It's time for our political intelligensia to wake up. So argues Walter Russell Mead in a thoughtful piece in The American Interest, “The Meaning of Mr. Trump.” Forget about handicapping the race between Trump and Clinton. Forget about itemizing Trump's liabilities and failings. What's important about his candidacy is what it says about our country.
Here's what Mead thinks drives Trump's electoral successes:
What makes Trump so appealing to so many voters is that the establishment does seem unusually clueless these days. The great American post–Cold War project of seeking peace and security through the construction of a New World Order based on liberal internationalism and American power doesn't seem to be working very well, and it's not hard to conclude that neither the neoconservatives nor the Obama-ites really know what they are doing. When it comes to the economy, it's been clear since the financial crisis of 2008 that something is badly awry and that the economists, so dogmatic and opinionated and so bitterly divided into quarrelling schools, aren't sure how the system works anymore, and have no real ideas about how to make the world system work to the benefit of ordinary voters in the United States. With the PC crowd and the Obama administration hammering away at transgender bathroom rights as if this was the great moral cause of our time, and with campus Pure Thought advocates collapsing into self-parody even as an epidemic of drug abuse and family breakdown relentlessly corrodes the foundations of American social cohesion, it's hard to believe that the establishment has a solid grip on the moral principles and priorities a society like ours needs.
Trump appeals to all those who think that the American Establishment, the Great and the Good of both parties, has worked its way into a dead end of ideas that don't work and values that can't save us. He is the candidate of Control-Alt-Delete. His election would sweep away the smug generational certainties that Clinton embodies, the Boomer Progressive Synthesis that hasn't solved the problems of the world or of the United States, but which nevertheless persists in regarding itself as the highest and only form of truth.
That sounds exactly right to me, not only as an analysis of Trump's appeal, but as something we need to do as a country. The Baby Boomer consensus has failed to create a healthy society that works for the majority of Americans, whether that's measured in economic, cultural, or moral terms.
Mead is emphatic. He is no fan of Trump as Control-Alt-Delete:
But it would be equally wrong and perhaps more dangerous to take the view that there is nothing more fueling [Trump's] rise than ignorance, racism and hate. The failure of the center-Left to transform its institutional and intellectual dominance into policy achievements that actually stabilize middle class life, and the failure of the center-Right to articulate a workable alternative have left a giant intellectual and political vacuum in the heart of American life. The Trump movement is not an answer to our problems, but the social instinct of revolt and rejection that powers it is a sign of social health. The tailors are frauds and the emperor is not in fact wearing any clothes: it is a good sign and not a bad sign that so many Americans are willing to say so out loud.
Again, that sounds exactly right to me, which is why I'm anti-anti-Trump. He is a very flawed candidate, but the success of his candidacy is not something for us to anguish over. It's good, very good, that he is sweeping away the tired conservative orthodoxies. I hope he can do the same for the even more exhausted liberal orthodoxies in November.
R. R. Reno is editor of First Things.