Older Democrats are in less of a bind. Trump is as much of an anathema as Barry Goldwater, let alone Ronald Reagan. The choice could never be more clear. A sensible, although morally questionably choice in Hillary Clinton, or a madman.
There are many Democrats over 65 who credit themselves with the moral renaissance of America. Without white, liberal support of the social movements of the Sixties, America would still be a retrograde society – racist, homophobic, misogynist, and militaristic. The clear choice is Bernie Sanders – a child of the Revolution, unreconstructed Socialist and Progressive, perennial supporter of liberal causes – but in the face of Donald Trump, Hillary will have to do.
Which leaves the rest of us older Americans who, after the decades-long parade of idealism, corruption, venality, ignorance, and self-serving, self-aggrandizing politics, say “Fuck it!” There is no possible way that any candidate growing up in the pre-Postmodern period could possibly convey the existential anger and angst of those closer to the end of their lives than the beginning – except Donald Trump.
We are tired of nonessential dickering – the political parsing and calculated disaggregation of nomenclature (“Is Islam a terrorist religion?”), the politically correct inclusivist refusal to study the socio-economic and cultural impact of open immigration, and the hysterical claims of ‘Black Lives Matter’. We are sick and tired, in fact, of decades of failed traditional policies, adventurism, politically correct capitulation, and a derogation of religious values.
Even those of us who grew up in a more temperate political environment – Rockefeller Republicans, Roosevelt Democrats and their descendants – want to see not just revolutionary change, but seismic change.
It is hard to exaggerate the resentment and anger felt by otherwise considerate older Americans who have felt that the country has descended into political, social, and cultural anarchy. Not only has America been humiliated on the world stage by powerful Machiavellian leaders like Putin, and one-upped by anti-democratic religious forces like al-Qaeda and ISIS; but the core values enunciated by Jefferson and his Founding Fathers colleagues - the pursuit of individual happiness moderated by community concerns – are being eroded if not ignored.
“Fuck it” is our rallying cry. We can no longer tolerate the politics of self-interest and myopia. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Barack Obama have built a firewall against racial extremism and the political sycophantism which supports it. Neither one has named the Islamic enemy. Neither one has decried the lamentable decline of Western values. Bernie Sanders is the exponent of the failed political system of the Twentieth Century – socialism; and the Republican wannabees have no more insight or perspicacity than the pigs in shit that they resemble.
The perspective of the old is worth noting because we judge not only on political principles but on philosophical ones. Most of us remember history – Genghis Khan, Pax Romana, The War of the Roses, The Hundred Year War, and the French, Russian, and American Revolutions. We have seen idealism, anger, resentment, commitment, and action; and realize that history is nothing if not a record of revolt and “Fuck it”. If taken from a wide enough perspective, every bit of history resembles every other; but that does not diminish each generation’s purpose.
In other words, we have had enough of ‘the powers that be’, the status quo, moderation, social accommodation, and moral disaffection. We, no different than the young, want revolutionary change.
In short, we want to see what a Donald Trump presidency will be like. Yes, it will be more confrontational and less worried about world opinion. Yes, it will ruffle feathers and dismay Europeans; but it will be far more transformational that the administration of Ronald Reagan. It will challenge the very foundations of American ‘progressivism’ and foreign policy. It will roll back liberal protections of the ‘under-included’. It will be unabashedly American, individualistic, and proud.
Are we worried about how such as bold and uncompromising foreign policy will set with our allies? No. Are we concerned that our aggressive stance will embolden our enemies? No. Are we upset that new social policies will consign more and more Americans to the gutter? No…and again, No.
We older Americans are tired of prevarication, duplicity, and self-serving politics. This is a chance to show a truly American character. Ronald Reagan was a true American, but Donald Trump with his glitz, glamor, and unbridled ego and narcissism is the truest American yet.