We’ve made the Trump phenomenon into a gut check of the American soul, but only around 12 percent of Americans agree with most of his core message—the same percentage that has voted for nativist populists in other countries, and ours, for generations. (By comparison, twice that percentage believes the world is about to end.) This one just happened to be a reality television star in a weak field.
This is not to say that the Trump candidacy isn’t important, terrifying, fascinating, and historic in nature. It is all of the above. It reflects very real racial and economic anxieties among a significant chunk of the American populace, tensions that go back to the Founding but which are exacerbated by a perfect storm of trends.
But the chattering class’s rush to “explain” Donald Trump to itself says more about us than about him. In fact, we are every bit as afraid as Trump’s white, working class base—and we, like they, have good reason to be. And while they seek solace in a tough-talking leader who pisses off the intelligentsia, we seek comfort in the intelligentsia—even if they contradict themselves as often as the Donald.