Why would the much-married Donald Trump, billionaire, self-promoter, real-estate developer, and leading figure in the world of flashy entertainment, a man who until recently apparently accepted the views of his class on hot-button political and social issues, suddenly become the leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination?

The man’s been successful in a variety of very competitive pursuits, so he’s no dummy.  He’s put together large projects in New York City, so he knows something about practical politics and dealing effectively with complex situations in ways that bring difficult people together.  And he obviously knows how to get and use publicity, a crucial skill in an age in which spin and image swamp achievement and reputation.

But all that is not enough to explain his sudden rise.  The missing piece of the puzzle is the artificiality of public life in the United States.  In a land of chain stores, internet memes, pop-culture formulas, and endless consultants, Trump has his own highly charged way of communicating.  Whatever the topic, he attracts notice when he speaks.

He’s a successful entrepreneur with a brand he’s created for himself without the aid of pollsters, focus groups, or handlers.  As such, his words and actions are of course designed for effect—he’s a pro-wrestling version of a politician rather than an Andrew Jackson or a Mr. Smith trying to go to Washington—but his calculations are his own.  They reflect intuition and long experience rather than the advice of consultants, and he’s willing to provoke outrage.  So the effect is wholly different from that of another candidate repeating commercially prepared talking points.

The apparent proof of his straight talk and independence is his manner—his New York accent, his frequent crudeness, his insults, his willingness to boast about crass things like money, his comments that strike respectable opinion as scandalous, and his refusal to apologize for any of it in the face of organized outrage and financial penalties.

So he’s not for sale, part of the club, or susceptible to pressure, and today that counts for everything.  To put it differently, he seems his own man, and he’s not politically correct.  That matters, not just as a selling point, but substantively, because p.c. is a serious matter.  At first people thought it a joke, then an annoyance, and eventually a constant drag on life in general.  Now, in the age of flash mobs that enforce insane beliefs by destroying careers, people are realizing that p.c. is much more than that.

In fact, political correctness is a genuine threat to any tolerable way of life.  It’s part of an attempt to recreate all social life as an artificial world, an infinitely sensitive environment in which there are no losers and no personal distinctions or differences of power that matter.  The idea is fantasy, of course, but its absurdity hides something all too real: an attempt to replace politics by an administrative structure supposedly manned by infinitely capable and well-informed functionaries able to force reality to conform to the evolving open-ended demands of liberal theory.

In other words, p.c. is Totalitarianism 2.0: a bureaucratic system, seemingly gentle, that possesses unlimited power over human attitudes, understandings, and relations, and feels called upon to use that power to construct a self-contradictory system of equal freedom and esteem.  The attempt will fail, just as Bolshevism and Maoism failed, but it will do immense damage before it is given up.

One aspect of that attempt, which is responsible for much of Trump’s popularity, is a radical reduction in popular influence on government.  If popular habits and understandings need constant transformation in ever more basic ways, because they always fall short of evolving standards of decency, they obviously shouldn’t guide public policy.  That is for those who know better.

Political correctness itself, with its celebration of diversity and suppression of traditional distinctions, advances the cause in a fundamental way by suppressing social connections—family, inherited culture, religion—except for the bureaucratic and market arrangements through which the intended system would function.  Those older arrangements are considered irrational, unequal, and uncontrollable, and they act as if they have the right to decide things, so why allow them any legitimacy?  Why not get rid of them by multiplying incompatible versions of each and insisting they all have equal status?

What remains after all other institutions of social functioning are suppressed is the power of money, propaganda, and the administrative state.  So it’s not surprising that p.c. has the support of those in charge of those spheres of power: lawyers and officials, who run the new regime most directly; academics, educators, journalists, and other producers and disseminators of certified expertise and opinion, who determine the facts and principles guiding decisions; and large business and financial interests, who organize production and distribution, and correctly view the new order, which tends toward comprehensive organization and excludes popular views from serious consideration, as a natural home for crony capitalism.

