My students—budding historians—tell me exactly what budding historians are supposed to say: It has always been like this. And in a way they’re right. Go back to the Early Republic and consider how Burr, Adams, Hamilton and the like went after each other. It was vicious. Adams was the worst. He famously called Hamilton “the Bastard brat of a Scotch peddler”; Paine’s Common Sense, a “crapulous mess”; and Jefferson’s soul, “poisoned with ambition.” But the difference with Trump is that, unlike past political mudslinging, his insults are divorced from political reality. Trump isn’t hissing out insults to underscore his political position, or to denigrate the political position of another. He’s doing it to bully for the sake of bullying. Trump issues taunts apolitically, all over the place (against Republicans and Democrats), and with abandon. He’s often compared to a third grader on a playground. But, honestly, that’s not fair to third graders, most of whom seem to understand that you don’t behave that way.
–James McWilliams, “Why Trump?”
That last is the best line in a relatively light piece in which McWilliams suggests that what is historically unique about Donald Trump’s campaign is that the link between his vulgar outbursts and his upticks in polling is, broadly and collectively speaking, our social media. I’m not totally persuaded by this argument, even though I suppose that, to a certain extent, social media do foster “a culture of insult that prevails in the darker arenas of the Web, in places where We The People are allowed to be at our worst.” And I do also suspect that Trump is being used as a way to, as McWilliams argues, legitimate those discourses.
In other words, he’s quintessentially a Gamergate candidate. Whatever that may mean.