The question on everyone’s mind is this: How is Donald Trump winning? Why is he winning? And how long is he going to keep on winning? What few people–other than his supporters–seem to be considering is how this might be a good thing.
Despite a history of derogatory public remarks towards and about women–in an age when one tone-deaf Tweet can destroy a political career–he polls well with them.
Despite a coordinated attempt to sink his candidacy in the first debate by Fox News–the visible hand of conservative voters’ thinking–his support has only grown stronger.
Despite the conventional wisdom that the GOP needs to court Hispanic voters, he promises to build “the greatest wall you’ve ever seen” to keep out Mexican “murderers, drugs, and rapists.”
Despite Lord Reagan’s “11th Commandment” that thou shall not speak ill of another another Republican, he declares that senior statesman, former GOP presidential nominee, and Vietnam veteran and torture victim John McCain is “not a war hero.”
Despite being previously pro-choice, twice divorced, and the overseer of an empire of sin, he glides through the moral gauntlet.
Despite having funded liberal candidates and causes–at a time when ideological purity tests have become the norm in conservative politics–he keeps on attracting conservatives.
Despite an almost total lack of policy positions on his website or in his speeches, people are flocking to him.
Despite all this, he keeps on winning.
Of course, he hasn’t actually won anything yet, and despite his incessant boasting, he does not win all the time. A number of explanations have been given for Trump’s temporary triumph: he is entertaining, he is blunt, he tells the truth, he is not a politician, he’s a successful businessman, he is who he is, he dishes out populist pablum aplenty, and more. I don’t think any of these are wrong, but I think there is a more elegant, satisfying, and comprehensive explanation for why he striking such a chord with so many people.
Put simply, Trump is speaking to people on multiple levels simultaneously in a way none of the other candidates are. Just as the greatest gift the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist, the greatest gift a politician can every pull is to talk down to voters while making them think he’s not; to make everyone think he is taking directly to them, personally, at the same time he talking to everyone else; to make them feel empowered even when he knows they are going to get screwed. Call it inspiring condescension, call it parallel processing, call it what you want: whether by instinct or design, Trump has assembled the perfect rhetorical ingredients to win the ears of a stunning swath of voters. Trump may not be a “career politician,” and he has convinced voters he is not a politician, but he is a gifted politician.
But what exactly are those ingredients, and why are they the right ones? To answer those questions, we need to look at a little-known but, in political circles, widely used theory of cultural development called Spiral Dynamics. Check out Part 2 to find out what it is and how Trump is leveraging it.
(photos courtesy of www.blacksphere.net, http://theblacksphere.net/2015/08/republicans-fox-news-thank-donald-trump/ and flickr, https://www.flickr.com/photos/entirelysubjective/6733416743)