Donald Trump & the Power of Political Narrative

How is Donald Trump WinningNOTE: I wrote this around Super Tuesday. The content of the original article still applies, especially since Donald Trump is currently the presumptive nominee.

Super Tuesday is upon us, and the question being asked is how many states will Donald Trump win. An even more perplexing question is — how has the Donald Trump campaign been so successful when every major pundit and political analyst has predicted his demise since he took aim at the White House?

Seriously. How is this possible?

The answer to this question can be found in David Horowitz’s book, “Take No Prisoners: The Battle Plan For Defeating the Left.” In this book, Horowitz lays out the blueprint for Republicans to defeat the leftists that run the Democratic Party. The tactics are not mysterious nor are they complicated. In fact, they are the very tactics the Democrats use against the G.O.P.

Consider the opening paragraph,

“It doesn’t take an expert to notice the Republicans have been pursuing a failed political strategy and win elections only when Democrats screw up big time. The Democrats’ electoral victories are not explained by the success of their signature programs. Social Security, the War on Poverty, and Medicare are all either bankrupt or, in the case of the War on Poverty, an abject failure. Under Democratic policies of the last fifty years, the federal government has spent more than $20 trillion to eliminate poverty. Yet today more Americans are officially ‘poor’ than when Lyndon Johnson squandered the first taxpayer dollar. Worse, the beneficiaries of Democrat welfare programs have become a permanently dependent class with little chance of improving their lot. How is it possible that although Democrat policies have caused so much misery and failed so dramatically, Democrat candidates have won the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections? The answer lies in their superior political strategy. This book analyzes why it is superior and explains how Republicans can turn it to their own advantage and win.” (Pg. xi)

These are important questions to consider. How is it that the Democrats can peddle the same arguments for the same programs over and overagain, without ever having to produce a shred of empirical data to support or demonstrate the success of their adored bureaucratic welfare state? How are Democrats so successful at hiding the victims of these failed social experiments? The answer can be found in the narrative surrounding the programs and policies. The political worldview of the secular progressive liberal is Utopian in its very nature, and statist in its means to that unconstrained end. All that is necessary to eradicate income inequality, class warfare, bigotry, racism, intolerance and any other social ill wrestled with since the dawn of time can all be a thing of the past if enough money is spent on the right government program. There is only one problem – narrow minded, unenlightened, hateful, greedy, bigoted, sexist, and racist conservatives existing within the roll call of the Republican Party block the path.

That is the political narrative of the Democratic Party. Equality and prosperity are achievable if only the evil conservatives can be defeated. Vote for “us,” while spurning “them,” and we will protect you from their poisonous political agenda.

Horowitz summarizes,

“There is nothing new about this Democratic strategy. In 1996, a major keynote to the Democratic convention contained this gem: ‘We need to work as we have never done before between now and November 5th to take Congress back from them…the Republicans, because ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, the Republicans are the real threat. They are the real threat to our women. They are the real threat to our children. They are the real threat to clean water, clean air, and the rich landscape of America.’

Republicans are the enemies of women, children, and the environment. The man pronouncing this anathema was not a fringe character but the governor of New York and former presidential prospect, Mario Cuomo. Republicans have been the target of this kind of extremist attack through at least four presidential elections, yet they haven’t begun to develop an answer to it, let alone respond in kind. To this day, no Republican speaks like that about Democrats – certainly no Republican who is a national figure and party leader.” (Pg. 15)

How are the political opponents of the Democratic Party supposed to counter this narrative? Horowitz explains,

“The only way to counter such attacks is by turning the Democrats’ guns around – by exposing them as the agents of injustice and exploiters of the most vulnerable, by treating them as the reactionary proponents of policies that are bankrupt and that have proven destructive where they have been put in place.” (Pg. 21)

Donald Trump is doing exactly this, and it is why he is not only running away with the G.O.P nomination, but potentially the presidency itself.

To be sure, Trump’s message is not about injustice or inequality or even the poor results of progressive policies. His message is much simpler than that, and it is something everyone can get behind; it is about winners, losers, and greatness.

Donald Trump, according to his narrative, has spent his entire life winning. The political class has spent the last few decades losing; the establishment of both parties lose in trade, they lose when keeping American jobs safe from illegal immigrants, they have not kept us safe from terrorism, they lose wars in the Middle East, they lose to China, they lose to Mexico, they lose in negotiations with Iran, they lose in anything and everything they try to do because they are losers. Donald Trump only knows how to win, and he will make America great again. If you vote for Trump, you are voting for a winner and you are voting for greatness. Which of course means that you are also a winner and directly contributing to a new era of American supremacy.

It is really that simple — winners, losers, and greatness.

Trump is doing exactly what Horowitz suggests, which is to turn the Democrat’s tactical guns back on them.

Don’t forget that this is how Senator Obama became President Obama. He focused on the frustration of the Bush years and offered hope and change. There was no criticism of then Senator Obama’s political philosophy and polices that could penetrate the “hope and change” mantra of his campaign. Trump is focusing on the frustration of the Obama years and offering a winner vs. a plethora of losers.

Horowitz later identifies four principles of politics (Pg. 143, 144):

1. Politics is a war of emotions
2. Politics is a war of position
3. Fear is a political weapon
4. Politics is about hope

Donald Trump is playing by all four of these principles. Why is it that nobody cared about President Obama’s past? Because hope and change, that’s why.

Why doesn’t anybody really care all that much about Donald Trump’s past?

Answer – Donald Trump is a winner and nobody else can make American great again.

You see how that works? Attack the character of Trump and you are rebuffed with a narrative that completely ignores the accusations. This is political rhetoric at its finest.

The above questions only matter for someone that utilizes reason and philosophical consistency to guide their choices in politics, or in life for that matter. The first principle identifies the fact that politics is a war of emotions, not well reasoned arguments. Nobody cares about the past life of Donald Trump or even what he says now because the narrative is too intoxicating. Americans care about winning, and he has established a grand story that positions himself as the winner.

Whatever the results are of this presidential election, we are now encountering the grandest of illusions, and that is the illusion of political choice. I suggest, humbly, that you free yourself from this illusion and bring others along with you.

The final paragraph from Alasdair Macintyre’s book, After Virtue, seems fitting for our times:

“It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless certain parallels there are. A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead – often not recognizing fully what they were doing – was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness. If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we too have reached that turning point. What matters as this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope. This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have already been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting not for a Godot, but for another – doubtless very different – St. Benedict.“


– Lucas G. Westman

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