The WSJ bemoans “Trump’s Politics of Grievance.” The piece mourns Trump’s obvious thin skin and his willingness to attack anything that even feints towards attacking him. I read the piece, it makes immense sense and I agree with it, but that trait has been apparent in Trump from the very beginning and here we are. Piece after piece continues to appear on the divide between conservative intellectuals and the Republican electorate when it comes to Trump. The intellectuals keep trying to figure out how Trump secured the nomination, but they keep doing so using traditional ways of thinking about things. They look at issue sets and demographics; they analyze economic and educational levels data but somehow they keep missing the mark. Occam’s Razor would dictate that what has happened has happened for reasons that traditional American political science is not designed to analyze. Conventional analysis is not going to work when it comes to Trump.
I have long contended that the word “science” should not be applied to the study of human behavior. “Science” implies that the phenomena being studied is consistent and repeatable, and therefore subject to modeling. Human behavior, whether individual or corporate, may trend towards norms but those norms are often subject to change and the standard deviation generally exceeds measurement error – assuming there is a reasonable measurement to begin with. The rise of Trump is not going to be explained by the standard rational analysis – its visceral, emotive. Trump supporters are acting out of human tendencies that almost by definition intellectuals have trained out of themselves.
That’s why a piece in Roll Call by Nathan Gonzales that likens Trump to a cultist figure on the lines of Jim Jones makes more sense to me than most I have read of late. It’s not that Trump is going to lead the nation to mass suicide, but that the relationship between Trump and his supporters is similar. (Remember when Trump said he could murder a guy on the street and his supporters would still support him?) Anybody that has watched a cult in action knows that what is going on there seems to defy rational analysis. There is a quality to it that is almost like an animal pack, or maybe some of the fiercest of human tribes
Dennis Prager says Trump won because conservatives have failed to multiply. Another way to look at it is conservatism is largely an intellectual exercise and if we do not train the intellect of the general populace the human tendencies that the intelligentsia have trained out of themselves will come to carry the day. Back in March I wrote of “Politics and Entropy.” I noted that a massive input of energy is needed to keep the national system organized because nature tends towards disorder. There is a baser nature to man that is animalistic and tribal that we will revert to if we do not expend massive effort to overcome it. The “cult” around Trump appeals to that baser nature, something that intellectuals have purposefully tried to lose touch with.
It is tempting to therefore conclude that intellectuals have to become more base, but that is not the answer. The answer is to acknowledge that they share that baser nature but have overcome it.
In April Prager berated conservative intellectuals for their secularism. He has a point in that they do not argue from religion in public. However, I think most are privately deeply religious. Religion is the only thing that can overcome our base nature. Intellectual development, without personal religious tempering, is left-leaning almost by definition – it is what we see so much of these days. Even those that have publicly announced areligiosity, have upbringings that have them steeped in religious training and thought.
Judaism and Christianity both start with the premise that humanity needs improvement. They vary by the depth of that conviction and by the path out of it, but both assume humanity to be a work in progress of some sort. Purely secular thought holds mankind to be fine just the way we are, we don’t need progress, we need some sort of “self-discovery.” This is why the social issues matter. It is less about public morality than it is about telling us we are works in progress.
We may not be able to ague publicly by resort to religious authority, but that does not mean we should argue without resort to religiosity. Otherwise, our baser nature will inevitably prevail.