••• The International Writers Magazine:Reality Check + READERS RESPONSES
Donald J. Trump, Republican Nominee - WTF?
The political and commercial morals of the United States are not merely food for laughter, they are an entire banquet.
- Mark Twain
Today, as you read this, the presumptive nominee of one of our republic’s two major political parties is a man who eleven months ago was a tabloid-addled, real estate mogul turned reality TV personality. How did this happen? Let’s dissect.
Never Underestimate the Power of Celebrity or the Grim Reality of Math
In the late 1980s I proposed the idea that if Clint Eastwood ran for president, he might not win but would garner about a third of the vote for merely being Clint Eastwood. This is long before a weight-lifter/movie star became governor of the nation’s largest state. Once Donald Trump, a well-known macho big mouth, descended his fancy escalator at the Trump Towers on Fifth Avenue, he owned one-third of the Republican electorate by simply being Donald Trump. This is the celebrity quotient seemingly lost on the political class that at any time may come calling and is ignored at its own peril.
This one-third quotient would have been nothing but an entertaining fart in the wind if Trump were opposed by a reasonable three or four candidates divvying up the remaining 65 percent. This did not happen in 2015. A record seventeen candidates emerged slicing up two, five, eight and ten percent of the pie between them, leading to a growing narrative to those who thought Trump a goof (myself included) having a legitimate shot (something I came to realize all-too clearly in late September). And since not one of the other sixteen candidates chose to confront this mathematical certainty, most stayed in the race, which made Trump’s 33 percent a solid bet.
Trump did not get a majority of the vote until his home state of New York, 34 states into the process. By then most of the field had winnowed and Trump had legs enough to break a record for the most GOP primary votes ever.
Shitty Field & the Republican Lie
Since 2009 the Republican Party, with the ardent assistance of talk radio and FOX News, rolled out the fantasy that President Barack Obama would plunge the nation into Hades. Not that he was a sub-par president, mind you, but Satan. When none of this actually happened, they decided to claim it did anyway. This narrative, wholly baseless, not unlike the left’s insane panic when Ronald Reagan became president, created a netherworld of fact-free political discourse that led to a TEA Party movement at first exploited and eventually reduced to a whole lot of nothing in Washington D.C., which predictably upset a whole lot of people.
Fast forward to the comically large Republican candidate field, which operated under another GOP lie that it would be the finest in a generation. It was not. It sucked, and people knew it, and thus “outsider” Donald Trump became the voice of the disenfranchised tired of the lie. His support was that of a defiantly powerful weapon against bullshit.
The actual shitty field was made up of wildly unpopular governors; Bobby Jindel and Chris Christie, unlikable sods with crappy records and no point to run for re-election, much less the presidency, and popular governors, Rick Perry, a dullard, who put glasses on to appear as if he were not a dullard, which made him look more like a dullard, Scott Walker, who campaigned as if he would rather have a three-way with the Clintons than run for president, and John Kasich, who never seemed to articulate what his actual point was. And finally two long-retired ex-governors, another goddamn Bush, who was merely fodder for Trump’s most effective coming out party; the burying of this pathetic era in American history, and for reasons only known to his shrink, George Pataki. Then there was Marco Rubio, a wildly unpopular senator that lived on the lie he was the Hispanic Obama, but turned out to be in way over his head, and the latest in the Paul family to be shoved aside as a libertarian kook. For fun there was Dr. Ben Carson, a mumbling neurosurgeon and religious loon, who had his fifteen minutes of fame for being “nice”, thrice-failed religious loons, Santorum/Huckabee. Senator Lindsey Graham, who polled as well as me at zero percent, which made abject business failure, Carly Fiorina look good, her eventually running mate, Ted Cruz, a man who looked like the guy you would cast in a slimy politician role for your movie about corruption, and some guy named Gilmore.
Not a Jefferson in the bunch.
The Social Media Pissed-Off Two-Step
This is the social media era and Donald Trump is its demigod. He lives for the short-attention span this opiate satiates and the outlandish quip in short spurts it demands, which translates well to Twitter and cable news, the Internet for old people. Trump dominated every medium mostly made up of two things – a narcissistic obsession with self-promoting the most mundane claptrap and expressing the kind of the hate-speak no one would dare say in any measure of polite society.
Anger, whether legitimate of not, is anger. You can’t tell people they’re not angry if they’re angry, and since the electorate has been repeatedly lied to by both parties for centuries, it came to a head in a very unusual but understandable way. On the left, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders tapped into the anger of progressives that feel abandoned by Obama while Trump tapped into the general anger of the lies the right has fed its base.
