"Let me go over that again: Reagan’s popularity was popular. When you went through the various traits of Reagan and what Reagan stood for and his policies and so on vast numbers of people disliked nearly all of them. What was popular was his popularity and I don’t think that Reagan’s alone in this."
In lecture eight of The Self Under Siege series professor Rick Roderick used Ronald Reagan's presidency to explain Jean Baudrillard's notion of the Hyperreal. The Hyperreal, as theorized by Baudrillard, is any image of reality that can replace reality. The perception of Reagan was so great that it morphed into a creation of its own. In reality President Reagan was dealing with early stages of Alzheimer's disease, but the perception was that he single-handedly ended the Cold War, saved capitalism, and restored America's status as the global hegemon. Claims that on the surface hold just enough truth and have been repeated so often that they are socially accepted statements of fact. There were several significant factors that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, but to understand those factors one would have to engage in a lot of reading and thinking- two pastimes that seem to be falling by the wayside. Critically thinking about tough issues is a time consuming process. It's easier to watch a half-hour news cast than read three or four different accounts about a single issue.
Our country's fascination with celebrity combined with the media's TMZ style guerrilla coverage of everything Donald Trump has replaced the reality of the Trump candidacy: many of his policies are unpopular, unconstitutional or impossible to implement. The myth of Donald Trump, for many, has killed the reality of Donald Trump. Even when he goes full Trump and makes ignorant and thoughtless statements it doesn't faze his supporters; for them, Donald Trump manifests an Uber machismo version of the American Dream: It's Rich, It's Powerful, It doesn't answer to anyone, and it's relentless. Conservatives love celebrities who identify with their beliefs. Forget all of their anti-Hollywood rhetoric over the years. The right loves celebrity; Clint Eastwood, Dennis Miller, and a slew of country music artists have filled that void for them, but Trump is a super celebrity candidate who feeds on attention and uses it to normalize anger and resentment.
I've read dozens of articles written by men and women much more credentialed than I am. Many of those early articles predicted Donald Trump would fade out and be an after thought. In the last few weeks many of those same writers have accepted the reality that Trump will be part of the process for the foreseeable future, and some have come to grips with the reality that Donald Trump could win the Republican nomination. The last three election cycles have been very different from previous election cycles. Every conventional wisdom from the past has been more wrong than right when it comes to handicapping the nomination process. It's fair to say that a majority of the experts damage their credibility every time they appear on the Sunday shows pretending to know the electorate they cover. If you're looking at past trends as a guidepost for what's to come then you risk making the same mistake our pundit class is making: attempting to normalize a process that has broken away from normality.
Donald Trump is to the far-right what President Obama was to the far-left: a personality who transcends the political process while simultaneously commanding the media's attention. The same conservatives who were upset about the media's treatment of President Obama in 2008 have gone quiet in the face of Donald Trump's media domination. The myth of a left-wing mainstream media was shattered long ago by Dr. Michael Parenti, but ABC news covering Donald Trump for 81 minutes compared to the less than 30 seconds of coverage for Bernie Sanders is a tacit admission that equally covering political campaigns falls behind ratings on the list of journalistic priorities.
Too many people are waiting for Donald Trump to have his Howard Dean moment: it's not going to happen. Too many political strategist on the left and right are waiting for his lack of specificity to catch up with him: it won't. There's not a set of historically verifiable and empirically accurate facts that can make journalists find the courage to fact check him on the spot when he makes false statements, or force his supporters to believe them if they do. Donald Trump is seen as vile, racist, and misogynistic by some, but he's genuinely liked by his supporters- some of them exclusively- for his statements. It seems like a lifetime ago when "binders full of women" got Mitt Romney in trouble. The 2016 race is happening without the "experts". It's quite possible we could see, in real time, YouTube shows originating from the Trump campaign chronicling his march towards Super Tuesday and the GOP convention. If he wins one of he early contests the last six months will seem calm compared to what could happen next.