Watching a video on Facebook my good friend Sean Noble just put together explaining the basics of conventions to a younger or first-time convention watching audience, I couldn’t help but think about earlier versions of explanations of our election systems and democratic processes, like those great old School House Rock videos. The two platforms, together, had me thinking not just of how we continually need to be educating younger and younger generations of voters and observers of our process but how far technology has changed in those mechanisms of education and how much our communication modes have changed with them. The span from such short films as “I’m Just a Bill” to Facebook is about a generation. Nobody watching those School House Rock videos, then, could or would understand a concept like @VoteSpotter or Facebook were it explained or conjured in the 70s, just as a young person today–just becoming aware of politics–would look at the School House Rock videos of the 70s and wonder how anyone could have ever thought those videos cool, fun, or instructive.
That divide, for those of us old enough to remember loving those 1970s videos but now using things like @VoteSpotter, is not a bad template for trying to understand the two views of Donald Trump from within the conservative movement and Republican party, two views that simply do not understand or communicate with each other . There are still conservative/Republican writers broadcasting their contempt for the party’s nominee just as there are entire new flocks to the GOP who ardently supported the nominee and never read those writers. Each is missing their communication with each other, each is misunderstanding each other, each is talking a foreign language to each other.
That disconnect runs throughout the movement and the party’s writers, establishment, thinkers, voters, conventioneers, grassroots, bloggers, radio and cable hosts and guests, and just about everyone else. Those still holding their contempt for Donald Trump think about his baser comments as the reason voters supported him; those who support and supported Donald Trump hardly paid any attention whatsoever (and have mostly forgotten) those comments. The #NeverTrump crowd thought those comments of Mr. Trump’s definitive, Mr. Trump’s supporters never took them seriously. On the charges that those comments spoke to a racism of Mr. Trump’s, I’ve written elsewhere that few bought into that too seriously because there’s just no real evidence Mr. Trump is a racist. What the #NeverTrump crowd simply can’t understand, but the grassroots always did, is that no matter who the GOP nominee is, or would have been, the cartoons and caricatures of racism would have been thrown at him anyway–just as they were at Reagan, the Bush family, McCain, and Romney.
As is true of this election’s new technology, so is it true of an outdated or out-moded line of thinking by the conservative establishment and writing class. Cultural historian Tevi Troy gets at some of this in a larger sense as he writes in the Washington Post today: “those in charge no longer have the ability to choose what people see.” To work off his thesis about technology is to understand a bit of the rise of Trump that the establishment missed: The establishment’s multitude of candidates did a fair share of media and a very fair share of $1,000 ticket fundraising events. Donald Trump did almost every media interview offered and shunned the high priced fundraisers for massive rallies that the media could not take their eyes off. And neither could anyone else. It was said Ronald Reagan had a unique knack of going over the heads of the media and communicating directly to the people–few understood how to take and run with this playbook as well as Donald Trump. And when he did, what did he do?
He spoke to two major issues conservative intellectuals and the grassroots of the movement have been united in complaining about for decades and that no candidate had really spoken to in years: the rise of political correctness and the decline of American exceptionalism. The difference between the intellectuals and the grassroots, though? The intellectuals were focusing on the gaffes of the messenger while the grassroots were listening and delighting to the themes; the establishment saw the exceptions, the voters saw and resonated to the larger conversation they had been thirsting for for years.
So, in the end, while there are still some dead-ender #NeverTrump intellectuals out there, a unification of the party has mostly settled in and settled on a new kind of candidate who has understood from the get-go a very difficult attribute an old kind of candidate once had: the ability to go right to the voters on large themes instead of careful and guarded soundbites. Perhaps it took a man in and of the culture to again understand the fundamental conservative truth Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to talk about: that culture, not politics, determines the success of a society. Perhaps he will also prove, again, that it determines the success of an election, too.