Saturday, 26 December 2015

How dangerous is Trump?

I'm useless at reading the mood of the American public. Wherever the pulse of the US voter is, my finger is nowhere near it. But it turns out I’m not alone – no one saw Trump coming.

Who are these potential Republican voters who are keeping him at the top of the opinion polls? Why would Christians like him, or tea-party types? Rick Santorum has a 25-year marriage, 7 children by the same wife, and solid conservative positions on all the issues that have apparently been stirring up the Republican base since Reagan first mobilized the ‘moral majority’. The libertarian Rand Paul plans to curtail the power of the government, promising to reduce America’s military commitments abroad and its prison population at home, while cutting taxes and welfare. But in the polls they’re both nowhere, along with a dozen others.

The fact that I personally don’t like Trump is, of course, entirely beside the point. I didn’t like George W Bush either, but I can see why he got conservative voters excited with his cowboy boots and cheeky Texan grin and his recovered-alcoholic born-again credentials. Why don’t those same voters see Trump as a sleazy rootless urbanite who shouts Big Government every time he opens his big mouth promising to fix something?

Of course, what Trump would actually do, if by some weird mischance he found himself elected President, is anybody’s guess. Most candidates trade in vague aspirations and make promises they would never be able to fulfil. But they generally attach themselves to some value system – theological or economic – or at least stitch together some unlikely rags-to-riches story to affirm their belief in the American Dream. Trump doesn’t seem to do any of this.

It makes you suspect that for a lot of Republican voters the traditional ideological issues have just been flags of convenience all along. Trump’s rivals earnestly flourish their Bibles and their copies of the American Constitution and the public isn’t buying because Trump is giving them permission to let their ids off the leash. Meanwhile, the serious money men, who think of themselves as the Republican establishment and don't care a jot about constitutional or ethical issues, just want a president who can be relied on to cut taxes, reduce regulations and keep America and the world open for business. Trump can’t be relied on to do anything except promote Trump.

Of course poll numbers are not delegates. Trump knows how to draw a crowd, offering a potent mixture of jokes and outrage with the occasional opportunity to rough up a heckler – all these delights without being required to think. And when asked, in the casual way of opinion polls, which of this long list of candidates they’d most like see in the White House, a lot of people probably just opt for the name they recognize. Winning caucuses and primaries is a different matter. And even if Trump pulls it off and gets to be the nominee, current polling suggests that he's alienated too many voters to beat either Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

Hillary accuses him of being a recruiting tool for jihadis, but it’s hard to believe that Trump's bombast does more damage to relations with the Islamic world than bombing raids and drone strikes. Even so, he shouldn't be dismissed as a joke. To American Muslims he’s doing actual harm, having appointed himself cheerleader-in chief for hate crime. He’s also lowered the level of public discourse to the point where discriminatory policies are being given serious airtime.

And if his campaign implodes before the Republican convention, there’s a seemingly more plausible candidate poised to gather up his supporters. Ted Cruz as President – now that's a really scary thought. I can't imagine why anyone would vote for him. But what do I know?


  1. Thanks, Fran. And happy new year to you.

  2. What if Trump is being financed by the big money to force conservatives toward mediocrity ?
    Bush looks safe compared to Trump, whose job is to forment hatred and devisiveness?

  3. Joe, a great perspective on what is a disappointing display by we citizens of what is purported to be the most powerful and innovative country on the face of the earth. However, in some ways a 'Trump' phenomenon is not so unique and perplexing as it may seem. I think that what is disturbing for those of us who are working to understand the complexities of social justice is that we would like to believe that we are well beyond the era of the Joe McCarthy's, George Wallace's, or Louis Farrakhan are behind us and that we are much more evolved with a black man in the white house and equal protection in marriage under the constitution as the law of the land. No doubt Mr. Trump speaks to a growing resentment among the middle class at the loss of wealth and political power for many in favor of the top 1%. But, as with many of the aforementioned cultural heroes, his rhetoric is masterful in turning the rage against those who are lowest on the totem pole and not to those who legitimately control the levers of power in the truest sense. It is almost as if we are looking for a 'daddy' figure to delude us into believing that if only those scary muslims, women, mexicans, gays, liberals and fraudulent occupants of the White House would get off our lawn, all would be fine.

  4. That's an intriguing idea, Charles. Trump certainly makes Jeb Bush look preferable. Bush's chances look rather slim at the moment, don't they, even so?

    You're right, Hank, there is a longer history of this kind of thing than my piece implies. I think you've put your finger on it with resentment and the search for a daddy.

  5. Love the piece Joe! You're right though, Ted Cruz is pretty scary too. Perhaps we're better off with a Trump defeat than a Cruz (or a Rubio) win (eeeek!)

  6. Thanks, Vic. You're right to mention, Rubio. Perhaps he is the greater danger.

  7. Thanks, Vic. You're right to mention, Rubio. Perhaps he is the greater danger.