For tens of millions of Americans, Trump was unthinkable as President. It came to be conceded that he had “tuned into something”: the frequencies of white rural life, the disaffection of people who felt overwhelmed by the forces of globalization, who felt unheard and condescended to by the coastal establishment. Yet Trump himself, by liberal consensus, was a huckster mogul of the social-media age, selling magic potions laced with poison. How could he possibly win?
Still, his triumph, or the idea of it, was not beyond prediction. The fissures and frustrations in the American electorate were nothing new, and some commentators were notably alert to them. Before and after the election, a passage from Richard Rorty’s 1998 book, “Achieving Our Country,” circulated on social media. Rorty, a left-leaning philosopher, who died in 2007, predicted that the neglected working class would not tolerate its marginalization for long. “Something will crack,” he wrote:
The nonsuburban electorate will decide that the system has failed and start looking around for a strongman to vote for—someone willing to assure them that, once he is elected, the smug bureaucrats, tricky lawyers, overpaid bond salesmen, and postmodernist professors will no longer be calling the shots. . . . One thing that is very likely to happen is that the gains made in the past forty years by black and brown Americans, and by homosexuals, will be wiped out. Jocular contempt for women will come back into fashion. . . . All the resentment which badly educated Americans feel about having their manners dictated to them by college graduates will find an outlet.
A man of inherited fortune and a stint at the Wharton School was an unlikely champion of the rural South and the Rust Belt—this was no Huey Long—but Trump was shrewd enough to perform his fellow-feeling in blunt terms. “I love the poorly educated!” he told the crowd after winning the Nevada caucus. “We’re the smartest people, we’re the most loyal people!”
David Remnick, “It Happened Here”, The New Yorker (28 November 2016), 54.