Swooning for Trump

Iowa Republican caucus-goers have not even yet donned their sealskin parkas and mukluks and begun their trek across the windswept tundra to vote in their quadrennial confab, but Donald J. Trump has had them all aflutter for months. An innocent civilian cannot suffer through a single news cycle without scurrying for the foxhole under a cannonade of alleged news about the coiffure-challenged candidate, invariably including some choice apercus from  The Donald himself. We have learned, for example, by his own testimony that if he is elected, his presidency will be HUGE, and it will be GREAT, and Mexico will pay for a huge WALL, and EIGHTY PERCENT of killings of whites are committed by blacks, and he will bomb the SHIT out of ISIS, and all you need to know about how everything will be fixed and America will be made great again is that he will use MANAGEMENT, unlike all the STUPID leaders we have today who have been a DISASTER, one in particular. Some have claimed that DJT is really a sub-literate, misogynistic, deranged, xenophobic, bloviating, demagoguing, know-nothing blowhard. But I have to admit that he also has some bad traits, though it would be ungentlemanly of me to enumerate them.

I estimate that around thirty percent of the American population would actually like to see him as president. However, if he somehow were to be the GOP nominee, he would get at least forty-five percent of the vote on the principle of “my Republican, right or wrong.” But of those thirty percent who swoon for him, rejecting all others, a very significant number are closet fascists, the card-carrying Ku Kluxers and John Birchers of an earlier era. (Aside: I was getting a haircut yesterday, with Fox alleged News spewing in the background, and one of the waiting customers, maybe my age, observed that he was waiting for Obama’s State of the Union Address. The barber, whom I’ve long known to be of far right wing and racist persuasion, asked why. The customer replied that he was hoping somebody would “shoot him.” The barber said, “Nobody has the balls to do it.” Yes, I should have changed barbers a long time ago, and had another option availed itself, I would have, but that was it, I’m done. Actually, I did change barbers a long time ago, from the one whose Confederate flag filled a wall. So anyway let’s not pretend they’re not out there, and they’re sure not voting for any Democrat. The customer and the barber’s assumption of white, male, right wing solidarity in front of two other customers is itself telling. Now I guess I’ll be getting my hair “styled.”)

Many of the thirty percent are high school educated (or less) white males who consider themselves victimized by Obama-the-born-in-Africa-Muslim, the press, the government in general, and now Hillary and her adorers. And in their often self-pitying and angry world view, they are surrounded on all sides by a liberal or merely moderate cultural onslaught, and Trump is the blond Galahad come to slay their oppressors. Even more so than most politicians, DJT offers his admirers pabulum of intellectually digestible simplicity instead of nuance and complexity, a binary world of strong vs. weak, good vs. evil, smart vs. stupid, and especially us vs. them. The essential qualities of a president for the swooners are bombast, overweening vanity, political inexperience, a delight in offending, and a willingness to utter whoppers that they consider to be inconvenient truths—e.g., Mexicans are rapists, our leaders are stupid, Muslims were celebrating 9/11 in Jersey City—statements which would be anathema to ordinary politicians even if they were true.

In particular all his supporters love his unwillingness to apologize or admit error about anything, even things on which they know him to be wrong. Were he to apologize or admit he might have been wrong about something—say, for example, mocking McCain’s legitimate war hero status—it would deflate his “brand” and expose a weakness that they cannot countenance. After all, strength means never having to say you’re sorry, and one should never let an annoying fact or a truth get in the way of a good storyline. Feeling the love, DJT has become an even greater bully than he was on The Apprentice, a show which thrived to the extent that it did because of his bullying, tough-guy tactics. His vast but terribly fragile ego cannot abide criticism, so mockery—the McCain charge, the blood coming out of Megan Kelly’s “wherever,” his spastic shaking to mock a journalist with a disability—becomes his weapon of choice, one that enraptures his worshipping fans though it may discomfit the few not quite yet fully in the fold. In all, it is more than a little possible to see comparisons to National Socialism in his candidacy: his venomous and theatrical screeds are offered as speeches; his stoking of fears of Muslims and Mexicans is reminiscent of Hitler’s scapegoating Jews; and his observation after a heckler was beaten and kicked at one of his rallies that “maybe he should have been roughed up” recalls the Brownshirts in sentiment if not in scale.

