Is Donald Trump the new Lenny Bruce?

In most of history, in most of the world, tribalism has held the upper hand over liberalism, or liberalism hasn’t had any presence at all. Liberalism’s foothold in the US is weakening, with Donald Trump as the latest example.

I’m not talking about Democratic vs. Republican politics. Donald TrumpBy “liberalism,” I mean valuing tolerance, freedom, and reason rather than orthodoxy, authoritarianism, and tradition. It prospers when people who may disagree on important matters recognize that peaceful communication is better than attempts to silence each other. It can be passionate and angry communication, but it at least tries to make a point rather than simply demonize the opposition.

Tribalism divides the world into “us” and “the enemy.” People fall easily into this mindset, and the despised other can have a lot of different names. In the US right now, a popular enemy is people from south of our border and their children. Trump recognizes this and is playing on it. He isn’t as dumb as he acts; people don’t get rich that way. If his statements are incoherent, it’s because he’s pandering to irrationality. Yesterday I saw a Google+ comment saying that people born in the US to illegal immigrant parents should “go back where they came from.” There’s no way to make sense of such thinking.

He’s also playing against the irresistible target which progressivism (not liberalism) has painted on itself by taking offense at anything that differs from their worldview. That’s itself a tribal approach, one that invites attack the way an angry bull invites a red cape. If you can’t win by being the most offended, you can win by being the most offensive, and Trump has made a specialty of being as offensive as possible. Maybe that’s the real reason for his popularity, that he’s facing down the modern Victorians.

Does this mean he’s the new Lenny Bruce? Maybe. Albert Goldman said that Bruce would “take that mike in his hand like a horn and blow, blow, blow everything that came into his head just as it came into his head with nothing censored, nothing translated, nothing mediated.” Sounds a lot like a Trump speech.

A Lenny Bruce leading the presidential polls for one of the two big political parties would be really scary, though, and Trump isn’t getting people to talk about taboos the way Bruce did. The thought of President Trump is nightmarish; even his handing Clinton the election would be preferable. Trump as a stand-up comedian would have been preferable, but either way, the politics of taking offense created an irresistible market for his kind of reaction.

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8 Responses to “Is Donald Trump the new Lenny Bruce?”

  1. otherdeb Says:

    Hi Gary – This was so good and, I feel, so accurate that I have publicized it on all my social media outlets.

    • Gary McGath Says:

      Thanks, Deb. The piece started out with a different focus, but the comparison to Lenny Bruce struck me as I was writing it. Sometimes you just run with an idea.

  2. Barry Gold Says:

    Lenny Bruce made you think. Trump seems to want to do the opposite: catering to the worst instincts of the tribal Right, while — as you put it — waving a red cape at the Left.

    As for his getting rich, he doesn’t strike me as being good at anything except picking the right real estate to buy, then handing it to others to manage.

    But the way he has pulled the GOP to the extreme right is scary. I might have considered Rubio or JEB, but even Hillary is better than Trump (as you noted). Not that either Rubio or JEB is any friend to women’s rights, but at least they seem to have _some_ understanding of the changes happening in the electorate. Trump can get himself nominated by catering to the angry old white voters who make up the GOP’s base, but he will completely turn off Latinos, Blacks, most women, etc. Angry old whites simply aren’t enough of the electorate to build a coalition out of any more, not even if you add in libertarians of all stripes who want to reduce the size of government and its spending. (NOt too many people who are just libertarian, as seen by the poor performance of the LP in the US — and everywhere else).

    • Gary McGath Says:

      I think his real skill is at getting politicians to hand him favors. His property grabs by eminent domain are notorious. See my “No Trump Contract” in Xenofilkia #63, though he lost that case in court.

  3. thnidu Says:

    Trump is a schmuck and … I was going to say “moron”, but maybe not. No matter how, he scares me.

  4. Mark Hunter Says:

    “… Trump isn’t getting people to talk about taboos …”

    Certainly Trump is getting people of the mainstream media to talk about America’s immigration disaster.

    In so many words Gary calls Donald Trump’s supporters losers, as if Trump, Ann Coulter, and Sen. Jeff Sessions are losers. The percentage of Americans who support Trump is large and growing. They can’t all be losers, or even most or much.

    Race doesn’t determine a man’s politics, but averages do have consequences. Of those voting in the 2012 presidential election, among blacks 93% chose Obama, among Asians 73% did, and among Hispanics 71% (see Wikipedia). Hence we got saddled with Obama. The democrats realize that documented or undocumented Third World migrants are documented or undocumented democrats.

    • Gary McGath Says:

      I thought hard about whether to approve your comment, since your central statement is blatantly false. I did not use the term “losers” or say anything of substance about Trump’s followers. The term is so vague it isn’t worth debating. I did describe the mindset he’s targeting; if the shoe fits the people you mentioned, then so be it.

      Since I did say that peaceful communication is better than attempts to silence people, I’m letting you have your say here.

      • Mark Hunter Says:

        The article says “he’s pandering to irrationality.” Put that together with the fact that he’s undoubtedly popular because of the substance of what he says, not just his manner, and the reader will draw a conclusion.

        On my part, an exact quote – instead of “in so many words … loser” – might have avoided this misunderstanding.


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