There is one good thing about President Trump going into 2020. It is that he is consistent. Consistency in some philosophies connotes reliability. His divisive and inflammatory rhetoric, bullying mockery of others during campaign rallies, combative foreign policy, his rejection of diplomacy, and his demand for unequivocal loyalty have seriously disturbed the political establishment. This is an establishment that, in the minds of Americans on both the right and the left, has become consumed by its own interests.
Despite the disappointment and feelings of grievances, Americans have come to expect a certain level of civility in political life. They expect prevarications and empty promises masked by the warm embrace of civility. Both civility and character have been political standards that Americans have used to judge the body of politics in this country.
These guiding principles have become the critical appropriation and embodiment of traditions that have shaped the character and shared meaning of a people in these United States. Political communication should be grounded in our personal narratives. Citizens do not emerge from a historical vacuum. They arise from particular traditions. As such, some are taught to speak authoritatively yet compassionately, and they take action responsibly with the aim of serving the collective good.
Trump clearly does not abide by these standards. He questions the very legitimacy and agency of tradition and its meaning in the United States. He is a creature unwedded to basic conservative or liberal doctrines and is unconcerned with orthodoxy. From his view and that of his supporters, Washington tradition has not worked, and it is that grievance toward the status quo that has given Trump sustenance today. The peculiarity of this phenomenon is not relegated to just the political right. Similar sentiments are growing on the left and have given rise to Senator Bernie Sanders, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and other emerging progressive stars in the Democratic Party such as Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez.
Americans have far deeper issues than partisan divides. Though their grievances are disparate, they share one commonality in their dislike for all things closely aligned with the elite media, politicians, and business. This is one of the reasons for the cultish following of the president, who can do no wrong in the eyes of his worshippers. It does not bother them because Trump exposes the disguise of civility, just as Sanders and Warren do. They “stick it to the man” by castigating political elites.
As for African Americans and members of other racial minority groups, we have fared no better or worse under Trump than we have under previous administrations. We may have felt better under President Obama because of symbolic racial pride, but we agree that many expectations fell short. The economy did well under President Clinton, but we acknowledge the dangerous crime bill and tough law enforcement stances that decimated the black community. The point is simple in that feeling good or having pride in our national leader does not necessarily yield good results.
What Trump says and does, through his rhetoric and behavior, can be brutally honest. While it may wound the vanity of some, he has complete disregard for business as usual. We must ask ourselves if we would rather have a president who does not care about political civility and “tells it like it is” or a president who is polished and hides the truth. Whatever you think about Trump and his supporters, it appears there is a growing number of Americans on both sides seeking a leader who is a street fighter, someone who will voice their grievances on center stage.
Americans are accustomed to the former civil politician. They smile at you, look you in the eyes, and tell you what you want to hear to make us feel comfortable. Whether we are willing to admit it or not, everything about the status quo before Trump signaled comfort. We were living in a country devoid of disruptive change. The reality was that it was business as usual, but those dynamics have been changing under the leadership of Trump. Despite the disdain some have for him, a similar movement has taken place on the left. The country needed Trump to shake things up.
In the blockbuster hit “The Dark Knight,” the Joker said to district attorney Harvey Dent, “Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I am an agent of chaos. And you know the thing about chaos? It is fair!” Trump is indeed fair to Americans because his disruption brings a shared level of chaos to the elites on all sides.
Quardricos Driskell is an adjunct professor of legislative politics with the George Washington University Graduate School of Political Management. Shermichael Singleton is a Republican strategist and a political analyst.