It’s a mistake to dismiss Trump as self-contradicting and ignorant. Not because this isn’t true but because it’s actually irrelevant. What is the goal of a Presidential candidate and subsequently a President? Winning the public vote then keeping it.
Universal suffrage doesn’t require voter understanding or reflection or even fair-mindedness. It’s no different to the open vote deciding who wins X-Factor, in a country where most of the electorate give the election of government about as much time studying the choices as they do the back stories of the week’s crop of wannabe pop stars. This is why the Russian-paradigm of ‘distract by strident confusion’ is Trump’s gospel, perfectly exemplified in the British “leave or remain” referendum on Europe.
It’s not that Trump has duped his public but that the public doesn’t really give a fuck: opinion for opinion’s sake, vote today, elsewhere tomorrow etc. Elect a President, decide a referendum, choose the winner of Bake Off, rate a YouTube video, blog a lay opinion, etc. “We’ve had enough of experts!” cried the classroom.
To over-simplify: most members of the public whenever asked what they want to be in life, answer “let me be famous!”. Adults in America and Britain were recently asked their feelings about the EU or the next US leader, subtext of their answer was “let me be important!”. There’s not much difference between these exclamations for most of the working class electorate. Their lives play out in an imagination-free vacuum punctuated by a succession of demands, obligations imposed by incomprehensible or inviolate forces, conditioned to follow conventions they perceive as “the way the real world is”.
This vacuum is mistaken by the middle class for an ‘echo chamber’ – albeit one that’s degraded – but to see it in such terms is fatal to seeing the drab truth of their degraded existence. Nothing consistent differentiates the outcome of one response from another, these statements of raw avarice “famous!” or “important!” persisting unchallenged – ignored by the world as slight variations of pitch – serving a purpose nonetheless: distracting a particular impulse long enough so it fades away without risk of consequence. The individual gets to move on, unchanged, unaffected, zero sum living tottering on until the next stimuli shines and captivates another disassociated momentary attention.
Trump (and his advisors) didn’t mistake these dispossessed lives for another flavour of echo chamber and this insight let Trump’s team hone a fantasy appeal that spoke to what soon became a fast growing base. “You are all important!” “I’m famous, I’ll make you famous too!” shouted Trump and despite the scattergun of bullshit, these keynotes had an obvious galvanising allure. The day’s headlines, the throwaway rhetoric throwing today’s cat among the pigeons, furore over facts and mistruths and fake news: this is all irrelevant smokescreening to mesmerise opponents.
Trump has his goals. These are self-evident: manic narcissism, popular applause, xxx. Trump’s party supporters have their goals: drawing wealth upwards, consolidating power through crony-capitalism. Trump’s voters, likewise, a consistent modus operandi, however lumpen. It’s a path of least resistance, once one pinpoints the bald facts of what’s considered challenging by most human beings. Least resistance is a path navigating around life lessons, cleaving to the in-group, eschewing anything touched by out-group risk. Mistaking this cycle is a grave error yet it informs so much middle class sympathy. It’s a mistake that’ll keep ensuring the well-meaning liberal minded misdirect their counter-balancing or counteracting efforts; and thus ensure they remain mostly ineffectual. As they have been.