Political correctness further serves today’s dominant powers by making it impossible to resist or even discuss what’s going on.  The project of social transformation of which it is a part means that a vote with regard to serious matters can take effect only if it favors outcomes that are already decided in other ways.  (Hence recent Supreme Court decisions on “gay marriage,” and the conduct of the European Union when it loses a referendum or runs into other forms of popular opposition.)  It tells people that in order to say anything that touches on their rulers’ social projects they must buy into them and possess the training and up-to-date knowledge needed to navigate the complexities of what can and can’t be said.  Otherwise, they can be shut up, made the object of public hatred and scorn, and driven from their jobs and social positions.

In principle p.c. should be vulnerable.  Its claim that we’re all equal because human differences are socially constructed is crazy, but its proponents largely believe in it, so they lose touch with reality and start doing odd things.  The results include female Army Rangers, insistence that white violence is a major threat to black well-being, and—most importantly from a long-term standpoint—effectively open borders with the Third World.

A ruling class that loses its grip on reality is going to have problems, and so is the society it governs.  So the people have an obvious interest in restraining rulers who start acting destructively, and letting them do so is a basic function of popular participation in government.  Nonetheless, that function now seems out of reach.  Public life has largely been nationalized and internationalized, and discussion has—in spite of sniping and occasional guerilla attacks—been captured and pacified by mainstream scholars, pundits, and journalists.  In a mass society with ever weaker family, religious, and communal ties, the educated and ambitious care only for career, so they get along by going along.  To do so they have developed the habit of ignoring or denying inconvenient aspects of reality, and they have made that habit a marker of social class and political and moral decency: If you lack it, you’re not the sort of person who should be listened to.

Domination of public life by p.c. elites has thus made it impossible for ordinary people to assert their complaints publicly in an acceptable way, so their objections can easily be shrugged off as the outbursts of ignorant bigots who will, in any event, soon become demographically irrelevant.

The approach has worked, but it exacerbates people’s sense that something is being put over on them, that they are being deprived of the world that was theirs by those who hold them in contempt and wish them no good.  The result is that the people would very much like to have a champion willing to make their cause his own.  The champion doesn’t have to be particularly noble, thoughtful, or good; he just has to put a few of their more obvious points forward in a way that can’t be ignored.

For the effort to make headway against the stories our rulers force-feed us, it has to be outside the script of our public life, but immediately comprehensible to a public educated by pop culture.  And it has to be pushed forward by someone who can’t be shut up, and somehow occupies a bully pulpit that can’t be taken away from him.  Basically, that means the champion has to be Donald Trump.  He’s never been taken very seriously, but that only adds to his ability to say what he wants and to stretch the truth in support of the story he’s telling, and also makes it difficult for respectable people to respond to him effectively.  And in any case, he has the incontrovertible authority that comes with loads of money and success in bringing off impressive projects.  The effect of it all is that he can’t be ignored, shut up, or bought off, and if he insists that something is an issue that obviously should be an issue—like immigration or trade policy—he can’t be ignored.  Those advantages may be enough to send him to the White House—especially in a country that chose Barack Obama, another man with a large ego backed by a compelling myth, but with far fewer accomplishments.

The alternative Trump offers to the unreal world of respectable public discussion is also, of course, unreal, but less so than the official version of reality.  Like beauty pageants, reality TV shows, and pro wrestling, not to mention the long-running spectacle of his business and private affairs, it brings in aspects of reality that political correctness excludes: power, passion, loyalty, competition, confrontation, maneuvering, double-dealing, and the struggle for superiority.  It even brings in sex and ethnic stereotypes: What would beauty contests and pro wrestling be without them, or Trump’s candidacy without crude comments about celebrity women, illegal immigrants, and others who are too often protected from criticism because of who they are?

Trump’s been called a clown by those who guard the purity of our political culture.  The name-calling is silly in a country in which respectable opinion insists that two grooms make a wedding, and an organization that tears living babies apart and sells the pieces is a model of honor and public spirit.  They may paint Trump as a court jester who would be king.  But who wouldn’t root for the court jester—at least a little—in a world of supple place-seeking courtiers?