Is Trump Still Shocking?

Here’s how I’m feeling about Donald Trump at this point in the campaign:

I just don’t care what he’s saying and doing anymore and I get the feeling that a lot of other people have reached the same point. He’s lost the ability to shock me and, as a result, he can no longer even offend me.

My friend Al Giordano has some observations (subscription newsletter) on the same topic, but from a broader angle.

This election won’t just determine domestic and foreign policies. It will also set the course for cultural norms in the United States for years to come. The social consequences could be worse than those directly related to governance. “Make America Great Again” truly is code for “Get Home By Sundown.”

This will be the last presidential election in which white Americans hold a majority (a slim one at 51 percent of the population). By 2020 that will slip under fifty percent: thus the collective freak-out that resulted in the nomination of Donald Trump for the GOP nomination, and Trump’s success at selling to part of the GOP base a level of authoritarian discourse unseen from a major party candidate in any living person’s lifetime.

When we see or hear fifty-year-old guys in the media threatening coups d’etat or assassination attempts against a Hillary presidency, keep in mind that these dudes couldn’t win an arm-wrestling contest. Theirs are expressions of profound impotence: a lament that their whiteness and maleness does not today infuse them with the automatic privilege and power they were promised as boys.

Such expressions – whether from some asshole on social media or a bitter relative at the family Thanksgiving table – are meant to inflame. They respond to social cues that the rest of us provide them. Guys like that figure out what words are likely to offend or traumatize others and they shout them precisely to upset. In their lives of loud desperation, the moment when they cause stress to others may be the only time anyone pays them any attention at all. It provides a fleeting illusion of the power that they thought was their birthright. Alone at twilight, many with a couple of divorces later, with kids that generally hate them, causing trauma is the only move left in their playbook to say: “I am,” and to be noticed at all.

Donald Trump lives out their aging white male fantasy on a national and international stage. He’s a hero to these bros. It doesn’t matter to his base whether, as president, he would make their lives better or worse. We’re dealing with a passive nihilist impulse here. Trump upsets everybody else – women, people of color, religious minorities, youth – therefore he thrills his supporters.

With every outrageous comment he is saying for the group: “We are. We exist.”

But the act has grown old.

What is really happening is that chunks of the Trump base have become demoralized. The “enthusiasm deficit” that pundits assigned to Clinton’s vote has inverted and now the specter of voter apathy haunts Republicans more than Democrats.

Two related factors especially demoralize the Trump voters (and make it less likely some of them will vote at all): The sense that his outrageous statements-du-jour no longer shock and offend “the other people” that this sector of white folks enjoy bothering. And the regular reminders that Democrats are simply better organized when it comes to grassroots voter contact (phone calls, door knocks, GOTV) and, above all, early voting. Media images of the long lines – particularly of African-Americans – flocking to early vote polling places are devastating to the morale of the potential Trump voter.

On the subject of African-Americans voting early, Michael McDonald noted two days ago that the numbers out of Georgia are strong:

That 31% matches the black population of the state as a whole. Four years ago, Georgia was one of many states where black turnout (by percentage) actually exceeded white turnout. We could be seeing a repeat even though Barack Obama is not on the ballot.

And, yes, there are lines. On the first two days of in-person early voting, the wait times were reportedly as long as five hours in some locations.

I think there is an element of Trump’s appeal that is collapsing due to the widening consensus and perception that he’s a certain loser. It just doesn’t seem like much of an F.U. to show up to the polls to vote for a guy who’s going to get smooshed.

But maybe it’s just that his opponents’ are now so confident that they’re beginning to shrug off the outrages and insults.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.