When people are angry they like to say outlandish things to hopefully shock the system; a collective Lenny Bruce moment when merely uttering “cocksucker” in a lounge becomes social commentary. This is why when Donald Trump said things that would not only fell normal politicians but destroy careers and reputations, it elevated his stature. He was the living embodiment of anger; an avatar for the very core of ourselves; righteous indignation. He was like the birth of punk music; crude, raw, and defiant, a middle-aged Kurt Cobain character with disdain for decorum and a hard-on for disorder.
For the first time, those who spent their days sitting at home elbow-deep in the Costco-sized Cheetos tub firing off horrifyingly hilarious vitriol under the cover of cowardice could now have a voice and a place to get nuts. Trump and Sanders provided the rhetoric and rallies to take it to the streets, and the primary voting days to file their protest. Some of this frightened those who are afraid of things like free speech and expression, but for those of us who celebrate the ugly experiment that is democracy reflecting the terrors of human nature, it was glorious times.
Trump, and to a lesser extent but no less riotous, Sanders allowed America to bear its soul, and it got real…fast.
The Boring & Sacrilegious Christ Analogy & the Vote
Trump was never really a candidate, he was a symbol. Like the symbol of Jesus of Nazareth some two thousand years ago, the character rolling into Jerusalem and pronouncing his messianic priority, calling everything crap; the social system, the political system, the religious system, the entire thing crap. His declaration of one man replacing all of it is at once egalitarian (what we would call populist today) and fascist, (a nebulous accusation of a singular proposal to return all-things to not crap) resonates. Both guys were faced with a similar push-back from those who needed to survive on the status quo. And when Jesus was executed, his point grew into this other thing entirely. What we call Christianity today is just another fulcrum for the frightened to keep reality at bay.
You think I’m nuts? Ask Ted Cruz, who said as much in his concession speech once Trump made mincemeat of the entire field. He talked about his own march being halted, but the “idea” living on, or “resurrected” in some other larger movement. Problem for Cruz is he was not the Jesus in this analogy, which was borne out by his being bested in nearly every state with evangelicals by Trump. It is Citizen Trump, the human grenade, that calls everything crap and has all the answers to make it not crap; him, alone – not a system or an ideology or even a party, just Trump. Very Christ-like. Or Mussolini-like. But I find it hard to differentiate the symbolic nature of Mussolini and Christ, but that is for another column entirely.
But, again, none of this matters without “the vote”. It was “the vote” that crushed the system and the ideology and the party, none of which could handle or understand Trump. The voters did. The anger did. The timing sure did. Every step of the way the voting came his way and it was ignored by the other candidates and the party and mostly the media, who looked at this as it looks at all things, a shiny object in which to sell ad space. None of these entities understand Trump or the fear and anger people have about a changing world they are not part of, whether socially or economically. Not that Trump can do anything about it, like the Christ thing, but it is better than the crap that is currently happening or what they believe is the crap that is happening.
The voting, not all the other stuff, kept the Trump Train on the tracks. Trump did not hijack the party as the lazy right-wing pundits and the Wall St. Journal claim; he got the votes. This is how it works. And it worked for Trump this time.
Nothing ever happens in a vacuum, whether Hitler or the Beatles. Trump is a man for his times, but he also represents our culture of flimsy factoids and fantasy narratives and that somehow being pissed-off is a solution to anything. Sometimes it is, like a bunch of British colonists unhappy about the tax/representation balance overseas, and for Trump, if he is to compete against the odds to actually be president, it had better be.
© James Campion May 12th 2016
Good column on Scalia. (THE SCALIA BOMB ) What folks seem to not take into account in this fight is the Trump phenomenon. I do not for one second believe if Trump is the nominee that the Democrats have a 244 Electoral College firewall. Trump is crossing lines and accessing alliances built many years ago. If McConnell is smart (and folks do truly wonder this) he will hold the line, not allow Obama to once again walk all over them, get Trump elected and keep the Court in its current 5-4 conservative leaning. I agree with Limbaugh when he said the robe guarantees nothing. Roberts was supposed to be a consistent conservative vote and yet he was the deciding vote in the Affordable Care Act decision.
I know I have said this several times to you in our now 17 year friendship but I mean it this time. Between Sanders, Trump and the fight over the Supreme Court….this could be a bonanza for us political junkies.
My old dear friend, Jim, your research is incomplete. This situation has happened before, and Justices were held over to the next president. Funny, when ultra left-wing socialist, Chuck Schumer wanted to wait till the next election, I do not remember a big uproar.
