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Trump Doesn't Have To Get Populism Right Because His Base Doesn't Want Populism

Trump has never gotten over the fact that he wasn't truly welcomed by the elite in New York.
Trump Doesn't Have To Get Populism Right Because His Base Doesn't Want Populism

I've addressed this subject before, but it keeps coming up:

President Trump ... once again railed against the “elite” at a campaign rally in Fargo, N.D., echoing comments he made last week at a rally in Minnesota.

“I hate it, I meet these people, they call it the elite,” Trump said Wednesday night.

“We got more money, we got more brains, we got better houses and apartments, we got nicer boats, we’re smarter than they are and they say they’re the elite,” the president said. “You’re the elite, we’re the elite.”

Trump went on to call the elite “stone cold losers.”

“Let’s call ourselves, from now on, the super elite,” he said.

Here's the clip:

I understand Jonathan Chait's reaction:

This is not, of course, how populism works. It trades on either cultural or economic grievance. One’s enemies possess all the privilege, and we the people must take it back. Once you have declared that you already possess the privilege, the whole basis for it disintegrates. While Trump performed perfectly well among the rich, most of his supporters are not rich (because most Americans are not rich) and would have trouble recognizing themselves in his portrait of lavish apartments and boats.

Trump does not have a clever strategy behind this new rhetorical tic. He is simply not intelligent or sophisticated enough to understand that, in politics, unlike the business world he came from, “elite” is a term of abuse.

And yet the crowd cheers, which tells me that the Trump fan base isn't motivated by economic grievance at all -- cultural grievance, yes, but not a feeling that the economy has given them a raw deal. Many of Trump's supporters are comfortably retired and happily collecting government benefits. Others are still working and doing just fine. And because they're Republicans, we know that they've never really resented the fact that the rich have much more wealth than they do -- they routinely vote for candidates who give huge tax cuts to the extremely rich, and they're fond of referring to wealthy people as "job creators," and as "makers" as opposed to "takers." ("No poor man ever gave me a job," they like to say.) I'm sure they like being called members of the elite.

But it wouldn't be good to be regarded as members of the bad elite, which is liberal and says mean things about guns when not encouraging black football kneelers and undocumented Hispanics and hijab-wearing Muslims to think they're just as good as regular people. That elite sucks!

Chait writes:

A key element of [Trump's] grift has involved selling people on the notion that they too can become rich if they buy Trump books or predatory “university” courses.

Obviously, his presidency is like that -- the great coal jobs aren't really coming back, he isn't actually going to provide everyone with better heath care for less money. But Trump's grift also includes the notion that if you're with him -- if you go to his casinos or eat and shop and Trump Tower -- you're elite already, thanks to the generosity of Trump, who unlike other elitists, shares his elitism with you. Trump has just extended that message to the political realm.

What's peculiar about this is that Trump is talking about the great unhealable wound in his life. He's always wanted to be accepted by the genuine elitists in New York, and they've never truly welcomed him. He's never gotten over that. But he turned that pain and resentment into a business strategy. And now he's weaponized it for politics.

Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog

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