While reactionary anti-statism and his status as a billionaire TV celebrity are rightly credited for The Donald’s ascendance in various polls, and the media certainly have helped by taking the bait and falling for every trap he has set, there is another, more significant factor contributing to the phenomenon of his candidacy, and it warrants exposition.
It’s what drives millions of people every day to post pictures of their lunches, intimate details of their most personal problems, and selfies of themselves and their friends getting drunk and/or undressed or worse on Facebook and other social media sites.
It’s why four million people watch “Naked & Afraid” each week, and another six million tune into “Duck Dynasty.” The fact that both the Robertson clan and their societal opposites, the Kardashians, have lost some viewership over the past season or two would offer some comfort, except that it’s only because they are being forced to share the reality TV audience with a growing roster of equally tacky programs.
More than anything else, Trump’s popularity is a reflection of our national zeitgeist: a culture being overwhelmed by self-absorbed, narcissistic exhibitionists in constant search of instant gratification, who are simultaneously shock-addicted and shock-resistant, and have both the attention span of a gnat and an insatiable appetite for watching others engage in increasingly coarser, cruder behaviors.
Much like heroin junkies, they will risk everything and sacrifice anything, including their own dignity, self-respect and the respect of others, to get what they crave. But over time, they need more, and ever more powerful fixes, and eventually, the stuff destroys them.
Part Howard Stern, part Howard Beale and a whole lot of P.T. Barnum, Trump is both a creator and a creature of this trend. He is prey and predator at once: a user as well as a pusher of the toxic bane he dispenses in virtually every campaign speech and interview.
So it is only a matter of time until the inevitable occurs. The only question is whether he will self-implode or his customers will overdose first.