Dear idealized foreign reader, you may have been aware over these last few months that there is something weird going on over here, in the land of the free. There is an election for the president, but it’s somehow so much more and so much less than that at the same time.
Let me explain, if I can.
The competitors in what is some unique combination of reality show, hunger games, and West Wing parody are Hillary R. Clinton and Donald J. Trump.
First, because it’s easier to write about, let’s look at the Trump.
DJT wasn’t expected to get far – a rich NY guy, famous for writing his name in enormous gold letters on the sides of buildings and saying “You’re fired” to Gary Busey. He was up against the best the GOP had to muster: Christie, Rubio, Cruz, and the anointed one, Jeb Bush. No one had raised more money than Jeb. No one came from a more storied presidential family. Jeb was a shoe in. He seemed like a decent guy – not photogenic, no dynamic, but authentic, credible.
DJT steamrollered the whole crowd of them with a combination of bombast and middle-school name-calling. He likes his nicknames – Rubio was “Little Marco”, Cruz was “Lyin’ Ted” (as HRC would go on to be “Crooked Hillary”). They were the kinds of handy labels that could go on a T-shirt or a hat. This, perhaps more than anything, was DJT’s skill (that’s not to say that his supporters didn’t have actual reasons for choosing Trump over Clinton).
Speaking of hats, DJT’s became iconic: a red baseball cap with clean white (so very white) lettering: MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN. Snappy, if a little vague, raising more questions than it answered. Great in what way? Great like when? And how would you make it great?
From the very beginning, the media at large did two things: it didn’t take DJT seriously…and it gave him as much coverage as he desired. Maybe they thought they were giving him enough rope so he could hang his campaign. Maybe.
But DJT was tapping into a very specific American well. He was running as an outsider, unburdened by the money – and therefore the influence – of rich special interests. And all of the free publicity that the TV shows were giving him saved his campaign a fortune while also providing him with increased credibility with conservative voters.
While much of the media scoffed at his unrealistic soundbite policies:
- We’ll build a wall and the Mexicans will pay for it.
- We’ll send back all the illegal immigrants.
- We’ll ban Muslims.
- We’ll take our country back and make it great again.
…the GOP’s disaffected base was inspired. As were what are now known as the “alt right” and various KKK-style fringe groups (and, of course, the KKK themselves). The Internet – especially Twitter – became a battleground. Alt Right media warriors competed to get pro-Trump hashtags trending, making their issues the center of debate on media outlets such as Fox News. Fox worked with other far-right media outlets such as Breitbart and the Twittersphere to create a rolling wave of support and Trump-based propaganda.
As he dominated headlines and bullied his way through the primaries, DJT ripped up what everybody regarded to be the rule book. He insulted journalists, including Fox’s own Megan Kelly; he would then go on to insult the handicapped, veterans in the form of GOP stalwart John McCain, Gold Star families.
This would usually end a political campaign, but DJT was bulletproof. Soon it was inevitable: the GOP nominee for president in 2016 wasn’t going to be Bush, rising star Rubio, Lyin’ Ted Cruz, Ben Carson, or the supposedly moderate voice-of-sanity John Kasich. It was going to be Trump.
The Tea Party wing of the America conservative movement was thrilled. Most everyone else, less so. Here is the short list of problems facing DJT as a Presidential candidate:
- He lies. While coining “Lyin’ Ted” and “Crooked Hillary”, DJT consistently says things that are easily and demonstrably not true. And he’s not subtle about it. He says black is white on Monday; night is day on Tuesday; then spends the rest of the week saying the exact opposite while denying his Monday and Tuesday statements existed. Even though he must know that he was recorded saying the very things he is now denying. In this sense, the lying is almost the lesser of the issues – his bizarre expectation that his lies will be treated as the truth, and then have Twitter tantrums when this doesn’t happen, are equally, if not more, disturbing for a potential Commander in Chief.
- He panders to a small and select base while ignoring the constituents the GOP knows it has to attract to stay relevant. The US is fast moving away from being a majority white country. The GOP must move away from being a majority white party. But DJT started his campaign by labeling Mexicans as rapists and murderers and hasn’t backed away when he’s accused of racism. He may indeed love “the blacks” and believe himself to be the “least racist person” we all have ever met, but that’s not how the wider electorate sees him. And, in an increasingly diverse country, this is a huge problem for his candidacy.
