The most interesting thing Donald Trump has said recently isn’t his taunting of Hillary Clinton, it’s his comment to Bloomberg’s Joshua Green. Mr. Green writes: “Many politicians, Trump told me, had privately confessed to being amazed that his policies, and his lacerating criticism of party leaders, had proved such potent electoral medicine.” Mr. Trump seemed to “intuit,” Mr. Green writes, that standard Republican dogma on entitlements and immigration no longer holds sway with large swaths of the party electorate. Mr. Trump says he sees his supporters as part of “a movement.”
What, Mr. Green asked, would the party look like in five years? “Love the question,” Mr. Trump replied. “Five, 10 years from now—different party. You’re going to have a worker’s party. A party of people that haven’t had a real wage increase in 18 years.”
My impression on reading this was that Mr. Trump is seeing it as a party of regular people, as the Democratic Party was when I was a child and the Republican Party when I was a young woman.
It invites many questions. Movements require troops—not only supporters on the ground, but an army of enthusiastic elected officials and activists. Mr. Trump doesn’t have that army. Washington hates what he stands for and detests the idea he represents policy change. GOP elites will have to start thinking about two things: the rock-bottom purpose of the party and the content, in 2016, of a conservatism reflective of and responsive to this moment and the next. This will be necessary whatever happens to Mr. Trump, because big parts of the base are speaking through him. It is no surprise so many D.C. conservatives are hissing, screeching and taking names. They’re in the middle of something epochal that they did not expect. They’re lost.
To another part of the Trump phenomenon that does not involve policy, exactly:
When Mr. Trump went after Mrs. Clinton over her husband’s terrible treatment of women—she was his “unbelievably nasty, mean enabler”—my first thought was: Man, I thought it was supposed to get bloody in October. This is May—where will we wind up? But I was struck that no friend on the left seemed shocked or appalled. A few on the right were delighted, and some unsure. Isn’t this the sort of thing that’s supposed to turn women off and make Hillary look like a victim?
But so far Mr. Trump’s numbers seem to be edging up.
I was surprised that if Mr. Trump was going to go there early, he didn’t focus on a central political depredation of the Clinton wars. That was after Mrs. Clinton learned of the Monica scandal and did not step back, claiming a legitimate veil of personal privacy—after all, it was not she who had been accused of terrible Oval Office behavior—but came forward on “Today” as an aggressor. Knowing her husband’s history, knowing his sickness, having every reason to believe the charges were true, she attacked her husband’s critics, in a particular way: “The great story here . . . is this vast right-wing conspiracy that has been conspiring against my husband since the day he announced for president. . . . Some folks are gonna have a lot to answer for.”
She was speaking this way about conservatives, half or more of the country. At a charged moment she took a personal humiliation and turned it into a political weapon, which further divided the nation, pitching left against right. She did this because her first instinct is always war. If you have to divide the country to protect your position by all means divide the country. It was unprotective of the country, and so unpatriotic.
The lack of backlash against Mr. Trump’s attacks on Mrs. Clinton, though, I suspect is due to something else. It’s that the subject matter really comes down to one word: decadence. People right now will respect a political leader who will name and define what they themselves see as the utter decadence of Washington.
I don’t mean that they watch “Scandal” and “House of Cards” and think those shows are a slightly over-the-top version of reality, though they do. Now and then I meet a young person who, finding I’d worked in a White House, asks, half-humorously and I swear half-curiously, if I ever saw anyone kill a reporter by throwing her under a train. I say I knew people who would have liked to but no, train-station murders weren’t really a thing then. (Someday cultural historians will wonder if the lowered political standards that mark this year were at all connected to our national habit of watching mass entertainment in which our elites are presented as high-functioning psychopaths. Yes, that may have contributed to a certain lowering of real-world standards.)
But the real decadence Americans see when they look at Washington is an utterly decadent system. Just one famous example from the past few years:
A high official in the IRS named Lois Lerner targets those she finds politically hateful. IRS officials are in the White House a lot, which oddly enough finds the same people hateful. News of the IRS targeting is about to break because an inspector general is on the case, so Ms. Lerner plants a question at a conference, answers with a rehearsed lie, tries to pin the scandal on workers in a cubicle farm in Cincinnati, lies some more, gets called into Congress, takes the Fifth—and then retires with full pension and benefits, bonuses intact. Taxpayers will be footing the bill for years for the woman who in some cases targeted them, and blew up the reputation of the IRS.
Why wouldn’t Americans think the system is rigged?
This is Washington in our era: a place not so much of personal as of civic decadence, where the Lois Lerner always gets away with it.
Which brings us to the State Department Office of Inspector General’s report involving Hillary Clinton’s emails. It reveals one big thing: Almost everything she has said publicly about her private server was a lie. She lied brazenly, coolly, as one who is practiced in lying would, as one who always gets away with it could.
No, she was not given legal approval to conduct her business on the server. She was not given the impression it was fine. She did not comply with rules on storage and archiving. Her own office told U.S. diplomats personal email accounts could be compromised and they must avoid using them for official business. She was informed of a dramatic increase in hacking attempts on personal accounts. Professionals who raised concerns about her private server were told not to speak of it again.
It is widely assumed that Mrs. Clinton will pay no price for misbehavior because the Democratic president’s Justice Department is not going to proceed with charges against the likely Democratic presidential nominee.
This is what everyone thinks, and not only because they watch “Scandal.” Because they watch the news.
That is the civic decadence they want to see blown up. And there’s this orange-colored bomb . . .