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Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Disaffected by Politics

In anticipation of the GOP debates, Peter Suderman has a fairly good article on Trump's politics over at Reason. Here is a bit:
[T]he Trump crowd has thoroughly tired of conventional politics and conventional politicians. The draw of Trump’s candidacy is that he is so very obviously not bound by these conventions—that he is not a conventional politician, nor even really a politician at all. He doesn’t have policy ideas or governing plans to speak of? So what? Those are for politicians. Trump’s politics are a kind of anti-politics, and his lack of a traditional political agenda only adds to his anti-political appeal.
While this is useful, Suderman's real insight is in locating the fantasy elements of this political imagination. He writes:
What Trump offers is a fantasy of governance without negotiation, of economic success without policy detail, of a president who does not particularly feel the need to act presidential. It’s a fantasy of politics without politics, for people who just don’t want to think about it too much. In this view, the fact that Trump has clearly put so little thought into it himself makes him seem sensible and relatable. All of which is to say that the mindlessness and stupidity of Trump’s presidential campaign are not incidental to the candidate’s recent success. On the contrary, they are key to his appeal.
For the most part, I believe this description is apt and accurate. However I think there are several other things at play.

I suspect this disaffection stems not only from a loss of appetite for politics, but also from not being involved in politics. Without having held office, or even a civic representative position, a person doesn't have the prerequisite experience to even begin to imagine what politics and governance is like. So it is easy to think that problems can be resolved with a change of attitude rather than through structures wherein one accrues and uses pressure, trades, and concessions to advance agendas.

Certainly the Trumpers' simplistic and destructive worldviews are a function of distance, but second, they are also the product of not thinking they have a stake in the reproduction of the institutions formed by politics. If you don't believe you are invested or at risk, you likely believe there is little to lose by supporting a candidate like Trump. I don't think it is stretch to infer that Trumpers do not believe they belong to society at large. And to the extent that research can and does show that they benefit from all kinds of latent bias and social privileges, that society caters toward them for the most part, this does nothing to quiet their disaffection. So it becomes incredibly difficult to reason on these grounds, and indeed doing so comes across as yet more dismissal of their concerns and evidence of their political marginality.

Under these conditions it fairly easy to indulge in mythological talk of strongmen. Through force of character and will Trump would right the apparent wrongs, and change the way things are done. It is the both the desire for individual talent to superseded all institutional restraint and the yearning for power to punish those who are good at politics.

As always, comments and critique invited.