Clifford Orwin is a professor of political science and senior fellow of Massey College at the University of Toronto.
The appallingly addictive contest for the American presidency is over, and has been for more than a week now. Even before the leak of the Billy Bush repartee tape, Hillary Clinton had consolidated her lead and a Donald Trump comeback was highly unlikely. Now that the tape and Mr. Trump’s brawling response have blown the lid off his campaign, the odds against him are Trump Tower steep. Nothing remains to be decided but the undercard.
So let’s seize this early opportunity to pronounce Mr. Trump’s eulogy. On Nov. 9, millions of Americans and their Canadian well-wishers will awaken to a sense of loss. They will find to their surprise that they miss Donald Trump. Mr. Trump has grown on us even as we have despised him. Our relationship with him has evolved into co-dependency.
Mr. Trump’s need of us has been only too clear. Our loathing for him has proved his foremost political asset. His credibility as a populist has depended not just on his hatred of us elites, but on our returning it. Our loathing for Mr. Trump has empowered his supporters and strengthened their bond with him. Good jobs may have abandoned them, and both major parties shafted them, but they still count for something. They remain a force for latte sippers to reckon with, and the face on that force is Mr. Trump.
You can condemn Mr. Trump as an ignoramus, but he knows how to push his supporters’ buttons – and ours. So what if that has meant going daily where no candidate has gone before – not even himself? Our outrage has been music to his ears; our crucial contribution to his campaign. Even Canadians have had our role to play, since populists bask in the disapproval of foreigners.
True, Mr. Trump briefly flirted with a more measured approach. That phase lasted only days, however – or was it minutes? Perhaps it sputtered because he lacked the temperament to sustain it. Or perhaps he decided, correctly, that there was no longer enough middle ground left to seize to win him the election. Lines having hardened, his prospects for victory (however dim) now depended entirely on turnout. Yet there was never any reason to think that lacking a ground game he was in any position to win the turnout battle. It was thus clear even before the release of the Access Hollywood tape that doubling down was getting him nowhere.
Let’s give Trump his due, however. Just as we have proved indispensable to Mr. Trump, so has he proved to us. He vindicates our most cherished caricatures. In every elevator at my university, if the first topic raised is the Blue Jays, the second is The Donald. Liberals, and especially the younger among them, should cherish the moment. Even should they live to 120 (as science promises them) they won’t know another opponent as bleatworthy.
There is even a sacral aspect to this repulsive drama. In his odious larger-than-lifeness, Mr. Trump has risen out of the ranks of the merely profane. He serves his opponents as a scapegoat. Like the original, he will soon disappear, driven into the political wilderness (in his case by his own imprudence). So, too, he will bear with him all the supposed sins of the American republic. From Black Lives Matter to climate change zealots, the left finds its Satan in Mr. Trump. Like any scapegoat, he has become more symbol than reality.
I should make clear my sympathy for the grievances of Trump supporters toward Ms. Clinton and other establishment politicians. She has described these supporters as deplorable, and she at least has good reason to deplore them. They see through her spurious claim to represent them.
Mr. Trump has been right to complain that the election should have been about Ms. Clinton. She is the quasi-incumbent and her record cries out for scrutiny. Yet, that it has largely escaped it is partly the fault of Mr. Trump. How could the election be about her when he so clearly craved that it be about him, The Donald, who was the greatest at this, The Donald who was the greatest at that. He would stop at nothing to be the story. (It has proved his only principle.) At this at least he has succeeded magnificently; he should have been careful what he wished for.Report Typo/Error
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