Although there probably are people who live under a rock so isolated from the real world that they might yet have to make up their mind about whether they’ll vote for Donald Trump, I imagine most of us are tethered to reality well enough that we know whether we’re with or against him. And since I’m against him, and since I assume most rational people who have even a cursory knowledge of history are against him, I’m going to say this: Trump will not be stopped by conventional attacks.
His poll numbers were not hurt by saying John McCain wasn’t a war hero. They weren’t hurt when he insinuated Megyn Kelly was menstruating. They weren’t hurt when he said George Bush was responsible for 9/11. They were catapulted because he said Mexicans were rapists, that we need a wall to keep them out, that we should commit war crimes by killing the families of suspected terrorists, that we should put a ban on allowing Muslims to enter the country. People are attracted to what they perceive as a guy with shrewd business acumen, who says what he thinks is true regardless of whether it’s popular or politically correct, who never apologizes and would punch you in the jaw before shaking your hand. The most fervent of his supporters include ultra-nationalists and white supremacists. So really, you shouldn’t expect stuff like this:
to be a deterrent against potential voters. No one is going to look at this and think, “Oh, wait. Am I voting for a fascist? I had no idea his idea about the wall was xenophobic!”
Traditional attacks on Trump aren’t going to work. Attacking his rhetoric won’t work because that’s what draws in so many of his supporters. Attacking his so-called lack of conservative credentials (things he’s said about Planned Parenthood, for example) won’t work because there are too many people who want to stick it to the establishment. Attacking his business prowess won’t work because his supporters think all media is biased and therefore untrustworthy.
Watch Trump’s ad and see what you notice:
If you can’t bring yourself to watch it, I’ll give you some highlights:
At 39 seconds there’s a bit where Trump says, “There is an assault on everything that we stand for, and we’re going to stop the assault!” This immediately follows him saying, “We have a country that we’re proud of and that we love and that we’re not gonna lose.” A short while later Sarah Palin shows up exalting his “faith in the Almighty” before asking whether the crowd is ready to ‘Make America Great Again.’ Trump follows up by saying, “The silent majority is back, and it’s not silent.” He says, “We’re tired of being pushed around by incompetent people.” The rallies are humongous spectacles, and Trump himself even asks, “Is there anything more fun than a Trump rally?”
He alludes to a mythical time in American history (probably segregation era—I’m thinking Leave It to Beaver 1950s) where everything was perfect, and his wildly popular campaign slogan promises the rebirth of a nation. The incompetent people he references are our gridlocked congress. His promise to bring back jobs and manufacturing and his desire to trash trade deals is not dissimilar to autarky. He exhibits the classic symptoms of the paranoid spokesman outlined by historian Richard Hofstadter in his seminal 1964 essay ‘The Paranoid Style in American Politics’:
There is a vital difference between the paranoid spokesman in politics and the clinical paranoiac: the clinical paranoiac sees the hostile and conspiratorial world in which he feels himself to be living as directed specifically against him; whereas the spokesman of the paranoid style finds it directed against a nation, a culture, a way of life whose fate affects not himself alone but millions of others. His sense that his political passions are unselfish and patriotic, in fact, goes far to intensify his feeling of righteousness and his moral indignation.
Regarding Trump and his followers’ distrust of the establishment, Hofstadter says:
The modern right wing feels dispossessed: America has been largely taken away from them and their kind, though they are determined to try to repossess it and to prevent the final destructive act of subversion. The old American virtues have already been eaten away by cosmopolitans and intellectuals; the old competitive capitalism has been gradually undermined by socialist and communist schemers; the old national security and independence have been destroyed by treasonous plots, having as their most powerful agents not merely outsiders and foreigners but major statesmen seated at the very centers of American power.
The distinguishing thing about the paranoid style is not that its exponents see conspiracies or plots here and there in history, but that they regard a ‘vast’ or ‘gigantic’ conspiracy as *the motive force* in historical events. History *is* a conspiracy, set in motion by demonic forces of almost transcendent power, and what is felt to be needed to defeat it is not the usual methods of political give-and-take, but an all-out crusade.
If you can’t see where I’m going with this, here’s Hofstadter making the obvious comparison:
More important, the single case in modern history in which one might say that the paranoid style has had a consummatory triumph occurred not in the United States but in Germany. It is a common ingredient of fascism, and of frustrated nationalisms.
The charge of fascism is not going to work against dedicated Trumpites for any number of reasons: because everyone calls everyone a fascist, because they believe media call him that because he’s politically incorrect, because they’re attracted to tenets of fascism whether they know it or not. But merely telling them that the things he says that they like are bad, that the people he associates with whom they like are bad, that his vision of the US and the future which they like is bad is not going to work. I don’t know that there’s a viable path to defeating Trump by deflating his supporters, by somehow changing their minds. Enlightenment is not a quick fix. I think the only strategy we have should he become the nominee is exercise our vote, to emphasize to people already on our side or politically disengaged just how dangerous a Trump Presidency could be, because we’re sure as hell not going to talk sense into his supporters en masse or one at a time.