But nationalist sentiment is widespread in America, though nationalists have tended to feel frustrated in the face of the barrage of globalist sentiment and advocacy coming from the elite institutions. Now they have an outlet for expressing their frustration—a vote for Trump.
The Coarsening of American Culture
This phenomenon has been seen in a decades-long assault on traditional mores and values relating to sex, drug use, everyday language, marriage, ethics and much more. Nearly three decades ago the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan coined a phrase, “defining deviancy down,” meaning lowering the definition of what once was considered deviant behavior and accepting—even embracing—activity once frowned upon by society. The senator was talking mostly about criminal behavior, but the concept applies to all of society, seen most starkly in the popular culture of movies, TV, popular music and drama. Raunch is in, and getting raunchier.
Trump, of course, has given us his own debasement of political behavior, so his emergence certainly can’t be seen as a reaction to the vulgarization of American culture. Quite the opposite, that vulgarization has cleared the way for his own brand of tawdry politics. But it’s interesting to see Trump’s detractors waxing indignant about his coarse rhetoric as they go about their lives in a sea of vulgarity that brings from them hardly a stir of recognition, let alone indignation. That American middle class, as a bedrock of the country’s economic health in the long-ago past, also strained to enforce certain standards and values of behavior. That middle-class role got crushed by new standards and values enforced through elite institutions and the popular culture.
And so there was no bulwark to stand against Trump’s bad-boy politics. The coarsening of American society had helped pave the way for him.
Robert W. Merry is a contributing editor at the National Interest and an author of books on American history and foreign policy.
Image: Flickr/Gage Skidmore