A Dish Best Served Hot
It has happened. Just over a year ago, Donald Trump launched his campaign for the Republican Party’s 2016 nomination to alround chuckles and chortles of derision. A few weeks ago in Cleveland, as he took the stage of the GOP’s official candidate of record, there was only one person laughing and that was the Donald himself. His former opponents either no where to be seen, booed off the stage in contempt, or sycophantically singing his praises with the zeal of a newfound conversion, Trump stood before the assembled delegates of the GOP to deafening applause, for now at least the new undesputed master; he was the leader of a peasants’ revolt that had stormed the palace of the Republican Party elders and this was his moment to take the throne for himself. While questions certainly linger as to whether he can defeat Hillary Clinton in November and claim the ultimate prize of the White House itself what is beyond any doubt is that Trump and evidently much relished victory over those who derided him as a humorous sideshow when he first entered the race.
Whatever one’s politics, it cannot be denied how remarkable this achievement is. For the first time in American history an outsider has captured the nomination of a major political party (in previous cases individuals of no particular party association, such as Eisenhower, had been nominated but always after being essentially recruited by party insiders). Despite having no real ties to the party, hardly any endorsements, next to no organization, and hardly any financial backing, Donald Trump managed to defeat a host of far superior challengers (on paper) in a march to victory that now looks as inevitable in hindsight as it looked impossible when it first began.
One by one he placed his opponents in the crosshairs and preceded to take them down while taking them apart. Jeb Bush, the heir apparent, who was left mournfully asking for applause at his own campaign rally. Ben Carson, the five second wonder, who pursued an endless search for fresh clothes in between offering lectures on the agrarian uses of the pyramds. Marco Rubio, the rising star who was brought low in his own home state. Ted Cruz, who outlasted them all only to find at the end that even the #NeverTrump crowd in fact preferred Trump over him. For Trump himself, realizing as he took the stage that he had defeated them all was undoubtedly a moment of ultimate revenge.
It is a revenge made possible in part by Trump proving willing to brazenly say what others considered unsayable and go to depths others considered unconscionable, and also by him craftily realizing there was an untapped pool of voters (primarily but not exclusively white, male and working class) who had been abandoned by their former political patrons on the left and were largely ignored on the right making them ripe for the taking. Trump calculated that if he finally presented himself as a voice to these voters that had felt voiceless for so long he would win himself a base of support that would stand with him through hell and high water; whether this has also given himself an unbreakable ceiling is yet to be seen. His calculation proved correct, and the Donald ended up sweeping his way through the Bible Belt and Rust Belt, the Northeast and the Deep South.
Books will be written for decades on the lessons of this election, both those real and those only imagined, but if one thing has been made apparent is that as never before America (and by association the wider Western world) has been divided into two camps and it is not in then traditional ones of Republican and Democrat. As a friend of mine put it, one is an Amerca that lives in gated communities and tall condo towers, watches Game of Thrones and True Detective, and dines at the latest trendy you Asian-fusion restaurant because it’s the trendy thing to do, while the other lives in towns like Scraton and Piketon, watches Survivor and the Bachelorette, and eats pop-tarts and peanut butter because it’s all they can afford. The former has been the dominant force in politics and the media and business for decades and lived in blissful denial of the existence of the latter, who have ruefully suffered in silence until Trump came alone and made himself their champion.
Trump may very well go down to defeat in November, but this second America will still be there and conditions will leave them just as receptive for another Trump to comes along, perhaps one not as handicapped as the current one. A return to the old status quo, where this segment of the population is simply ignored by the conventional right while being openly despised by the conventional left is no longer an option. Addressing their legitimate concerns will require an honest discussion on subjects such as immigration, trade, and national sovereignty long deemed taboo. There is no other way.