Why Trump is Succeeding
While the Republican Party is in full panic mode over Donald Trump's success, and experts are left scratching their heads, shrugging their shoulders and all in all looking befuddled and confused, I think I understand why it is happening.
I'll highlight it with an example that is playing out right in front of us.
President Obama nominated a Supreme Court justice yesterday. The last time a a potential appointee to the highest court in the land was nominated and confirmed during an election year was 1987 into '88. Though there was pushback, as there always is, Anthony Kennedy was nominated in 1987 and confirmed during the following election year. The difference now is that Senators feel justified in saying "we won't even consider a nominee." In 1987 and '88, Democrats definitely gave Reagan a hard time, denying numerous choices that he put forth to sit on the bench of the highest court in the land, but there was a protocol and respect so that Senators would at least have a hearing for any official nominee the president put forward. Now, our leaders are stonewalling each other. Stonewalling. They won't even consider it. At the top, they can't even be civil. They can't even talk.
Politically, we are divided into rival tribes. There has always been separation between parties in America, that's the point, but this is something different. There are a lot of people on one side that really hate the other side. When I speak about one, I am literally speaking about both Democrats and Republicans. I see little difference in the behavior of either side. An element of this vitriol has long existed. I believe that today it is worse than it has ever been.
It is like, "Eat, sleep, work, play, actively hate the rival political party. Okay, that was a full day."
It's a hobby. It's a thing.
The messages of hate, contempt, division and resistance have made their way into our hearts. It's no longer just political differences. It's disgust. Disdain. For our fellow Americans.
I'm not blaming the leaders that I mentioned above for this problem. I'm not blaming Trump. They wouldn't act like little babies if they didn't think their constituents would eat it up, and we are devouring it. We can't get enough. We're drinking anger and fear from the fire hose.
Yes, the brattiness and ingrained disdain goes all the way to the top, but the place that it starts is with the people. It starts in our hearts.
We have allowed ourselves to be lulled into a state of active hate that is tearing us apart, and everyone is to blame.
When the darkness in our hearts manifests, it's never pretty. It looks something like what we're seeing right now.
The contempt has been stoked by modern political media and the politicians themselves. And when I say stoked I mean they've been throwing gasoline on the fire for three decades.
No one has been as crass, outlandish or as insulting as Trump from the podium, but politicians have definitely led the way in disgusting behavior with their political attack ads. Some of the areas that Trump does the best are the spots that have been flooded with ugly political ads every two years since George W. That's a lot of hateful ads.
We had them in Colorado for a while, but not nearly as bad as some. 2004 was intense for us. Remember Markley vs. Musgrave? On our stations, in those days, and in 2008, we were packed full, wall to wall political ads. In the intervening years, and since we haven't had that many. However, here in Colorado we have experienced the barrage of negative attack ads, and I never found it to be very pleasant. Imagine if that were going on for decades.
Then, we have the aggro-hate political talk medium.
These formats on TV and radio have spent the last 30 years whipping the population into a frenzy. Before angry talk shows, if you wanted to consider an opinion you had to read an article. Most of those articles were written by journalists with editors, and even if they were publishing crap every so often, it still took effort to read that crap. With angry talk radio you can passively listen and allow it to slowly rot your opinion of what is happening in America and the world, and how terrible the opposing viewpoint is.
Then, at night on TV, more blowhards are there on cable to fill our heads with the same idea over and over. That idea?
"The other side are horrible people, and they are ruining everything."
It's unfortunate, but enthusiastic contempt is schtick that can work. Just identify the stories that can outrage the audience, focus on them and say inflammatory things. This format is huge. It kills. It's been bringing an audience since it started in the mid-80's when radio realized it worked and cable TV came into our homes.
When it started it was kind of cool, like "This guy is talking just like we do when we talk politics at school or work." I loved listening to Jim Quinn stick it to the man on Magic 97.9 FM. It taught me that there really is a lot going on when one looks at the world of politics. It taught me that if you look, there is much more than meets the eye.
Political watchdogs and journalism that shines a spotlight on our elected officials are a key to a free society.
However, most of the shows were doing more muckraking than whistle blowing. They used an "us vs. them" theme and have been on the air attempting to solidify the fact that their party's way is right and anyone else's is wrong. This has been the message that some people have been listening to everyday. For decades.
As I said before, though, this blame doesn't fall on the talk shows. They need content and in anger and fear, they found a winner. It draws an audience. So it's outrage after outrage, finger pointing, blaming, and us vs. them.
A large majority of us make up a semi-informed citizenry, distractedly consuming content that is dressed up as news and journalism, but is really sensationalism and instigation.
