…how has Donald Trump, the coddled scion of a New York real-estate baron, emerged as a populist hero? How does the beneficiary of a draft deferment due to bone spurs on his feet get away with questioning the military record of John McCain, who endured five years as a prisoner of war? Trump believes that his appeal is based largely on what he calls his heroic lack of “political correctness” but which is more accurately described as a breezy penchant for race-baiting, war crimes, and content-free policy pronouncements. At rallies, Trump gets some of his loudest cheers when he calls for the expanded use of torture (methods “a hell of a lot worse” than waterboarding), for the construction of a walled-off southern border (it will be “a beautiful wall”), and for the immediate replacement of Obamacare with…“something terrific.”
The question remains why the Trump phenomenon has proved so buoyant and impregnable. Some have earnestly ascribed it to broad social and economic forces, particularly the “new normal” of stagnating wages, underemployment, and corporate “offshoring” and “inversion.” Yet those factors were at least as pronounced in the last election cycle––and Republicans chose as their nominee the father of comprehensive health care in Massachusetts.
The socioeconomic forces are real, but Trump is also the beneficiary of a long process of Republican intellectual decadence.
David Remnick, “American Demagogue”, The New Yorker (14 March 2016), 28.