Intelligent people on all sides of politics have missed the point of the Trump era. Liberals like Yale’s Timothy Snyder have ransacked history to build ever more elaborate theories about fascism, white supremacy and malevolent Russian psychological operations. Conservatives like Princeton’s Yoram Harzony have seen in Trump the return of nationalist conservatism and the right of free people to rule themselves.
But Trump wasn’t a fascist, and he wasn’t exactly a paragon of conservatism either. It seems far more likely that Trump’s legacy will be to cement a uniquely American blend of politics, style, technology and entertainment into a winning approach for future presidential aspirants. There were prefigurations of this approach to politics in Kennedy’s optimistic (and cynical) 1960 campaign, and during the dreamy fantasies of the Reagan era. Ultimately, Trump — more than any candidate before him ever dared to — entertained his way to the White House.
Ideologues will continue to traffic in accusations of socialism and fascism. Real problems will remain unresolved by a gridlocked Congress. In the meantime, a population ever more estranged from its earthy democratic heritage will continue to participate in a virtual, artificial presidential politics every four years. Given the choice between some air-dried off-the-peg politician, or Kanye West, the freewheeling, motormouth winner of 21 Grammy Awards, who do you think they will pick?