EDITOR’S NOTE: Rick Wilson’s piece originally published on the Daily Beast on September 16th, but it remains the definitive analysis of the pathologies at the heart of the Trump phenomenon. Sadly, three months later, it continues to get truer every day.
THE DAILY BEAST: The Troll Party’s central characteristic is an ever tightening spiral of self-reinforcing and self-referential purity tests that makes communicating with anyone beyond the febrile and furious a nearly impossible task. The people pushing for this transformation aren’t a majority yet, but when a virus infects the body politic, its minuscule size belies its massive impact.
That’s what is happening inside the GOP, and why the disease vector, in the form of Donald Trump, puts the entire conservative movement at risk of being hijacked and destroyed by a bellowing billionaire with poor impulse control and a profoundly superficial understanding of the world. The Troll Party puts nationalist, anti-establishment bluster before the tenets of our constitutional republic.
So who comprises the Troll Party? Some of them are a distaff faction of the Tea Party, angry that the leadership in Washington doesn’t pursue their agenda with the bloody-mindedness and tempo they demand. Many are angry that the GOP lost to Barack Obama twice and, in their minds, allowed through action or inaction a set of economic, social, and cultural changes that make them feel powerless. For them, supporting Trump feels like rebellion. They crave a sense of agency in the face of a political culture in D.C. that they believe loathes and disregards them.
Others are reality television viewers who don’t get the artifice and irony, even after almost two decades of the form. Some are walking, talking comments sections of the fever swamp sites. Some are your aunt or mom, sending the long, rambling chain emails about Obama’s birth certificate with multiple forwards, fonts, colors, and glittery eagle gifs. Some pose as strict Constitutionalists, loyal unto death to the founders, except when Trump is talking.
Some of the dregs of the creepier neighborhoods of Reddit, Voat, and 4chan have joined for the lulz. The Troll Party looks at the kooks, the overt white supremacists (oh, pardon me, “race realists”), neo-Nazis, flaming anti-Semites, birthers, truthers, Jade Helmers, chemtrailers, and assorted other conspiracy whackjobs in their midst and shrugs it off with a grin. […] The contagion hasn’t infected the entire GOP, not by a long shot. But it’s spreading. The traditional elements of limited-government fiscal conservatives, social conservatives, and defense hawks are still there. But the Troll Party screams louder, and its members have reached a point where they are more than content to watch the world burn around them if they don’t get their way, right this minute.
Trump activated them. He found a ready audience for his magical cocktail of celebrity, wealth, television skills, press whoring, verbal incontinence, bully-boy affect, and xenophobia, all eager to embrace his vision of… something. They don’t really know or care what he stands for, only that he’s an extended middle finger at the hated political class and the national GOP. He FIGHTS! […]
They love Trump’s insult-comic shtick, his lack of political correctness, and his total disregard for the rules. They’re tickled by his Kardashian self-absorption, his Miley Cyrus rudeness, his Paris Hilton super sweet 16 excess. Like the people who believe the fights and romance of reality television are real, they buy his act without question.
It’s pointless to try to explain to Troll Party members that they’re blind to the tensions and realities of how the world, humanity, and Washington actually function. It’s impossible to explain to them that politics is transactional. That’s not a defense of Washington as it is but a description of its dysfunction. They ascribe Washington’s nature not to their own contradictory desires (“Keep the Government’s Hands Off My Medicare!”) but to conspiracy and contempt. […]
They look at expertise, experience, judgment, and foresight among consultants as some kind of dark necromancy, there only to serve our secret liberal agenda. The Troll Party substitutes rage on social media for the fundamentals. They believe likes, shares, and retweets substitute entirely for organizing, door-knocking, calling, quality candidates, and the real work of campaigns. They attack with volleys of hashtags like #cuckservative (seriously, don’t ask), #GOPe, and #GOPSmartset, and pro-Trump memes. Their digital torches and pitchforks have turned conservative Twitter into a daily Two Minutes Hate for their targets of the moment. […]
The house organs of the Troll Party aren’t just driven by ideology. Inter-party paranoia and division is a profit center, with an array of media firms who have monetized political paranoia and rage. They feed an online ecosystem of email fundraising, driving millions of dollars into shady super PACs that collect $9 out of $10 donated for “overhead expenses” and “consulting” and “fundraising management,” and rarely spend a dime trying to elect the conservatives they claim to represent.
It’s a perfect storm of venality and credulity, where the Patriotic Patriots for Patriotic Patriotism Liberty Eagle Tea Party Action Fund bombard their lists with ever more lurid emails describing ever darker conspiracies from the hated Establishment. They’re increasingly likely to focus their fundraising ire on McConnell or Boehner rather than against Clinton. They say we’re the ones preventing President Trump (or President Palin or President West) from finally turning this country around, and they’re getting rich in the process. […]
Nothing is more important to them than Trump as an avatar for their rage. They’ve become a fun house mirror version of everything we once mocked Obama supporters for being: cultish, immune to facts, swift to attack apostates, glassy-eyed and swaying as if the Great Man was going to lead them to the Kool-Aid troughs in the hot Guyana sun. They’ve become like Scientologists, only more fanatical, more vengeful, more sealed in a hermetic political domain where nothing matters but fury, acting out, and punishing the unbelievers. MORE