Thursday, August 04, 2016

Trump, the Suicide Candidate

One way to understand Donald Trump, in his new role as Republican nominee for president, is as a suicide candidate who has gained entry into the Republican Party. Hidden underneath that improbable hair is a brain with the potential to blow up the Party, and take Trump with it. This is assuming he proves so alienating that he loses the November election, but there remains a chance that he could penetrate the nation's defenses and blow it up as well, figuratively or literally.

While the Russians have hacked the Democratic Party's and Clinton campaign's computers, Trump has successfully hacked the Republican Party itself, showing it to be uniquely vulnerable. Disguising himself as a brilliant dealmaker, his first step was to hijack the news media, then use its apparatus to get free advertising. Since news media give bombings top billing, he remains the lead story by dropping one verbal bomb after another. In the process, he has served the media's purposes well, providing easy stories for journalists, easy jokes for late-night comedians, and endless fodder for the opinion industry. Rivaling a trip to the movie theater, the spectacle conjures powerful feelings of validation or disgust, hope or horror, depending on whether he's viewed as a savior or charlatan.

Unlike a suicide bomber, who exits with the first splash of carnage, Trump sustains prominence by miraculously surviving each verbal bomb he detonates, buoyant no matter which segment of the population he alienates--religions, ethnicities, women, gold star parents. Whereas Superman was able to leap tall buildings in a single bound, Trump is able to alienate whole constituencies and rally the base in a single out-of-bounds statement.

While Republican Party leaders are themselves uneasy with his candidacy, they have spent decades preparing their Party for takeover by someone like Trump. Is he indifferent to facts? Welcome to the Party where tax cuts pay for themselves. Does he lack empathy for the disadvantaged and believe nature exists only to be exploited? Welcome to the Party that mocked the phrase "I feel your pain". Does he harshly criticize others while showing no capacity for introspection? Welcome to the Party that, while Newt Gingrich was having an affair of his own, focused its energy and the nation's attention on impeaching a president for lying about an affair. Does he stoke fear and resentment by conjuring false threats? Welcome to the Party that led the charge into Iraq. Does he offer no real solutions to real problems? Welcome to the Party that believes climate change is a hoax. The Party of Ronald, Newt, George and Rush needs to ask itself why it has proven such a good fit for a Donald with clear narcissistic tendencies. Could it be that the Party itself has a character disorder?

But the real groundwork for Trump's ascendency was laid by the low bar the Republican Party has set for public service. Because it defines government as the enemy--an inherently inept institution that does little more than take people's money and hamper the economy--the Party's mission has devolved into sabotaging any effort to make government work well. The resulting paralysis and national frustration set the stage for a candidate who claims that he alone can fix problems. Combined with the stultifying conformity demanded of Republican candidates (deny climate change, demonize taxes of all kinds, government regulation always bad, free market always good), the Party's low bar attracted a field of uninspiring candidates among whom Trump could prosper. Having occupied government with the professed goal of dismantling it, the Party now finds itself occupied, by a candidate whose goals are similarly anarchistic.

There's an emptiness at the center of it all. The news media chases one foul Trumpism after another, while real problems fester. Trump himself has been described by his biographer as a "black hole". It would be nice to think that, in this election season, the nation is bottoming out, and will begin to unify around a deep revulsion for the intolerance and recklessness on display, not only in a candidate but also in the Party that proved so well suited for his raw ambitions.


Unknown said...

Thank you. Well said. Very well said.

Steve Hiltner said...

Thank you! It's a pivotal time, and time for a pivot.