Trump Taps Into the American Zeitgeist (Not)

This week on every cable and broadcast news channel, "noted" political analysts were incessantly carrying on about the Trump phenomenon.

It is bad enough that the mainstream media perpetuate the frenzy by creating the frenzy anew. All of the breathless surprise over the fact that Trump's candidacy has not imploded is the sole reason that Trump's candidacy has not imploded. It is a bizarre, circular process. Night after night, seemingly intelligent humans spend hours pondering why the media is spending hours pondering Trump's unlikely popularity. I suppose I'm doing it now.

But the latest analysis on MSNBC sat on the hilarious/unbelievable border. A group of liberal talking heads on All In with Chris Hayes opined, in a serious chin-rubbing kind of way, about the brilliance of the Trump "strategy." Maybe, they suggested, Trump is really a genius and has tapped into a deeply important vein of the American Zeitgeist. Perhaps his use of outrageous language and his radical positions on complex matters like immigration are part of a calculated strategy which -- golly! -- may actually lead to the nomination.

While choking, I kept thinking to myself, "I've seen this somewhere before. I've seen this somewhere before. I've seen this somewhere before."

And it came to me. Yes! Being There.

Being There is among my all-time favorite movies. Therein, the late great Peter Sellers portrays Chance the Gardener, aka Chauncy Gardiner. The plot line in short summary: Chance, a simple-minded gardener, lived in the Washington, D.C. town house of a wealthy benefactor. He learned everything he knew from watching television. When the benefactor died, he was forced to enter the outside world. In a "chance" encounter with a politically influential businessperson and his wife, his self-introduction as "Chance, the gardener" is misheard as "Chauncy Gardiner."

His elegantly tailored clothes, taken from the attic of his former benefactor, and his courtly manner, absorbed from the conventions of his former life, are misinterpreted as signs of great wealth and sophistication. His simplistic homilies are considered great wisdom and his stretches of dull silence received as indicators of confidence and dignity. Before long, Chance/Chauncy is in great demand in D.C. circles, eventually advising the President. As Wikipedia states, "Public opinion polls start to reflect just how much his 'simple brand of wisdom' resonates with the jaded American public."

Yes, indeed. It is Donald Trump to a T, except for the stretches of dull silence. (Being There was released in 1979, so it is necessary to invoke the name Ronald Reagan, for whom this comparison may be even more apt. But that was then and this is now.)

Ironically, the one MSNBC contributor who seems to see the Trump phenomenon clearly is Rick Wilson. I'm no fan of Wilson, who has his own regular sensational skirmishes, but as to Trump he's on the mark. When others were engaging in mental gymnastics to make a sophisticated mountain out of Trump's dirty little molehill, Wilson retorted, "Trump's mind is a hot mess."

Many claim that his lack of filter is "refreshing." Disparaging women, glibly suggesting we deport millions of decent people and their families and his other unfiltered utterances are not "refreshing." They are dangerous, disconnected, impulsive, egocentric and crude. If this is a "strategy," we should wonder exactly what game we are playing. Arrogance is not confidence. Loudness is not passion. Swagger is not leadership. Translating the former characteristics into the latter is bad journalism.

I don't think Trump is stupid. In this sense my evoking Being There is not apt. But the analogy is surely apt in that it shows that many people -- 25% of some group of Republicans and most of the mainstream media -- project their own sensibilities (or nonsense-abilities) on issues or candidates. Trump doesn't have a plan. As Rick Wilson observed, his mind is a "hot mess" of inconsistency and opportunism.

So what about that "tapping into the Zeitgeist" thing? Trump's popularity is not because he projects a voice of independence, speaking truth to power, representing the honesty citizens long for in politics. Trump is not representing disenfranchised, unemployed, under-employed or disregarded Americans. Nothing in his life or brash pronouncements indicates that he cares one bit about them, except to the extent that they can be further impoverished and exploited by his amoral casino empire.

Trump's success reveals the only thing he's "tapping into:" Americans who admire celebrity, gaudy excess, arrogance, swagger and aggression. That's sad, not fascinating.