I’ve been caught up in a whirlwind of grading and have not had the opportunity to post as often as I would like. But like anyone else with a pulse, I have found myself bewildered by what feels like a series of increasingly audacious moments in our political spectacle. By themselves, each of these moments seems like a watershed political moment, one that will resonate within the news media and the historic accounts of the race, only to see it topped just days–or even hours–later.
But in just the last week, at least four pivotal interactions occurred, all of them touching on Trumpism in some form or another. First, there was Chris Christie’s notorious introduction or endorsement of Trump, which he seemed to read with all of the enthusiasm of someone who’d been kidnapped. The image of Christie standing impassively in the background inspired some of the best social media parodies, including my personal favorite, this Vine, which uses the theme music from Curb Your Enthusiasm in order to read Christie’s seemingly pained expression at being placed in an impossibly awkward situation, a reading that Christie himself has disputed.
The second key moment involves the fascinating debate between CNN political commentator Van Jones and Trump supporter Jeffrey Lord after Lord sought to identify the Ku Klux Klan as a “leftist organization.” This debate came on the heels of Trump’s apparent unwillingness to disavow the support of former Klan leader David Duke and other white supremacist organizations. Trump later and repeatedly disavowed these groups but not before Lord sought to make the case that Democrats, for decades, were guilty of “dividing the nation” on the basis of race.
The third key moment involved the image of the previous GOP nominee, Mitt Romney, delivering a sweeping denunciation of Trump and stating that the party should do everything possible to bring down the Republican frontrunner. Romney sought to depict Trump as a “phony” and “fraud,” themes that would be echoed later in that week’s Republican debate on Fox News, but what was notable about the speech was the fact that Romney tacitly endorsed further fragmentation and refused to throw his support behind any specific candidate. Instead, he seemed to propose the idea of a contested convention, one in which party power brokers (rather than primary voters) would be in the position of deciding the nominee.
Finally, there was the Republican debate itself, in which Trump famously defended the size of his penis from attacks by Marco Rubio. Which basically places us just a couple of steps from the satirical futuristic society depicted in Mike Judge’s brilliant film, Idiocracy. But these questions about Trump’s manhood–and the need he felt to defend it–actually tell us quite a bit about the state of the electorate and the degree to which Trump’s performance depends on there not being a “problem” there. But I would also want to highlight the degree to which Fox News sought to single out Trump’s business dealings, as when Megyn Kelly, Trump’s chief foil within conservative media, questioned him on his failed businesses including Trump University. It’s unclear whether these negative attacks will have any effect on Trump, of course. Jeb Bush, John McCain, Lindsey Graham, and other Republicans have sought–and failed–to discredit Trump, to expose him as a serial liar with no basis for his policies.
However, to some extent, I see Trump’s supporters as being beyond persuasion, in much the same way that Colbert diagnosed with Bush supporters many years ago when he coined the term “truthiness.” For Trump, we are reaching something that might be called “Trumpiness,” with the pun at the end of that word fully intended. Trump’s “truth” is one that is felt, and it is one that is completely grounded in his performance of success and winning, of feeling the pent up rage of working class people who feel screwed by the system and then magically transforming that into a success narrative. It is a powerful narrative and one that should not be underestimated.