Calling Trump’s bluff in the poker game of US politics

Donald Trump has become a byword for political buffoonery. How much longer can it go on?

Politics as spectacle and public cynicism in the face of moral values are as much to blame for the rise of Donald Trump as his populist appeal to the base instincts of the US electorate. In Democracy: A Very Short Introduction (2002), Bernard Crick writes:

“Populism has come to mean many things, but I see it as a style of politics and rhetoric that seeks to arouse a majority, or at least what their leaders passionately believe is a majority… who are, have been, or think themselves to be outside the polity, scorned and despised by an educated establishment.”

Trump’s provocations have been augmented by the lies and damned lies of media outlets and insidious social media in which a Tweet is thought to be worth a thousand words. A national political disaster looms: Trump as president. Abraham Lincoln must be turning in his tomb.

For those who wonder if Fox TV is really telling it like it is, or who can read more than “one-sentence stories”, critical opinion and commentary abound in respected publications and current affairs programmes. But there’s the rub: most people are not reading or listening. And the Trump bandwagon rolls on, seemingly without anyone being able to put a spoke in its wheel.

A perceptive critique in Le Monde diplomatique (“Is Trump the American Berlusconi?”, September 2015) noted that Trump and the Italian politician:

“Share a flaunted machismo and political incorrectness. This is part of a well-calculated electoral strategy. What Berlusconi had already understood before Trump is that saying outrageous things gets you free media coverage and forces others to engage with what you are saying. So you get to set the terms of the political debate, while shifting its centre of gravity in your favour. At the same time, Berlusconi and Trump’s political incorrectness targets a specific electoral group – predominantly blue-collar white males who feel threatened by globalization, multiculturalism and women’s rights. There is an element of revanchism in their discourse, which allows them to attract conservative votes while assuming an air of radicalism.”

Seizing on populism as an electoral weapon, Trump peddles hostility towards immigrants whose ethnic and religious identities supposedly clash with those of native-born Americans. He spouts hatred against those he perceives as foreign enemies and – with scarcely a blush – derides established political figures for their weakness and dishonesty. The man is a blustering bully and flagrant liar.

As Michael Kazin observed in “Trumping History: The Donald in Context” (Foreign Affairs, 10 December 2015):

“Both the allure of Trump’s candidacy and the dread it provokes at home and abroad stem from the same impulses, which run deep in U.S. political culture. A rich man whose name is familiar to everyone bashes people whom many citizens either fear or mistrust and makes vague promises to fix whatever ails the nation. And he does all this with a smirk, a threat, and yet also with a yearning for respect, even from those he routinely assaults in speeches.”

GOP(2)Trump seeks adulation. He yearns for the respect that money cannot buy. A spoilt, rich brat in a playground of his own making, he seeks chums to do his bidding. If he could be ignored, all might be well. But he is playing on a legacy of deep-rooted ideological fear and racial discrimination for his own grandisement and that of his cronies.

If Donald Trump gets the Republican nomination and is elected president, the USA will lose the integrity and decency that Barack Obama has struggled to gain. If Trump gets the Republican nomination and Hillary Clinton wins the presidency, the problem will not vanish but go underground. The weasels and chiselers will use Trump’s vainglorious pretensions to advance their own agendas and the USA will still be shafted. Big time.

As Abraham Lincoln may have said, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” He might have added, “Unless they want to be fooled.”

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