Our culture drives shows, websites, ideology, and political movements that feed on anger, fear and outrage, and people have been internalizing it. They've made the battle their own. They have an enemy in 50% of the American people, and are now convinced that everything would be fine if it weren't for those damn (insert the party you aren't a part of here).
Add social media, and we have a circus in our hands. If you wanted to take part in it before TV and radio hate shows, you had to read an article. As the former formats emerged, you had to be home to watch TV, in your car or near a radio. Now the horrible news of how stupid the other party is is in the palms of our hands. We carry the hate machine in our pockets everywhere we go.
With great power comes great responsibility, and the world at our fingertips via the Internet is a big responsibility, make no mistake. It can be the most beautiful and amazing thing we've ever seen, or the ugliest. Or both. Isn't it a shame how any sword that really cuts always has two sharp sides?
All of this is finally coming to a head in the form of one Donald J. Trump. We have inserted into the system a coin with so much negative emotion, suspicion, contempt, anger, fear, and sadness that the only thing that can come out of it is a person who will say "They are horrible!" and isn't afraid to name them. Immigrants, foreigners, religious groups, women. They suck and we don't.
The semi-informed public being instigated to anger by 30 years of overload from media and the political machine is just a very negative thing, and now we are reaping what we've sewn.
People who have never voted before are emerging to vote for Trump.
They weren't inspired by McCain, or Romney. But Trump? Trump motivates them. Trump felt this anger building and is capitalizing on it like the capitalist he is.
He knows that when he says such ridiculous and inflammatory things that it will get infinitely more coverage than some nerd laying out their 12 point plan for actual governance. People seem to be so angry that they don't care about the ridiculous and horrible things Trump has said, even when they can watch a video of 30 of them in 30 seconds on their phone. They don't care. Maybe they like it. He's drinking the haterade right along with them. They are toasting it in spiky flutes, clinking to the demise of everyone who isn't them.
And, in Trump, they not only have a man who they feel understands and will do something about their anger, they have a man who is valid, because Trump has juice. Anyone can blow hard, but when Trump bellows, people listen, because he is an international star. Call him what you want, until this debacle started, Donald Trump was a household name because he made himself a household name, around America and much of the world. Forget the fact that he inherited a lot of what he has. He has it. It doesn't matter how he got it. He has the money, he has fame, and he's turned it into juice. Validity.
He has been famous for longer than Clinton. At least a decade longer.
The world showed him the presidential stage and he stepped to it with gangster swag. He's always been an opportunistic promoter, what would you expect he would do when he realized he could make a run at the highest office in the land?
Of all guilty parties, I blame the Donald the least. He's just doing what he's always done, taking advantage of an opportunity. He is not the problem. He is the symptom of the problem.
At worst, he is an accelerant of the disease of our anger and fear. He's hogging headlines because he isn't afraid to say what the angry are feeling. But this whole mess isn't Trump's fault. He's simply profiting from it.
The mess comes from the fact that we won't listen to each other anymore.
It comes from the fact that people really hate the other side. It comes from the fact that political battles that used to take place mostly during election years have become full time, year round, constant hobbies for many people, and the feeling they carry with them is outrage.
I believe it would help us to remember that a democracy is about opposing viewpoints. We are lucky to have opposing viewpoints. Any democracy, once formed, is most likely going to split into opposite camps. But we need to remember that we live in one big camp. That camp is called America, and it's been one of the most beautiful creations in history. But our camp is turning ugly, because both sides think they are better American than the other.
Dissent is what this country was founded on.
The right to think and say what we believe are principles that are essential to our culture. When people say and think things we don't like, that's the point! That is the highest expression of the ideals of freedom that made America the leader of the modern free country movement. It is the essence.
Let's celebrate it.
If we want to turn this ugly landscape of hate back into something beautiful, we need to see the beauty in the opposite view. They are there to balance us. They are there to keep us in check.
Once our viewpoint is the only viewpoint, we've moved away from what democracy is.
It wasn't based on the idea that all things will be a certain way, but that we can vote for them to be a certain way. Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. The push and pull from the right and the left is what is supposed to be happening. But if we keep attaching so much hate and contempt to the outcomes, and if we forget that we are all Americans who deserve love, respect and compassion, we may have a long, dark future ahead of us.
We are all guilty in this mess of a spectacle, and if we don't like it, it's our job to change what is in our hearts, and what we put out into the world.
When we are more civil and loving, our nominees and presidents will be more civil and loving.
Trump is not the problem. He is the symptom. The problem is our willingness to hate. Let's turn that back to a willingness to love.