“He was asking me a rhetorical question, and I gave an answer. And by the way, people — from an academic standpoint, and asked rhetorically — said that answer was an unbelievable academic answer.” (Donald Trump, MSNBC 5/4/2016) Source: You Tube.
Many of us in the United States are sorting through the ramifications of what Donald Trump’s political rise means. Like countless others, I am bowled over by how his primarily unscripted and ad-hoc campaign for president has rocketed him to become the presumptive nominee of his party. His surge has been nothing short of bewildering, in a kind of Rod Serling fashion anyway.
Trump’s success is the product of offering of ludicrously incomplete and ill-conceived policy positions, many of them deliberately provocative. He uses inflammatory and incendiary language in which he assails political opponents and critics alike to maximum effect. His language and tone — overwhelmingly loud and coarse – is also deliberate, knowing and understanding as he does that he is striking a chord with an angry and disenchanted electorate. Unlike his 16 earlier opponents who are no longer in the race, Trump completely gets the disillusionment and frustration of the voters to whom he is selling his vision. He has tapped into their anger.
He has on occasion encouraged crowds to use violence on those who protest during his speeches. This in turn has resulted in violent counter-protests by anti-Trump groups. It has made for very ugly scenes on the evening news.
Not since George Wallace have I seen an American politician use this kind of rhetoric so powerfully and effectively in a national campaign.
What I do find both comical and baffling is that it hasn’t mattered how outlandish Trump is on the stump or in his many media appearances. He plays fast and loose with the truth in a completely transparent manner, with his own version of events ultimately being disproven by journalists and other third parties. Yet amazingly, he doubles down and insists that all of his tall tales are true (i.e. muslims in New Jersey celebrating the fall of the twin towers on 9/11, “scores” of recent migrants inside U.S. borders have been charged with terrorism).
Remember when we gasped at candidate Ronald Reagan’s thoughts that trees are responsible for pollution? How quaint that was!
Likewise, where others who run for political office are skewered when they flip-flop on a position or policy, Trump does so repeatedly and receives little to no punishment from voters (taxes on the wealthy, raising the minimum wage).
Move over President Reagan and John Gotti, we have a new Teflon Don.
There’s even now an online test about Trump’s many shifts, revisions, and reversals. For the alert newshounds out there, give it a whirl and see how you do. Your humble blogger got two wrong, but I’m sure the intelligent readership here can do better. Make me proud!
Watching Trump on the campaign trail, I can’t help but think back nearly 50 years ago to a “candidate” whose own version of candor was handled in a slightly different manner. In fact, when Trump first began this campaign I was convinced that he too was only in it for the fun, and probably to further his business interests or television career.
Comedian Pat Paulsen’s satiric campaign for president in 1968 was also during a time of seismic voter turbulence. He deflected attacks by using phrases such as “Picky, picky, picky” when criticized for the fake policies and outlandish positions he announced. It was all done tongue-in-cheek, spawned from the very heady comedy show of that time, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour.
What I recall best was Paulsen’s slogan for that ’68 campaign: “Just a common, ordinary, simple savior of America’s destiny.” And everyone felt that they were in on the joke. Whether you worked an assembly line or ran a corporation, you understood that this “shtick” of his was just an act. You laughed and saw him as a clever caricature of the so-called modern politician.
And so when When Donald Trump began his campaign with his slogan of “Make America Great Again,” my mind immediately went to Pat Paulsen. Oh, sure, Trump entertained all of us with that whole ridiculous birther thing about President Obama’s citizenship. But I just saw his campaign as yet another in a series of transparent, self-promotional attempts to further his eponymous brand. Trump is the P.T. Barnum of our time, selling us on the glories of his own self. Ayn Rand would have at least admired his outer display confidence, though I’m also fairly certain The Donald has never heard of her.
But right out of the gate Trump sprinted to the top of the polls and never fell. To the shock and awe of the Republican Party establishment, he is now their titular leader. Unless they pull the rug out from underneath him at their July convention in Cleveland (something that could at least theoretically still happen), he will be the GOP standard-bearer this fall. Fasten your seat belts.
Trump has already managed to insult and disparage huge swaths of the American electorate (i.e. Hispanics, women). He’s also branded an entire religion as dangerous enough to propose barring any member of it from entering the United States. This has created a fissure within the Republican Party that I longed predicted would happen to conservative friends of mine. No one could have predicted someone like Trump, of course. But the GOP gleefully got into bed with fundamentalist religious groups back in the 1980’s, and this pattern has only grown with the Tea Party and economic tax zealots such as Grover Norquist. Their troubles are of their own making.
As a liberal, I find no joy in watching what’s happening to the GOP. Although I occasionally look wistfully at the parliamentary systems of Canada and much of western Europe, I still cling to a belief that America’s two-party system can somehow survive the current madness. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan’s recent comments about forging a more civil path forward gives me hope. No matter the outcome of next November’s election, I will be watching with anticipation to see if any of this can come to pass. We pointy heads are nothing but hopeful optimists.
So keep the faith and stay close to your own version of Truthiness. It seems to be the thing to do now.
Until next time…