NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Donald Trump is known as a straight-talker. He is beloved by his fans for not being politically correct, for saying what he thinks and not caring who he might offend.
Yet, Trump is still pandering, despite his reputation, because he does not have the guts to tell his followers the real Tea Party truth: Its not just the liberals in Washington that offend their core values, but the inexorable march of corporate cultural power. Like it or not, corporate America domesticates or marginalizes many traditional currents of American culture.
The anti-PC movement, like the Tea Party, is not just anti-liberal and anti-Washington, it is also, sometimes only subconsciously, anti-corporate.
Notably, the Boston Tea Party of 1773 was not just a revolt against the British government but also against the "Evil Corp" of the eighteenth century, the British East India Company. American patriots resented Parliament's Tea Act, extending the company's monopoly from Asia to the New World, at the expense of smaller American merchants. The Tea Party was not primarily an anti-tax protest, but an anti-corporate one.
Why is Trump so exciting? Is it just because conservative white men are Neanderthals?
The key to understanding Trump is grasping the popular aversion to political correctness. Many liberals consider PC as just ordinary politeness and decency. It is an expression of average standards of behavior, cooperation and acceptance in contemporary society.
After all, the true force behind PC is not liberal ideology, but the relentless pressure of corporate homogenization. Corporations are so big they must employ people of all faiths, races, nationalities, and sexual preferences. Corporations cannot afford to discriminate against one set of customers or employees. If they do, they just yield business to competitors who are more, well, liberal. Employees must work together effectively and serve customers of every stripe.
For most liberals, this corporate multiculturalism is a positive thing, but much of the conservative base of the Republican party is offended by one or another element of corporate American's assault on their core values. The burden of the Republican Party machine is to retain its base with largely empty promises on cultural issues, while at the same time gathering in the largesse of corporate America and avoiding offense there too. So instead of saying that PC is a product of corporate America's practical business needs, Republican strategists play the blame game. "Evil godless liberals" are undermining traditional American values, they claim.
Many commentators emphasized how Republicans would benefit from the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision that seemed to magnify the power of money in politics, removing many of the legislative limits on corporate campaign contributions in favor of the free speech rights of corporate legal "persons." Now it is not so clear. Ironically the consequences are not all in a straight line. Conventional politicians of both parties may indeed be more than ever bound to respect the limits of corporate PC or wander in the wilderness of the political fringe.
(Only billionaires like Trump, freed from worry about giving offense to corporate donors (like populist Sanders, for different reasons), are truly free to tell the people what they want to hear. Thus Citizens United may actually widen the rift between the party bosses and the frustrated Republican voters who see the tide of history, most recently with gay marriage and immigration, sweeping past them with no effective Republican resistance, despite majorities in Congress.)
Why Trump and Sanders Are Surging
I have been carefully following American elections since 1972 and this is the oddest I have ever seen. All the anointed candidates are stuck with single-digit support in the polls and struggling. Meanwhile unlikely outsiders like Trump and Sanders are surging. What’s up?
The failure of conventional political “strategy” in this election has the same roots as the failure of financial engineering during the 2008 world financial crisis: mechanical, nonstrategic thinking.
The main tools of contemporary political strategists are polling, focus groups, and branding. These are similar to the techniques of commercial advertising. Only one element is missing: dynamic, creative solutions to concrete problems. Empty rhetoric, no matter how well crafted, only goes so far.
The problem with tuning political messages to an existing opinion base is the same as measuring risk using financial engineering techniques that rely on past variance of asset prices to estimate future risk. There is no accounting for innovation or surprise.
True strategic thinking accounts for the dynamic interplay of the ordinary and extraordinary, first championed by the brilliant Chinese strategist Sun Tzu 2,500 years ago in his masterpiece, The Art of War. As a succinct statement of the strategic method, Sun Tzu has never been surpassed.
Statistical techniques such as polling and so-called risk management can only reveal dull gray averages, what Sun Tzu called ordinary force. True genius, as Prussian strategist Clausewitz says, “Rises above all rules.” Genius is not a quantitative measure of intelligence, but of extraordinary agility of mind. Genius certainly departs from the statistical mean. Statistical techniques only define the inertial center of gravity, not the extraordinary leverage of the extremes of folly and genius.
True strategists, whether of war or investing or political campaigns, understand the psychological fact about human perception, that surprising things draw our attention, engage our emotions, and register in our memory. Routine things are routinely forgettable. To bureaucratize any process is to file it away in external storage because it is not extraordinary enough to flourish in our consciousness. True strategists also understand that reversion to the mean does not command the field. Any field is taken by genius that wields extraordinary methods with impeccable timing and relentless execution. When I studied kung fu, this was called “reigning projection,” dominating one’s opponent not with superior force, but with an extraordinary, relentless and unexpected approach.
Trump has maintained the lead in a crowded Republican pack because of the irony that average voters are bored by campaigns that pander to average views. Many liberals react to Trump emotionally and so do not see the true genius of his appeal. He is the extraordinary force to the ordinary force of the conventionally branded Republicans. They are trapped in the rituals of a tested but tedious and untrustworthy brand, whereas he has room to maneuver and innovate.
Hillary Clinton is suffering from a deficit similar to that of the plethora of experienced Republican politicians who are baffled by Trump when she is similarly confronted with the unexpected and unscripted challenge of Bernie Sanders. “Socialist” has long been a dirty word in polite American politics, yet Sanders, for decades, one of the few self-identified socialists in Congress, is polling strongly, sometimes above Hillary, and drawing consistently bigger and more enthusiastic crowds.
Trump and Sanders, despite being worlds apart in behavior, style, rhetoric, sensibilities, and policies, have tapped into two sides of the same populist energy. It is an energy that Hillary, the dull Republican field, and their clueless strategists can only gawk at incredulously. It is the unexpected force of the people, defying all attempts of the pundits to categorize and homogenize into a settled and satisfied mean that excites nobody.
The official machinery of both parties is unable to digest and process these results into effective action, at least not yet. The corporate funders and unimaginative strategists that dominate both parties are dumbfounded at the moment. Traditional practices no longer produce the traditional results.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held no positions in the stocks mentioned.