To borrow a line from George W. Bush, they misunderestimated him. . .
From one of our favorite authors, Christian Parenti, Clinical Assistant Professor of Liberal Studies at New York University, writing for Jacobin:
At almost every turn the liberal pundits misunderstood, or did not hear, what Trump was saying. After his win in the Nevada caucus Trump said: “We won with highly educated, we won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated! We’re the smartest people, we’re the most loyal people.” Liberals lampooned him, assuming that he had insulted part of his base.
A different interpretation translates those comments as: “Trump understands that it’s not all my fault that I couldn’t get an education. He understands that even people who don’t have advanced degrees can make good decisions and are worthy of respect.”
One of the few coastal elites to have cracked the Trump discursive code is the otherwise odious Peter Thiel, who told the National Press Club, “the media is always taking Trump literally. It never takes him seriously, but it always takes him literally.” Voters on the other hand, said Thiel, “take Trump seriously but not literally.” Bingo!
Or to translate this into the academese of Roland Barthes, perhaps Trump’s discourse was more “writerly” (scriptable) than its simple sounds suggested; that is his meanings, because of the form of their delivery, were open to multiple understandings and re-assembly by the listener. Even his endlessly invoked wall, in reality a proposal for more militarized policing, could sound like a public works scheme, an infrastructure-based jobs program.