There are two main theories cooperating to explain the Trump phenomenon:
- Donald Trump is today’s best self-promoter and professional opportunist.
- The Republican field of presumptive candidates for president is lame.
But neither of these, nor even both together, can adequately explain what’s going on. We can’t even turn for supplemental help to subtheories that emphasize the rise of celebreality culture, the fall of Sarah Palin, or The Continuing Story of Bungling Barry. These variables all appear somewhere in the equation that has produced the Trump phenomenon. But none of them explain it.
Trump is suddenly “winning” as a political figure because the political class has failed. The authority of our political institutions is weak and getting weaker; it’s not that Americans ‘lack trust’ in them, as blue ribbon pundits and sociologists often lament, so much as they lack respect for the people inside them.
There is a lot of crazy surrounding the Trump phenomenon — some excellent, some embarrassing. But the massive fact dominating it all is that never before has such a famous outsider jumped into national politics with such an aggressive critique of a sitting president and the direction of the country — and never before has the response been so immediate and positive.
For now, that’s good news and bad news — as anyone knows who’s acquainted with Churchill’s dictum about eagles and parrots. No amount of His Trumpness can renew or replace American political authority. Republicans make a dangerous mistake when they think of politics as a pathological farce that can only be cured by a business worldview that sees economics as the master science. Even though, as Tocqueville observes, money really is more important in democratic times, money is not the measure of all things. We — we Republicans, we Democrats, we Americans — still need politicians who can rule wisely, bravely, and well. Look at what’s behind the huge novelty of Trump’s rise, and you find a venerable truth. There is no substitute for statesmen.
More By James Poulos: