Eight years ago, I noted a phenomenon I called “Palinism” (boldface added):
While people have described Palin as engaging in identity politics, that sells identity politics short. Palin along with the proto-movement surrounding her–Palinism–practices what could be call ‘politics of the blood.’ It’s derived from Giovanni Gentile’s description of fascism: “We think with our blood.” In Palin’s case, it’s an emotional appeal to a romanticized, mythical past of “real America.” And that’s why I think the fixation people have on Palin’s complete policy incoherence and ignorance is missing the point.
Her policy ignorance isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. Palin is conceptually and intellectually poor because her politics are not about policies, but a romantic restoration of the ‘real’ America to its rightful place. The primary purpose of politics is not to govern, not to provide services, and not to solve mundane, although often important, problems. For the Palinist, politics first and foremost exists to enable the social restoration of ‘real’ Americans (think about the phrase “red blooded American”) and the emotional and social advantages that restoration would provide to its followers (obviously, if you’re not a ‘real’ American, you might view this as a bad thing…). Practicalities of governance, such as compromise and worrying about reality-based outcomes, actually get in the way. Why risk having your fantasy muddied by reality?
In this way, symbols and short phrases are the goal, not a means (although others, such as corporations and lobbyists, are willing to co-opt the emotions these symbols generate to further their own agendas).
Paul Waldman observes the probable reality of Il Trumpe’s Great BIGLY Wall (boldface mine):
I’m sure there are many in Trump’s hard core of supporters who will hold fast to their faith in the president and tell themselves that their beloved wall will get built eventually. This was the single most important promise Trump made, the one that distinguished him from his primary opponents, animated his supporters, drew out people who hadn’t voted in years and defined the kind of president he was supposed to be and the America he was supposed to create…
It is simply impossible to overstate the symbolic importance both the wall and the idea that Mexico would pay for it had in 2016. Everything about Trump was embodied within it: the xenophobia, the vision of a world of threats and danger, the belief that complex problems have easy solutions, and most of all, the desire to stand tall and humiliate others, which was so critical to voters who felt beaten down and humiliated themselves. That’s why the preposterous notion that Mexico would pay for the wall was so critical: not because we need Mexico’s money, but because forcing it to pay would be an act of dominance, making it kneel before us, open up its wallets, and pay us for its own abasement.
Whenever a Mexican official would say that of course they weren’t going to pay for a wall, Trump would tell his crowds, “The wall just got 10 feet higher!” And oh, would they cheer, thrilled beyond measure at the idea of punishing Mexico for its insolence and showing them who the boss is. Yes, the wall was about fear and hatred of immigrants, but more than anything it was a vision of empowerment….
As the months and years pass, Trump’s voters may realize that they got sold a myth, and he was never going to deliver. Or maybe not — for them, the story may have been so compelling that it doesn’t matter whether it came true.
“[O]thers, such as corporations and lobbyists, are willing to co-opt the emotions these symbols generate to further their own agendas.” Indeed.