Don’t overcomplicate the Donald
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The Donald Trump phenomenon cries out for an explanation. Gaffes that have killed better candidates seem only to benefit him.
Of John McCain, famous for bravery in a POW camp, Trump said: “He’s not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
Of Mexican immigrants, he said: “The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems. … They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
He said the Bible is his favorite book, but wouldn’t name a verse from it, and seemed unsure about the difference between the Old and New Testament.
… and his poll numbers stayed strong through it all.
What to make of all this? There have been some of them sound pretty good arguments. My favorite political explanation:
Maybe Donald Trump is a Clinton Plant.
Brent Budowski made this argument first with “only half my tongue in my cheek,” as he put it.
The Bill and Hillary Clinton team have always been master politicians – and they know firsthand the benefit of having a populist businessman in the race when you face a Republican opponent. Clinton won in 1992 with 43% of the vote — Bush I got 37.5% and the spoiler Ross Perot in his “Reform Party” got 18.9%, largely with votes that would otherwise have gone to the GOP.
Trump doesn’t look much like Perot — a man who cared passionately about the deficit. But Trump doesn’t look much like a conservative or even a Republican either. He was famously critical of Ronald Reagan, praised government-run health care, and has given lots of money to Democrats over the years.
And his candidacy will undoubtedly hurt the GOP.
The hard working, fed up with taxes and largely pro-life Mexican immigrant is by no means a shoe-in for the tax-and-spend-on-Planned-Parenthood Democratic Party. But Trump has deeply offended Mexican sensibilities with his incendiary language and his unrealistic immigration plan that would deport entire families, illegal immigrants and American citizens alike, and make Mexico pay for a wall along the American border.
But the bravado of that last proposal raises another explanation:
Maybe Trump is a Nietzschean ubermensch.
Consider the modern world: ISIS, a monstrous caricature of evil, has risen up in the aftermath of our war in Iraq. At home, disorder has taken over at the borders while racial unrest is expressing itself in dramatic shootings instead of protests. We are redefining sexuality as a male Olympic icon of national pride has become a female icon of gender. Dystopian stories dominate in movies and children’s books as we try to understand what is happening to us.
Maybe we are turning to the fearless, fierce rhetoric of Donald Trump because in a frightening landscape, we look for a strongman to protect us.
“I frankly don’t have time for political correctness. And to be honest with you, the country doesn’t have time either,” he said in response to criticisms of his verbal excesses. “We don’t win anymore. We lose to China. We lose to Mexico ….We lose to everybody.”
Instead of arguing niceties, he argues that it is time to win.
But I don’t know. Maybe all of that that overcomplicating things.
Maybe we need to look with simplicity at the Trump phenomenon. Maybe Trump is what he is because we are what we are.
Maybe Trump’s insults don’t bother us because they are nothing new.
Megyn Kelly complained that Trump called women “fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals.”
But Trump has not said anything about women that multi-billion dollar entertainment companies haven’t been saying for decades in
rap lyrics. Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment and Warner Music Group have made billions from worse misogyny for years.
Why do we expect outrage when yet another billionaire in a suit calls women names? In fact …
Maybe Trump’s wealth is a good enough argument in our wealth-obsessed culture.
Trump is rich in a nation that praises wealth, from “Get Rich or Die Tryin’” to “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.” Our new business heroes are tech billionaires like Mark Zuckerberg and investors like Warren Buffet.
What about Mitt Romney? “Romney isn’t that rich” said Trump. And Romney was criticized for being out of touch, not just for being rich. And who beat Romney? A millionaire who assembled a cabinet of millionaires, the richest of whom is Hillary Clinton. In fact …
Maybe Trump’s inane showy style is what we like in our presidents.
Some have called Trump a clown more suited to reality TV than the presidency.
Well, I hate to be the one to break it to them, but how is Trump’s cartoonish pride that different from the president who created preening videos of himself for a viral Buzzfeed post?
Does Trump have a self-congratulatory style that trivializes issues? The White House lit itself up with rainbow colors to celebrate the redefinition of marriage and tweeted a “Straight Outta Compton” meme to sell its Iran deal.
It would be silly to expect Americans to reject in Trump what they accept in Obama.
So what to do about the Trump phenomenon?
That’s hard to say. He will likely fade over time, but the culture that created him will endure.
Politically, our job is to find the real concerns of his followers and address those. Culturally, our job is the New Evangelization.
But that’s a subject for another time.
Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.