David Denby, best known as a film critic, takes to the pages of the New Yorker (where his film criticism often appears) to see if he can explain the Trump phenomenon.
I loved the piece, in part because it is so different from the various attempts by political pundits to do the job, which usually devolve (or does one mean “degenerate”) into things that can be measured by poll results. Denby reviews the Trump phenomenon a bit like he might review a film, although he references a number of historical figures of the mid-20th century (Joe McCarthy, Father Coughlin, even Minnesota’s own Charles Lindbergh) and a couple of comics from the early days of TV.
Denby’s piece is actually titled “The Plot Against America,” which he borrows from a Philip Roth novel of the same name that was about a fictional Lindbergh presidential candidacy.
And Denby makes no prediction of how Trump’s plot to become president will turn out.
In his long final paragraph, Denby takes up one of the Trumpian habits that drives me nuts. The lies that the Donald spews and won’t correct, the reversals that he won’t acknowledge, basically, his contempt for a basic facticity that an old ink-stained wretch like me foolishly believes to be important. To Trump and the Trumpiacs (I believe I just made that word up), factual accuracy is for wimps and it just doesn’t matter.
(Here’s one, which I haven’t mentioned before, that all the fact-checkers have hit him for, and he did it again in the Tuesday night debate: claiming as “one of the things that I’m frankly most proud of is that in 2003, 2004, I was totally against going into Iraq.” In fact, no one can find and Trump has not produced any evidence that he criticized the decision to invade Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein before they occurred. His public criticisms all came after the invasion was well under way and a whole lot of people were screaming quagmire.)
Anyway, here’s Denby’s last paragraph (but read the whole piece, it isn’t long):
He lies all the time. But pointing out his lies, his contradictions, his illogical ideas, his nonsensical solutions — pointing out all of that, while noble and necessary work, is partly beside the point. Trump’s entire world picture, as he presents it to his voters, is an elaborate fiction — coherent in itself, like all such extreme fantasies, and therefore emotionally satisfying, but never required, either by Trump or by his audience, to meet the test of factuality and actuality. When he says that the country is in “terrible shape,” his listeners need only feel that their own situation is terrible to agree with him. In a similar way, the harrumphing attacks on him by such establishment Republicans as Jeb Bush, Tom Ridge, and Dick Cheney also miss the point. Those men are appealing to some common standard of allowable political discourse that Trump and his followers consider mere evasion. The movement’s standard of allowable behavior has been formed by popular culture — by standup comedy and, recently, by reality TV and by the snarking, trolling habits of the Internet. You can’t effectively say that Donald Trump is vulgar, sensational, and buffoonish when it’s exactly vulgar sensationalism and buffoonery that his audience is buying. Donald Trump has been produced by America, but I refuse to say, as some have, that he’s the demagogue that we deserve. He’s the demagogue the Republican Party deserves. The rest of us, including some Republicans, will resist him by holding on to whatever humanity and common sense we can command.