During last week's GOP debate, I wrote a note to Donald Trump's supporters, empathizing with their desire for destruction of the political status quo while slamming their hero-disrupter. I called Trump "a liar, a bully, and a sexist who wouldn't give FOX News moderators a straight answer — a celebrity billionaire who is treating your party like a trophy wife." I asked, "Is this really what you want?"
My email inbox, Twitter time line, and Facebook feed exploded with replies, including this from Joe S. "Yes," he emailed. "[Trump] is exactly what I want. I don't trust politics."
You are in shock, because for the first time, you realize that the people do not need YOU to interpret what those running for office are saying. We can understand them just fine, we communicate with thousands of other people, not just our close family circle of old.
The old political elite system is dead, and so is the media.
You're right, Joe. I'm old enough to remember when a dozen or so journalists in Washington set the political news agenda. Before the Internet democratized the media, I was a so-called gatekeeper: My core responsibility (and power) centered less on what I reported than on what I chose not to report — not to share with you.
For better and for worse, those days are gone. Which is why I wrote directly to you and other Trump followers. You have the power. You have the responsibility. You get the last word. You and millions of other justifiably angry Americans can do us all a favor: Drive a stake in the "political elite system" and replace it with something better.
Here's the rub: Is Trump something better? Is he the best you can do? Wouldn't you prefer a more credible vessel for change?
Joe M. addressed those questions after watching me discuss the Trump phenomena on TV.
I often wonder why many of your fellow panelists have such trouble understanding that indeed the American people, not those that just happen to live in America, but Americans in [their] best sense, are disgusted with our leadership.
And let's not confine it to just our politicians. Add many businessmen, educators, the ruling class, and even some in the Church. An abiding contempt for their hypocritical self-indulgence and dishonesty is large and growing. "¦
[Obviously] Mr. Trump can't tell the difference between a political campaign and his (ex)-TV show. Though his remarks about political-correctness and its inference of liberal intolerance will always be welcomed as most Americans are heartily sick of it, particularly its one-way application.
Trump will shoot himself in the mouth, so little to worry about there.
I don't know about that. As certain as I am that Trump would be a lousy president, I am unsure about the future of his presidential campaign. Politics has never been less predictable.
Voter anxiety runs broad and deep, and, unlike in past eras of populist unrest, people are radically connected via the Internet — their anger magnified and easily exploited by agents of change. Forces that disrupted the music, retail, financial, and media industries will eventually bring radical change to politics. It's only a matter of time and a question of outcome: Will that change be a force for good or a force for bad?
I ask again: Is Trump really the change you want?
Yes, replied Thomas G.
Donald Trump is a symptom of the problem. Both political parties would rather cater to noncitizens than respond to the tens of millions of conservative Americans whose only demand is that our federal government enforce the laws that have been dutifully — constitutionally — passed.
Agreed: Trump is a symptom of the problem. But he can't be the cure, even on immigration. Trump favors deporting 11 million illegal immigrants before returning most of them to the United States. Of this expensive, if not unworkable, idea, Trump told CNN recently, "I would have an expedited way of getting them back into the country so they can be legal."
That's gold-plated amnesty. Is that really what you want?
Maybe not, replied Michael G.
As to Donald Trump, while I don't see him as the best candidate, I don't see him as the worst either. "¦ [W]hen he said he could run as an independent or not support the Republican nominee, that said to me that he would not walk in lock-step with the Republican Party if he disagreed with the direction they were going in, and I could not disagree with that position. To expect someone to fall in line no matter who the nominee is, is almost un-American.
Jeff N. is a college-educated small-business owner who called himself "a very angry and disappointed American."
As of right now, I am interested to see Mr. Trump become president. Why? I am one of those "angry, anxious" Americans who is also so very tired of the political rhetoric, I am ready for something different. Even though eventually Mr. Trump will probably be derailed by the system in place, I strongly feel as if this could prove to be the start of a new direction. "¦
[Whether] it be Mr. Trump or someone else, the direction this country is going, with all of the corruption and the political elitists who treat themselves as deserving of their rewards for being in office, is wrong and it needs to be fixed.
So we're in agreement, these Trump backers and me: The two-party duopoly is busted, and political elites need a kick in the butt. Where we differ is on Trump himself, who I consider to be part of the problem, whose celebrity and charisma blind people to the fact that he's an elitist — a card-carrying member of the status quo.
Lawton J. came to a similar conclusion after the debate. "I have no use or patience for Trump," Lawton emailed. "He is a bombastic buffoon."
I won't change my mind about Trump, but Joe S. is right; I don't matter much anymore. The key is what his backers do.