Forgive me. My obsession with trying to understand the rise and endurance of Trumpism may be distracting me from other important topics. So for the moment, I’ll just pass along another stab at the ultimate Trumpism explainer, this one by George Lakoff.
I think of Lakoff as a liberal linguist, known for a book titled “Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate.” But to really understand where he is coming from, you need to understand that he says he works in the field of “cognitive brain sciences” and has devoted much of his work understanding how “the various policy positions of conservatives and progressives hang together.”
I’m not going to try to pass along all the elements of Lakoff’s explanation of Trump’s appeal. I’m not even sure I can grasp them all. But he covers the “strict father” stuff that many conservative Americans believe is the proper way to organize a family; the “winning, winning, winning” stuff (for example, the reason Trump wasn’t destroyed by his claim that John McCain wasn’t a hero was that heroes are winners, they don’t get captured), and more elements that come from Lakoff’s blend of the linguistic, the moral, the pragmatic and the ideological, all understood on a sub-rational basis.
For example, here’s an excerpt from Lakoff’s discussion of how Trump’s attack on “political correctness” makes his followers feel:
There are at least tens of millions of conservatives in America who share strict father morality and its moral hierarchy. Many of them are poor or middle class and many are white men who see themselves as superior to immigrants, nonwhites, women, non-Christians, gays — and people who rely on public assistance. In other words, they are what liberals would call “bigots.”
For many years, such bigotry has not been publicly acceptable, especially as more immigrants have arrived, as the country has become less white, as more women have become educated and moved into the workplace, and as gays have become more visible and gay marriage acceptable. As liberal anti-bigotry organizations have loudly pointed out and made a public issue of the un-American nature of such bigotry, those conservatives have felt more and more oppressed by what they call “political correctness” — public pressure against their views and against what they see as ‘free speech.’ This has become exaggerated since 9/11, when anti-Muslim feelings became strong. The election of President Barack Hussein Obama created outrage among those conservatives, and they refused to see him as a legitimate American (as in the birther movement), much less as a legitimate authority, especially as his liberal views contradicted almost everything else they believe as conservatives.
Donald Trump expresses out loud everything they feel — with force, aggression, anger, and no shame. All they have to do is support and vote for Trump and they don’t even have to express their “politically incorrect” views, since he does it for them and his victories make those views respectable. He is their champion. He gives them a sense of self-respect, authority, and the possibility of power.
Whenever you hear the words “political correctness remember this.
As best I can grasp it, Lakoff is breaking the polyglot mass known as American conservatism into several segments, based on psychological types. His conclusion is that Trump’s shtick offers something satisfying, at a sub-rational level, to a great many of the types. That’s his answer to the question he used as a headline for the article: “Why Trump?”
If you want to read the whole argument, it’s here.