I woke up to three different text messages from friends of mine who were basically like “That’s it I’m totally voting for him.” and “He’s right this shit is fucked.” Leaving aside the fact that these are New Yorkers, whose votes don’t matter, and that they’re not people who particularly care about the actual statistics, I would say Trump’s speech last night was highly effective and perfectly delivered.
What the media and the political commentariat have missed this entire time is how important emotional response is in a modern election. Journalists, who’ve expended a million hours fact-checking Trump, are wasting their time and yours. During one of the GOP debates, the moderators literally fact-checked Trump in real-time on the TV screen and it still didn’t matter. It’s 2016, you can say whatever you want if people want to believe it. And they do.
Never mind that the economy has improved, unemployment has plunged, household wealth has soared and the deficit has shrunk. Never mind that violent crime has been in a decades-long downtrend and that Americans are statistically more likely to die from drunk driving accidents than they are from any of the other terrors they’re being frightened with. Never mind any of it. None of this stuff means a thing.
Donald Trump is not a candidate the American people would turn to in normal times. He’s too inexperienced, too eccentric, too volatile, too risky. Voting Trump is burning down the house to collect the insurance money — you don’t do it unless things are really, really bad.
Here is Trump’s problem: Things are not really, really bad.
In the social media age, we don’t just hear about horror stories from our own counties and cities. Now we hear all of them, from everyone’s local news coverage, and they seem to be multiplying in number. Empirically, the opposite is true, of course. But as Paul Manafort said to Jake Tapper when confronted with this fact on CNN yesterday. “It doesn’t matter, people don’t feel safe.”
Manafort’s right. It doesn’t matter. No one goes to the polls with statistics in their hearts. Make them feel less safe, beating them over the head with their own fears, and then make statements like “On day one, this is over.” or “I alone can fix this.” or “I will put an end to this on the day I am sworn in.” and you can become the president if you deliver the words with enough conviction.
Conviction has never been Trump’s problem, in word if not in actual deed. He genuinely seems to believe that he can put a total and complete end to crime and poverty “so, so fast.” How? “By making America great again.” Okay, sounds good. At least it sounds better than what anyone else is promising.
But then, perhaps there’s truth to his absurd promises: When the crisis is invented, the solution is simpler. Once Trump no longer needs the nation to be afraid, he will stop scaring it. It is his nightmare, and only he can wake us from it.
The simple mind, that can be tricked by misleading stats and thundering rhetoric absent any sort of specific policy prescriptions, can also be tricked into believing that there is a simple solution that one Caesarian figure can waltz in and implement. As though these simple, overnight solutions hadn’t been contemplated by anyone else before.
I think the election is a coin toss at this point. Spare me your charts and graphs and electoral math. None of the data-mining has accurately captured how susceptible the electorate is to this message of “The country is on fire and only I can put it out.” And as the campaign has gone on, Trump has become better at delivering this message, not worse. He’s a savant at generating reactions.
Hillary Clinton, by contrast, sucks at this. She couldn’t elicit an emotional response if the entire audience was given liquid MDMA. It doesn’t help that she is running as an incumbent – figuratively and literally – and that she has all the baggage of an actual political record. Even still, she’s not connecting with anyone, on any topic, other than #NeverTrump.
Right now, it doesn’t seem as though that will be enough.