In 2016 the New York Times columnist David Brooks wrote that Donald Trump was “the wrong answer to the right questions.” Exactly.
Immigration levels, the decline of the North American industrial base, and the widespread culture of victimhood are all serious issues on which decent people can have legitimate differences. Politicians like Hillary Clinton and Justin Trudeau belong to a well-connected progressive elite which has too often condescended to ordinary citizens. News outlets like CNN and Canada’s CBC can serve up slanted reporting and selective coverage of complicated topics. I get all that.
But Donald Trump is not the rebuttal his supporters think he is. Trump is in it for himself. You can project your political beliefs on him, because you feel his enemies are your enemies too, but Donald Trump is not your friend. Trump’s real drive is to gain personally, which you can see in his constant bragging about his own supposed successes, his supposedly unwarranted persecutions, and the supposed failures of his critics; whether or not his supporters do well only matters insofar as it reflects well on him.
Even before he was elected, Trump’s main appeal was his outrageousness, his image as someone so lacking in the traditional decorum of ambitious candidates that, voters reasoned, he must harbor a fundamental competence which justified that lack. Some may have seen him as a modern Harry Truman figure, a plain talker – coarse and blunt, to be sure, but better those qualities now than the ineffectual niceties and evasions of presidents past. Harry Truman famously declared that the buck stopped with him, though, whereas Trump coarsely and bluntly demands presidential privilege but disavows presidential responsibility. Global and domestic crises to him are not problems to address but blames to shift: on the media, on his predecessors, on his detractors, on anyone whose highest loyalty lies somewhere other than on Trump himself.
Other conservative leaders, like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, and even Stephen Harper, represented values faintly similar to those of Trump’s base, but those men at least had basic grasps of democratic civics and a sense of public service. They demonstrated a respect for their offices they held, and for their opponents. Love or hate their policies, they enacted them for what they thought was the national good. Donald Trump, on the other hand, is just a self-promoter who parlayed his B-grade celebrity and the quirks of the US electoral system to win an ultimate reality contest. He has no overarching philosophy applied to his governance; he has a bloated ego and an uncritical attendance to Fox News. He has no great mission to fulfil; he has emotional appetites to gratify. He has no real constituency; he has fans.
Trump’s American and foreign admirers have made him a repository for a slew of opinions and impulses with which he has been happy to be associated, and their open admiration of him serves as a middle finger to what they broadly define as political correctness. Yet their allegiance only goes one way. Make Trump the symbol of all your grievances and goals as much as you like – make yourself believe that defending him is in your own interest – but spare me any delusions that to be pro-Donald Trump is to be pro-anything else.