Donald Trump’s “it’s midnight in America” narrative

Nick IngramThinking0 Comments

I sat stunned watching Donald Trump’s acceptance speech on Friday. A rambling, unstructured, but terrifyingly dark view of America. If you haven’t seen it, you should watch it – as Nate Silver says, it will be the reason he loses by 15 points or goes on to win. The unrelenting bleakness and anger made me ask myself, what narrative is Donald Trump inhabiting?

You might recall my February post on the importance of understanding the narratives you inhabit. I quoted Alasdair MacIntyre: as an individual, as an organisation, or as a political movement, “I can only answer the question ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’”.

And so, after one of the longest, and certainly the darkest convention acceptance speeches in modern history (even Nixon’s 68 speech apparently mentioned “hope” a few times) I thought it might be good to revisit the narrative that Donald Trump lives in. Because it’s that narrative that he will act out of (following MacIntyre) if he does get elected.

In my February post I said that one way to get a handle on the narrative you’re in is to answer NT Wright’s “worldview questions”. And I had a go at answering those questions for Sanders, Cruz and Trump. Trump’s latest speech doesn’t contradict anything I said back then – but it does cast it in sharper relief. Here is an updated table, with quotes from last week’s speech:

Trump worldview questions

Trump’s answers to the worldview questions

I said in February that Trump saw the solution as Donald Trump. It’s clearer now than ever. This speech was a classic “strong man” speech – he is here to save us from the nightmare. And as such – it is a fundamentally anti-democratic and anti-constitutional speech. Why? Because America was set up precisely to reject kings. Hence the shudder I felt when the crowd started to chant “yes you will!”.

Trump’s narrative is the opposite of Reagan’s 1984 “It’s morning in America“. For Trump, it’s midnight in America. If he wins, it certainly will be. After last Friday’s speech, Americans cannot say they didn’t know what they were voting for.

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