Our post-literate politics

From the man of many books to the man of one book, we devolved very quickly to the man of one sentence, the paragraph being too demanding and unwieldy a form. In the case of the Trumpkins, that sentence is “Make America great again,” which has a great deal of emotional meaning but no intellectual content. That sort of sloganeering hardly begins with Trump. But Ronald Reagan’s “It’s morning in America” was retrospective, a celebration of the substantial successes of his first term in office; it was not a substitute for a program, the program already being in place. Bill Clinton asserted that it was “time for a change” — not quite a sentence, even — without ever bothering to fill in the basics: a change from what to what? We’d had a lot of Republicanism, and he was promising a Democratic party that was no longer interested in burning down the cities — which, for a while, the Democratic party wasn’t. (Alas, the Democrats have regressed to burn-the-cities mode.) Barack Obama ran essentially the same campaign — “Hope and Change” — as Bill Clinton did, and his success was amplified by the fact that George W. Bush wasn’t Ronald Reagan, or as near to Reagan’s success as his father had been. What kind of change? Well, we’ve got a snoot full of that by now…

It was inevitable that the man of one sentence should become the man of one word, but our populist friends in broadcasting, ever mindful of audience share and cynically contemptuous of those who tune in to their programs, have managed to reduce the whole of Republican presidential politics at this moment to a single word: establishment. “Establishment” means . . . whatever it needs to mean. And it excludes whatever it needs to exclude, including Manhattan real-estate heirs who boast that their Ivy League undergraduate degrees certify them as smarter than . . . the sort of people who can be seduced with a single supercharged word. There is a reason that Trump is so beloved of the con-trepreneurs on the radio and television: Every salesman has contempt and pity for his marks. The people drawn to Trump don’t know that they’re the marks, of course: They imagine themselves talking like a character from Glengarry Glen Ross and strutting around like the character that Donald J. Trump, a frequently bankrupt daddy’s boy from Queens, plays on television.

The next step is the man of one syllable, and November is far, far away.