America created Trump but now it can't control himby / October 15, 2015 / Leave a comment
Published in November 2015 issue of Prospect Magazine
The great Tom Lehrer once said that Henry Kissinger’s 1973 Nobel Peace Prize “made satire obsolete.” Happily, Lehrer was wrong. Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and the UK’s “Etonocracy” continue to provide an embarras de richesse for political comics. If Donald Trump remains the Republican front-runner all bets are off. Satire may be made redundant. Trump is a cornucopia of frenetic egotism. You can’t parody him. The best you can do is quote him. He’s not a joke: though his poll numbers are slipping somewhat, he still beats “serious” candidates such as Governor Jeb Bush and Senator Marco Rubio, and has a few billion in the bank to spend on his campaign. He still draws restive crowds who are convinced that Barack Obama is a Muslim, Mexican rapists are marching across the Rio Grande and that the government is coming for their guns. Trump reflects their rage back at them; the rest of us look on in fascinated horror, the way one might watch a python devour a wildebeest.
Donald Trump is the untethered id of white America, the embodiment of the lurking fear of a world where women, blacks, Latinos, gays, welfare-scroungers and the “politically correct” get special privileges while decent, honest, white Christians suffer. When Trump says he will “take America back,” he means back to the time when white men ruled, a woman’s highest ambition was to be beautiful and marry a rich guy like himself, people of colour knew their place, and the rest of the world—particularly the Chinese and the Russians—lived in mortal terror of American nukes.
Trump promises to “make America great again.” Just like it says on his baseball caps ($25 from the Trump campaign website, $30 if you want it in camouflage), and on the cover of his new paperback, Time to Get Tough. I say “new,” though it’s actually a reissue of his campaign manifesto from 2011 back when he first toyed with running for president, but decided to renew his contract to appear on Celebrity Apprentice instead. In it, he rails against $5-a-gallon gasoline (the current price is close to $2), assures us that the Patient Protection and Affordable Healthcare Act will be “a total disaster,” driving the nation to bankruptcy and confidently predicts that former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, currently under investigation for misusing campaign money, has “a great political future.”
Yes, a bit of updating would have been nice. But the book’s real point is to remind you that Trump has the “best hotel in New York,” the “most beautiful woman in the world” for his wife and the “greatest” companies in America. Trump is a winner, as he’ll be the first to tell you. The second, third, and fourth to tell you, too. When he gets to the Oval Office, America will “win so much you may get bored with winning.” He will tear up the Iran agreement, then “go to Iraq and take the oil.” He’ll teach China a sharp lesson by slapping a 25 per cent tax on their goods, unless they cease manipulating their currency and desist from hacking. He’ll ditch Obamacare and replace it with “something terrific.” He’ll build a vast wall across America’s southern border with Mexico and force their government to pay for it. Then he’ll deport 11m illegal immigrants.
His platform today is remarkably consistent with the one from five years ago: close the border, revoke free trade and “take out” Islamic militants. He indignantly points out (via the Heritage Foundation) that nearly two-thirds of Americans below the poverty line have cable TV, nearly 75 per cent have a car and 80 per cent have air-conditioning. He quotes Dinesh D’Souza, who once pointed out that in America many of the poor are obese. So how “poor” can they be?
It does not dawn on Trump that poverty often means eating the worst kinds of junk food, or that his wild posturings do not amount to a plan of action. Instead, he struts and preens, telling the faithful that a President Donald J Trump will show Russia, China, Europe and every other low rent parcel of the planet that while the US under Obama is a “laughing stock,” he will build up America’s defences to the point that the whole world will be terrified of her. He never served in Vietnam, what with his four student deferments, but he did attend a military prep school, which is nearly the same thing.
Trump never tells us how he will achieve these ends. Nor does he acknowledge the two other branches of government, the Congress and the Courts, which often throw a spanner into the works of the executive. Details are for losers. Trump does, however, use his book to settle scores. Television presenter Bryant Gumbel is a “clown” for doing a story on environmental opposition to Trump International Golf Links in Scotland, which Trump refers to as the “greatest golf course in the world.” He calls Saturday Night Live star Seth Myers a “third-rate comedian” because Meyers made fun of Trump at the White House Correspondents’s Dinner, cracking, “Donald Trump often talks about running as a Republican, which is surprising. I just assumed he was running as a joke.”
Trump is angriest at the president whom he labels a “trainwreck.” Why? Largely because, as Trump fusses in Time to Get Tough, “I tried to make a $100m gift to the United States government, but Barack Obama wouldn’t even return my phone call.”
See, Trump wanted to build a $100m extension, “one of the great ballrooms of the world,” on to the White House. For free and everything, but nobody called him back.
America created Trump, the monster love-child of reality TV and narcissism. Now America can’t control him. He won’t become president, but he will continue to crash his way through American political culture, voicing the anger at what conservative pundit Jonah Goldberg calls the “trumpenproletariat.” Does Trump really want to be President or is this all just an elaborate marketing campaign? Who knows? Trump may not even know. I’ll give him this: in Time to Get Tough, he articulates an undeniable truth of our celebrity economy: that “you can be a horrible human being, you can be a truly terrible person, but if you get ratings, you are a king.” It remains to be seen if this is also true of our political system.