image by: Gage Skidmore
As a diagnostic tool for the health of the American political system, Candidate Trump is just what the doctor ordered.
Trump is good for America. That is not to say we should elect him president. But Trump's candidacy is proving an effective tool for diagnosing many ills crippling American culture.
One of Trump's favorite tactics is to promote scapegoatism and fear of otherness. "The worst elements in Mexico are being pushed into the United States by the Mexican government," he says, adding that half the number of undocumented Mexican immigrants are criminals and that, "Tremendous infectious disease is pouring across the border."
Trump's claims are no more factually based than Adolf Hitler's belief that Jews were to blame for Germany's post-WWI struggles; but as in Hitler's Germany, scapegoatism plays with the conservative elements of American society. Someone's to blame for our problems—and it isn't us. So it must be them, right?
Shifting demographics in the U.S. may be a factor. As White Americans become increasingly aware that by midcentury they will no longer be the country's majority, they tend to move toward the conservative end of the political spectrum as a result—and not merely in regard to racial issues.
Trump is capitalizing on both that shift and the fear of otherness. He partly blames illegal immigrants for high unemployment and "destroy[ing] the middle class," he advocates building a wall across the entire U.S./Mexico border, and he criticizes would-be or actual political leaders who make public remarks in Spanish.
While there may be a reasonable pragmatic argument regarding the need for immigration control, that Trump's politics play to the electorate underlines just how far the American spirit has pivoted away from the sentiment expressed at the base of the Statue of Liberty: 'Give me your tired, your poor, / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free / The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.'
The political rise of "the Donald" also highlights that flatly denying scientific fact, as he has done repeatedly, is not enough to deter a large swath of America from supporting you. Considering the anti-scientism of numerous Republican officeholders, this may not be news, but as Ben Adler writes in Grist, "Trump isn’t merely another extremist who rejects climate science. […] He’s a reactionary populist who has elevated ignorance to a political philosophy. […] So the fact that Trump is in first place in the GOP presidential polls, with more than twice as high a percentage as his nearest competitor, Jeb Bush, reveals some alarming things about a large segment of the Republican voter base (not smart) and the prospects for reaching consensus on the need for climate action (not good)."
An admirable side of Candidate Trump is his insulation him from necessarily being beholden to Super PACs, lobbyists and the like. As Mark Leibovich writes in The New York Times, because of Trump’s billionaire status, “the consultant and donor class feel irrelevant (because they largely are to Trump).”
With 84 percent of Americans feeling that money plays too big a role in political campaigns, Trump’s independence from the run-of-the-mill political money machinery seems to play with the general public. The irony is that the very wealth that allows Trump to swing free of “the consultant and donor class” is itself playing a role in his campaign. Trump's candidacy may therefore highlight a not very well kept secret of big-time American politics: one way or the other, it's a game for oligarchs.
The Trump phenomenon also highlights a plague within American news media. That Trump has legs as a presidential candidate is a legitimate story; however, the media seem caught in a vicious cycle of covering Trump so as to perpetuate his time and prominence in the spotlight and have more Trumpery to report, which translates into higher ratings, more clicks, etc.
The insidious side of this coverage is best seen not so much in the proliferation of articles about Trump (The New York Times ran 27 articles mentioning Trump in the first three weeks of September alone) or frivolous articles produced even by quality news outlets (e.g., NPR's "Is Donald Trump Nice Enough?"), but in subliminally perpetuating the perception that Trump belongs at the center of our attention, which in turn creates a reality in which he is that center.
The two Republican presidential debates held thus far have done just that. Although each was hosted by a news organization (namely, Fox News and CNN) that plays to a different part of the political spectrum than the other, both provided Trump with 20% more speaking time than that enjoyed by any other candidate. As The Nation's John Nichols said regarding the second debate, "[I]t was painfully overfocused on Donald Trump, to the point where even when Trump wasn’t saying much of consequence, the camera was on him."
The coverage given—or not given—to Senator Bernie Sanders helps isolate what is unique to the media attention lavished on Trump. Like Trump on the Republican side, Sanders stole the summertime thunder of the presumptive Democrat nominee, Hillary Clinton, outpolling her in early primary states and outdrawing her wherever he speaks. But because Sanders is a sober, substantive figure, his candidacy lacks the salaciousness of Trump's, which seems to have translated into his name sometimes being withheld entirely from news stories in which he features prominently. Recent NPR and The New York Times stories about Clinton's polling difficulties, for example, make no mention of Sanders.
Is the U.S so ill that its populace will bring President Trump to a White House near you. The pundits say that, like Sanders, Trump has no real shot at the presidency. That a Sanders presidency may be as unlikely as a Trump presidency is another symptom of the ills plaguing the United States. But that is a column for another day.
For today, it’s all about Trump holding a mirror up to our nature and showing us who we are as a body politic. They say that in a democracy the people get the politicians they deserve. At this stage in the great democratic experiment that is the United States of America, one year out from our 60th presidential election, we deserve the Donald.
About the Author:
Except for a four-month sojourn in Comoros (a small island nation near the northwest of Madagascar), Greggory Moore has lived his entire life in Southern California. Currently he resides in Long Beach, CA, where he engages in a variety of activities, including playing in the band MOVE, performing as a member of RIOTstage, and, of course, writing.
His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, OC Weekly, Daily Kos, the Long Beach Post, Random Lengths News, The District Weekly, GreaterLongBeach.com, and a variety of academic and literary journals. HIs first novel, The Use of Regret, was published in 2011, and he is currently at work on his follow-up. For more information: greggorymoore.com
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