- He is both naive and overconfident. In speeches, he projects an image of a braggart. Yes, he assures us, his penis size is perfectly fine. He believes he has “the best words.” He is going to educate the US military top brass about ISIS as he knows more than they do. He can fix the tax system because no one understands it better than he does. But…no. His speeches and debate performances are rambling and more often than not lacking in substance. It turns out that he does not have the best words. Like a small child, he is caught out time and again in his overconfidence. The US military knows more than he does about ISIS; the expensive team of accountants he pays for knows more than he does about the tax code. But DJT seems to think that just saying it makes it true. He thinks the voters doesn’t know this. Or that they shouldn’t know. That he just has to say how great he is – that everything he touches turns to gold – and voters will believe him.
And the mainstream (lamestream) media thought he was a fool…but (maybe) because of this, his base solidified. They chanted “Build a wall!” and “Lock her up!” at his rallies while the commentariat continued to predict his demise.
You’ll notice that nothing I wrote about his problems as a candidate really relates to policy proposals. His policy greatest hits – building a wall, deporting immigrants, banning Muslims from entering the country – are soundbites rather than policies. They are liable to be walked back, re-spun, and then reaffirmed from one news cycle to the next. But the media has shown little interest in the substance of the proposals – they much prefer the show.
DJT’s problems didn’t really manage to reach as far as policy – for the most part, they remained stuck in the personal. He was politically naive; a thin-skinned bully who sent out Tweets early in the morning to attack a former beauty queen. Sure, the media gave over some time to discussions of how his tax plans were unworkable – or that they would benefit the 1% and not the middle classes. But mostly, to the media, he was The Donald, reality star, self-promoter, always good for an outrageous quote and a click-bait headline.
And that’s where, eventually, he ran aground.
When someone leaked the tape of his “locker-room talk” with Billy Bush, with descriptions that sounded suspiciously like sexual assault, DJT at last seemed to struggle to bounce back. Because, as well as going out of his way to upset minority voters, DJT was struggling with a significant voter bloc: women. Rosie O’Donnell, Alicia Machado, and Fox’s own Megan Kelly are among those who have faced sexist attacks from him. Now, women in general felt insulted and threatened by his pussy-grabbing attitude. He can say, in familiar Trump fashion, that “nobody respects women” more than he does, but this is beginning to sound more and more like self-parody, a punchline, and not a serious defense against a potentially campaign-threatening scandal.
In an election season, the media love nothing more than a scandal. The Trump campaign has been the gift that kept on giving. I don’t have the time and you don’t have the patience to go through them all, large and small.
There’s DJT’s troubling attitude toward nuclear weapons; his less-than-statesmanlike behavior during his campaign; his less-than-subtle use of the Second Amendment as a threat; his misleading claims about his giving to charities; his stated belief that climate change was a hoax from China. You might have a personal favorite that I’ve missed out. Please feel free to add it in the comments.
But, even if his campaign ends in defeat, it won’t be the end. Because the personality flaws that have dragged his candidacy down look like they could drag the election out in unprecedented, dangerous ways. For the parts of his base that believe Obama is coming for their guns, that $hillary is in the pocket of big business, that Syrian refugees are de facto Muslim terrorists, that the Libtard Lamestream Media has set out to deliberately delegitimize the Trump campaign…it is not a great leap to believe that the election can be regarded as illegitimate. And DJT has increased the volume on his final, and possibly most damaging, narrative of paranoia: that the election is rigged – against him personally and, as a natural extension, from the people who are relying on him to make them and their country great again. And, from there, what happens next?
When Obama became president (and it seems so long ago), some people were predicting a post-racial America. An increase in racial tolerance. In fact, BHO’s election saw the exact opposite. Having a black leader in the White House gave the quietly simmering frustrations of an angry, militant minority someone to blame and, almost a little too literally, something to aim at. By getting his excuses in early – because the Trump mindset can’t understand defeat, only being cheated out of what’s rightfully his – DJT is setting in motion four or more years of bigots being loud and proud.
Trump being beaten…by a woman…would lead to increases in sexist, misogynistic attacks online, in the media, and in the daily lives of women all over the country. In fact, this has already started. The Republican Party is almost certainly facing years of in-fighting and power struggles. Trump followers must find a way to come to terms to the defeat – they are unlikely to go quietly.
And this is the best-case scenario; it means that he’s not actually President.