If The Donald were somehow actually elected, it would be the cognitive equivalent of installing a whiny nine-year-old in the Oval Office, with a few loaded assault rifles lying around on the desk and sofa. Surely nothing could go wrong. America would have its very own Kim Jong-un, with the added benefit of their dueling hairstyles. After a few weeks of President Trump, the reputations of Millard Fillmore, Warren G. Harding, and Herbert Hoover would skyrocket by comparison. He would be shocked by the discovery that the country actually has a constitution, and that his pronunciamentos, whims, and imprecations were subject to congressional scrutiny. Perhaps fortunately for him, his rabid supporters do not appear to have the numbers to elect him, thus saving him the disorienting revelations that he could not be Dictator of the United States and that realities and facts matter. As president, he would be confronted with the impossible drudgery, at least for him, of having to govern, as well as the appalling realization that actually being president is not at all fun like the improvisational joys and glories of campaigning for it. Like Sarah Palin as Alaska governor, he might actually quit. Of course the hurdle of getting elected in the first place is raised even higher by the enigma of DJT’s actual birthplace. Rumors have abounded for months that he was not, in fact, born in Queens, New York in 1946 as he claims, but rather in the small village of Dystopia, Vulgaria, to minor aristocracy in that benighted eastern European nation. If true, as a native Vulgarian, he would not be constitutionally qualified to serve as president. Whether such rumors can withstand media scrutiny remains to be seen, but what is unequivocally true is that so far he has never made public his birth certificate.

None of this is to say that I am a big Hillary fan. I’ll certainly vote for her, but I have no affection for her prevarications and occasional outright lies. Here is a little-known one, reported by now deceased critic-at-large Christopher Hitchens in his book And Yet . . . . He noted that in a trip to Asia some time ago, Ms. Clinton met mountaineer Sir Edmund Hillary, and “ever ready to milk the moment,” she told him that her mother had named her after him. How could she be foolish enough to say such a thing? She was born in 1947, and Sir Edmund was an unknown until the Everest climb in 1953. Hillary, do your math homework! Her spokeswoman Jennifer Hanley acknowledged in 2006 that it was not true, but observed that “It was a sweet family story her mother shared to inspire greatness in her daughter, to great results I might add.” OK, it’s just a tiny obsequious lie, sort of like Paul Ryan’s tiny self-aggrandizing one that he had run a sub-three hour marathon. But then there was also the “running under sniper fire” one in Tuzla, Bosnia in 1996. Still, I’ll take Hillary over any of the Republicans, though Kasich seems almost honest and reasonable. Of course he doesn’t have a chance. Cruz is cagily holding fire on DJT, hoping for something from him that would be so bizarre or offensive as to presage a fall, allowing Cruz to rush into the breech and claim the presumably disillusioned Trump fantasists. Rubio poses as a moderate conservative, a pose which, compared to Cruz, may almost be true. Meanwhile Carson wilts, Christie scratches, Jeb pleads, and Fiorina snarls.

The funniest line of the campaign so far came from now departed and greatly unlamented Bobby Jindal, who, when informed that The Donald claimed the Bible as his favorite book, retorted that that could not possibly be true as Trump himself was not mentioned anywhere in it. But who knows, maybe The Donald got into all the animal sacrifice stuff. As for the Democrats, O’Malley, like the lesser Republicans, can be dismissed as a cipher scrounging for a footnote in the history books or maybe a gig as a talk show host. Meanwhile Sanders nips at Hillary’s sniper-dodging heels by advocating mostly reasonable and fair policies that even Democratic congressmen and senators would scorn to entertain, like raising taxes on the wealthy.

Several months ago it was easy to dismiss Trump as a gasbag mountebank. He’s still that, but the presumed self-destruct button that he was always on the verge of pushing has now been pushed a few dozen times and seems to be out of order. The only possible unpardonable gaffes for him among the true believers at this point would be a sudden embrace of some hint of gun control or a confession of atheism. The fact that his corporations have filed for bankruptcy four times has apparently elevated his economic prowess; his ignorance of what the nuclear triad is enhances his commander-in-chief bona fides; his three marriages confirm his family values; his sweet talk about Vladimir Putin burnishes his foreign policy cred. The lemmings live in a topsy-turvy world, where up is down and black is white. Let’s just hope there are not enough of them to lead us all over the cliff next November.