After the do-nothing Republicans in congress watch Donald Trump get slaughtered by Hillary Clinton, they will run to nominate someone, because next up is the most liberal justice you ever saw.
This Supreme Court nominee nonsense the Senate is pulling should be a warning to voters this November that to continue to vote for Republicans is a vote for “No!” It is the most ineffectual, gridlocked Capitol Hill ever and it is the main reason Republican voters are rejecting the status quo and all the insiders. They feel as though nothing gets done in Washington, as trade deals kill jobs and manufacturing going oversees kills jobs, and they play games like this over and over and over again.
I say we try Mitch McConnell for treason.
The Republican congress absolutely must reject ANY Supreme Court nominee from a lame-duck president, whether Republican or Democrat – it’s just the way it is. Period. It is the job of the Senate to check the president’s nominees and it is the will of the people that this president NOT appoint a third liberal to the court.
After the election! Make the seat a referendum on the ideals and principles of this nation going forward.
D. O. K.
Anthony Scalia dying is the perfect metaphor for the death of conservatism, which has been on life support now for decades. Only reason Republicans hold the House is because of redistricting to fix the vote, the Senate will soon be back in Democratic hands, and the only Republican to win a majority of the popular vote since 1988 was G.W. Bush, who is a pariah in his own party, as Donald Trump has perfectly illustrated by completely burying the entire Bush legacy and getting millions of primary votes in the process.
It’s over for conservatism. An entire generation of young voters has rejected their views on almost every social issue and even the emergence of Donald Trump, hardly a conservative, is again a prime example of their demise. Scalia, fat, smoking, shut-off from reality drops dead in a heap and is like the final hours of the great whale breathing its last.
“As far as Trump’s sound victory, it is hard to argue it is anything but historic and impressive by every conceivable measure.” (MYTH BUSTER IN CHIEF)
Leave it to me to quibble. Historic, probably, but impressive, not really. It’s the angry vote of the nation’s fastest-shrinking demographic: white men. White women are in there too. Chomsky carefully dissected this: Noam Chomsky, the renowned scholar and MIT professor emeritus, says that the rise of Donald Trump in American politics is, in part, fueled by deeply rooted fear and hopelessness that may be caused by an alarming spike in mortality rates for a generation of poorly educated whites. “He’s evidently appealing to deep feelings of anger, fear, frustration, hopelessness, probably among sectors like those that are seeing an increase in mortality, something unheard of apart from war and catastrophe," Chomsky told The Huffington Post in an interview on Thursday.
Yadda, yadda. Feeling impotent, lots of ignorant poor to middle class whites are voting Trump, so he’ll do what they can’t: Make America White Again. Bully foreigners—inside and outside the country. Bomb the shit out of everyone who looks at us the wrong way. Show everyone why we spend as much money on “defense” (really? With nearly 700 military bases all over the world? China has ONE. Russia has 28 or so. When do we call it offense?) than China, Russia and the next six most powerful nations combined.
One other quibble: “The right-wing Citizens United ruling a few years ago that has the Bernie Sanders bunch (and quite frankly Trump) in a tizzy has thus far gone belly up.”
Well, not exactly. It’s functioning quite well for Hillary.
I believe the one redeeming value of the Trump candidacy is that he is obliterating every Republican trope – free trade, foreign intervention, Bush kept America safe AFTER 9/11 – that’s like I kept your house from burning down after it was a pile of ashes, Wall St. suckling, protecting the economic solvency of the one-percent, mythical attacks on Planned Parenthood, etc.
Your take on Trump’s pounding of the W. at the S.C. debate perfectly frames this point. Forget his attack on women, Hispanics, the disabled, Viet Nam POWs, the media, Obama, Hillary; it is his repeated rejection, backed as it is turning out by huge numbers of voters, of everything the party holds dear. No wonder the establishment and the right-wing media is going nuts. He is screwing up their agenda, their ideology. For a purist like Ted Cruz to eat shit time and again with evangelicals in purely red states, losing to a New York wild man is truly astonishing.
I think you, sir, are the perfect voice for these times a-comin’. This column has always preached a frontal assault on the system. Trump is like you say a grenade. He is challenging everything party politics used to hold to tightly and he is winning. Winning!
I would say that is impressive, all right.
Signed up from jamescampion.com
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James Campion is the author of “Deep Tank Jersey”, “Fear No Art”, “Trailing Jesus”, "Midnight For Cinderella" and “Y”. His new book, “Shout It Out Loud – The Story of KISS’s Destroyer and the Making of an American Icon” is out now
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