When it comes to humour, nearly all of us live in more than one world. I long engaged in the classic cliché of locker room humour. For years I traded outrageous, sometimes very funny, jokes with my workout partner that neither of us would have ever have told in our other worlds. One particularly offensive joke involved ice cream. Once at a party, he led me to believe that he had told the ice cream joke to everybody at the party just before I arrived and attributed it, correctly, to me. I suddenly feared that everybody at the party was looking at me the way people look at a slug they’ve just stepped on. I was, of course, being paranoid. He had done no such thing; he knew that telling such a joke would reflect on him no matter who he attributed it to.
There is a kind of hypocrisy involved in political correctness. It isn’t always the offensive nature of the politically incorrect that we object to, but only the public display of it. All but the irredeemably earnest are guilty of sometimes privately chuckling at what we publicly condemn. Most of us accept the restraint of political correctness as a necessary part of social decency. Others, notably older, angry white Republican men, deeply resent bottling all these natural impulses up under threat of being shamed. They long to say “crippled” instead of “handicapped” and to openly express their resentment of, say, the number of parking spots allocated to cripples. Ethnicity, race, and sex produce anxieties and bitter resentments that cry out to be relieved by being voiced. Maybe humour is a safety valve.
Enter Republican presidential contender Donald Trump. His front-runner status can’t be attributed to a consistent embrace of conservative principles. Trump doesn’t go on about the need to shrink government or do away with entitlements, and he’s a late comer to the pro-life, anti-abortion wing of the GOP. He defends eminent domain, a conservative bête noire if there ever was one, and in the last Republican debate he accused President George W. Bush of deliberately lying about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and denied that Bush kept the country safe because 9/11 happened on his watch. It’s hard to imagine a sharper repudiation of Republican orthodoxy.
So why is Trump the front runner for the Republican nomination? His alienation of every group the Republican establishment knows it needs to win a national election has just egged loyal Trump voters on and driven the establishment nuts. He can’t seem to say anything outrageous enough to turn his loyal followers off.
Trump is a sort of clownish Christ figure on the right who has taken on and given voice to all the politically incorrect sins of the Republican masses—vicious racism, xenophobia, and misogyny– and made himself a target for crucifixion by the Republican establishment, but the establishment can’t quite get him nailed to the cross. Will attacking George W. as a lying moron who destabilized the Middle East by unnecessarily invading Iraq finally do the trick?
If in the end, the Republican establishment manages to put Trump in the tomb and nominate Jeb Bush, and the Democratic establishment manages to beat back the populist insurgency of Bernie Sanders and nominate Hillary Clinton, voter turnout will probably be the lowest in history. After all the hoopla, what could be more boring than another Bush-Clinton race?
Angry white Republican men will be forever expecting the resurrection and second coming of The Donald.