Editorial: So, this is Trump?
As Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump brings his campaign to Burlington’s Flynn Theater this Thursday night to what is being reported as an over-sold affair, we thought it only appropriate to side with The Donald on one point —to dismiss with politically correct discourse — and follow his suggestion down the rabbit hole.
Let’s start by acknowledging what we all know: Trump is what conservative Washington Post columnist George Will described as a “malleable mess,” then goes on to write this incendiary putdown: “If you look beyond Donald Trump’s comprehensive unpleasantness — is there a disagreeable human trait he does not have? — you might see this: He is a fundamentally sad figure. His compulsive boasting is evidence of insecurity. His unassuageable neediness suggests an aching hunger for others’ approval to ratify his self-admiration. His incessant announcements of his self-esteem indicate that he is not self-persuaded. Now, panting with a puppy’s insatiable eagerness to be petted, Trump has reveled in the approval of Vladimir Putin, murderer and war criminal.”
But Will doesn’t just loathe Trump for who he is, he also thinks he is a real danger to the Republican Party. “Conservatives’ highest priority now must be to prevent Trump from winning the Republican nomination in this, the GOP’s third epochal intraparty struggle in 104 years,” Will writes in terms that he surely believes have historic stakes.
“It is possible Trump will not win any primary, and that by the middle of March our long national embarrassment will be over,” Will continues. “But this avatar of unfettered government and executive authoritarianism has mesmerized a large portion of Republicans for six months. The larger portion should understand this: One hundred and four years of history is in the balance. If Trump is the Republican nominee in 2016, there might not be a conservative party in 2020 either.”
And that frontal assault is from a conservative columnist. So much for friends. But Trump doesn’t skip a beat. He just calls Will an idiotic, or something equally derogative, and moves on.
Which mirrors this recent critique from Post columnist Ruth Marcus:
“The emperor has no clothes. The Donald has no policy.
“This is not exactly news, but it is too often forgotten in the substance-free carnival that is the 2016 presidential race. Donald Trump’s bright-shiny-object campaign style serves to obscure the substance void, leaving reporters endlessly chasing after his latest rhetorical bomb rather than pressing him on policy. Not, of course, that such questioning produces answers. Trump evades questions about how he would approach a particular problem with airy assurances about management and deal making. There’s only so much follow-up that can be done in the face of this bombast.”
She then takes the reader on a verbal jungle of a typical Trump speech. She doesn’t quote him, but paraphrases his rapid fire mention of topics, none of which offer substance:
“The crowd size. His poll numbers. Why he must attack Hillary Clinton. The media is the worst. The trade deficit with China. How much money Jeb Bush has wasted. Has he mentioned the polls? Matt Drudge, great guy. How bad a job Clinton did at State. How nice of Vladimir Putin to praise him. (No sarcasm intended.) His Ivy League pedigree and big vocabulary. Back to Clinton: ‘She just gives me a headache.’
“He’s going to build the strongest military ever. Obamacare is a disaster. Common Core’s dead. Trump’s spent no money on his campaign and he’s No. 1. Marco Rubio, nice guy but what about those somber ads with a black background? … Not smart to answer questions about the Islamic State — he wants to be unpredictable. How bad the Iran nuclear deal is. The Iraq War, huge mistake. The environmentalists’ attack on Trump’s hair spray and how the spray is much better than the pump, with those blobs that get stuck and he needs to take a shower. By the way, he lives in a very nice apartment, and ‘I don’t think anything gets out’ into the atmosphere. The hoax of global warming and the threat to the universe. Speaking of the universe, Miss Universe, and “oh, did I get rich” off the pageant.”
And on and on.
She concludes: “Readers, this is no caricature — it’s Trump unfiltered, alighting briefly on a topic, complicated or trivial, before flitting to the next. And it’s not as if Trump bolsters his stump speech with policy depth in proposals or interviews…Trump relies on his ability to dominate the news with provocative distractions, to repel serious questions until interviewers’ time runs out. We in the media must find a way, if not to pierce the bluster, at least to expose it.”
And this is the candidate Republicans want as president?
But that, of course, is the question of the day: Do they? Or is Trump creating such a big fracture in the GOP that he might tear it apart, as Will warns?
And just who are his supporters?
Well, for one thing, they are people (Democrats and Republicans) who are fed up with having to be politically correct. “‘Political correctness’ are the two words that best respond to everything that a conservative feels put upon,” pollster Frank Lutz told the New York Times, in a column by Thomas B. Edsall.
They are also Americans who, according to Jonathan Haidt, the author of “The Righteous Mind,” “perceive that the moral order is falling apart, the country is losing its coherence and cohesiveness, diversity is rising and our leadership seems to be suspect or not up to the needs of the hour.” That voter gravitates to an authoritarian leader and Trump fits the bill.
Haidt notes that Trump “is not a conservative, and is not appealing to classical conservative ideas. He is an authoritarian who is profiting from the chaos in Washington, Syria, Paris, San Bernardino, and even the chaos on campuses, (all of) which are creating a more authoritarian electorate in the Republican primaries.”
Alan Abramowitz, a political scientist at Emory, sees Trump posing a significant threat to American democracy, noting that Trump “is very clearly, in my view, advancing a modern American version of fascism. A lot of the coarse language, harsh personal attacks, and misogyny play into the theme of ‘strong leadership’ and a willingness to say things that are “politically incorrect’ no matter who doesn’t like it.”
So that is Trump. A self-obsessed, pompous jerk who many believe may destroy the Republican Party if not enslave democracy through the shackles of authoritarianism.
Or are the political elite making much ado about nothing?
What if Trump is a savvy entertainer who has exposed the frail foundations of a Republican party so beholden to its mega donors and single-issue politics that it is incapable of appealing to voters with a rational platform that addresses the nation’s problems?
Indeed, it is New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman who sums up Trump’s candidacy the best by noting it has been “built on Twitter bursts and insults that touch hot buttons, momentarily salve anxieties and put a fist through the face of political correctness, but without any credible programs for implementation.”
It could be that voters will tire of the insults and, before seriously casting their vote for Trump, will begin to press him for ideas that could actually make the country stronger. There is time for those public sensitivities to prevail. Perhaps Vermont’s response to his campaign tactics at the Flynn Theater on Thursday will be the start of such national introspection.
Angelo S. Lynn