Surely, there's no place less likely to become the site of an impromptu Trump rally than a college campus. And yet, at a recent Rutgers University event, throngs of students erupted into cheers of "Trump! Trump! Trump!"The focal point of this little tempest at Rutgers was an appearance by British writer and Breitbart editor Milo Yiannopoulos, whose speeches are a sort of performance art aimed at violating every liberal norm and offending as many groups as possible. Yiannopoulos is gay, but he takes particular delight in mocking gay men; he calls this year's American swing his "Dangerous Faggot Tour."
Would many of them cast a vote for Trump in a GOP primary? Probably not. For these students, Trump is not the leader of a political movement, but rather, a countercultural icon. To chant his name is to strike a blow against the ruling class on campus—the czars of political correctness—who are every bit as imperious and loathsome to them as the D.C.-GOP establishment is to the working class folks who see Trump as their champion.
That might not be much comfort for the numerous people on the right and left—myself and most of my colleagues included—who consider Trump a narcissistic, fearmongering authoritarian peddling a destructive, fascistic policy agenda. But what if his supporters aren't actually applauding his agenda: what if they're merely applauding the audaciousness of his performance?
My sons are into similar comedians; they find nothing funnier than somebody who dares to insult everyone and violate as many taboos as possible. I find my eldest son particularly interesting in this regard, since he doesn't seem to have a prejudiced bone in his body. Once when his mother questioned some complaint he made about trans people, he sort of sighed and said, "Mom, I have a close trans friend," which is true. But he absolutely cannot stand to be told that there are things he shouldn't say or jokes he shouldn't tell; this is quite literally the only thing that I have ever seen him get really angry about.
I think that the answer to "for whom does Trump speak?" is not people who are economic victims; Trump draws support from all economic categories. Trump speaks for people who feel silenced by the dominant discourse and unable to say what they think about Muslims, blacks, Mexicans, gays, and preachy liberals. I don't think they are close to a majority of Americans, but they are clearly a large minority.
Obviously this has something to do with racism and sexism, but I don't think that is the whole story. It also represents what I can only call two different personality types, or maybe two different ideas about society. We saw in the college protests this year many young people demanding that the world be made safer for them, especially safer from offensive jokes and ethnic slurs. Then there are people like my sons, who feel that freedom means little if it doesn't mean the freedom to laugh at things you find funny and especially to puncture whatever pieties are held up for you by the social powers.
In our post-modern world, some of our brightest political flash points don't concern the distribution of resources, but what it is permissible to say.