Every now and then life imitates art.
How else to explain Donald Trump’s cannonball dive into presidential politics?
For generations, American writers have been imagining this guy — the brash, ego-stuffed demagogue capable of lassoing America’s worst self and leading us down a gold-plated path to ruin.
Now that he’s actually arrived, surging poll numbers and all, the punditocracy appears a little unhinged. Some scorn him, others choose mockery. Surely he’s not serious. And what, oh what, effect will he have on the upcoming Republican candidates’ debate, besides, that is, make it watchable?
Having seen extended interviews with The Donald on CNN and MSNBC, I have to admit there is something breathtaking about the man. Americans have always tended to believe that anyone who’s rich must also, by definition, be smart. Trump embodies this notion. He looks at himself in the mirror, sees a rich man and knows immediately what to do about, well, everything: Buy it, or bomb it.
Like him or not, something about Trump seems pegged to this moment. As our politics borrow ever more shamelessly from the worlds of entertainment and sports, coupling the glitz of supposed personalities with a never-ending horse race, an opening has been created that’s readymade for a self-promoter like Trump; somebody has to fill the media vacuum between the time wannabes announce their candidacies and the primaries start.
It’s the media that is most responsible for this environment. Trump is, to a great extent, their creation. So it is interesting to hear the chattering class trying to figure out whether or not there is some kind of dignity here — the leadership of the Free World, say — that needs defending from this blowhard.
What most nettles the media is that, in spite of their best efforts, Trump appears to have some kind of following. This is actually a Republican problem, going back to Richard Nixon’s so-called “Southern strategy.” When Democrats passed civil rights legislation during the ‘60s, Nixon calculated that he could win the votes of white southerners by playing on their racial prejudice. It worked, and Republicans have been exploiting the fears and resentments of white voters who feel “their America” slipping further and further away ever since.
They just never reckoned on these voters taking over the party. Trump, in his entrepreneurial way, gets this — he sees a market to exploit. What makes this truly bizarre is the fun-house mirror mismatch between this essentially anti-urban constituency and Trump himself, the self-propelled stereotype of a loud-mouthed New Yorker. Can this marriage really work?
Just as in Indiana’s RFRA debacle, it is corporate power that appears most capable of imposing an order neither the media nor its complicit politicians seem capable of delivering. One business after another is publicly withdrawing from association with Trump’s brand. This, as Trump himself has said, makes him the only candidate for president actually willing to lose money in pursuit of the job.
But then who knows better than Trump that sometimes you have to lose money to make it? He’s a member of the Gaming Hall of Fame.