To say, however, that Trump’s voters have been manipulated into aggrievement implies that their dissatisfactions are either spurious or, if genuine, illegitimate and indecent. It follows that were these Americans less alienated and better informed they would realize that even considering a man such as Trump for the White House is completely unjustified by the nation’s objective circumstances. We’ve enjoyed better times, the argument goes, but we’ve endured worse times. The present situation is not unmanageable, nor is it being so badly managed that we should reach beyond the standard presidential applicant pool to entrust the job to a figure who combines the most alarming qualities of Huey Long, George Wallace, and Ross Perot.
The fact that Trump has become a credible contender despite, or even because of, his obvious faults argues, however, for taking his followers’ concerns seriously rather than dismissing them. It is not, in fact, particularly difficult to explain the emergence of Trumpismo in terms of legitimate concerns not addressed, and important duties not discharged. That such a flawed contender could be a front-runner tells us more about what’s wrong with the country than about what’s wrong with his followers. People have every reason to expect that their government will take its most basic responsibilities seriously, and every reason to be angry when, instead, it proves more feckless than conscientious. Governments are instituted among men to secure their inalienable rights, according to the Declaration of Independence. This means that when we and our rights are left avoidably insecure, government has failed in its central mission.