4 Things Everybody Overlooks When Talking About Trump
Hey, have you heard about Donald Trump's run for president? No, not his current campaign, which can be summed up with this GIF of a farting hippopotamus:
I mean when he tried to win the Reform Party nomination in 2000, but lost to Pat Buchanan. Which is like aspiring to win the Super Bowl, but losing a pickup game to a senior from the local hospice. It's one of the few things about him that today's media coverage hasn't discussed in exhaustive detail. Which is a shame, because we can learn a lot from it. Unfortunately, most of what we learn is about ourselves, and it's not pretty.
We're Less Willing To Call Out Bullshit
Let's make one thing clear: Donald Trump will not win. Even if the sum of all our political knowledge turns out to be wrong and Trump starts taking primaries, Republican strategists would rather see the GOP burned to the goddamn ground before Trump represents it. Deez Nuts has better odds of victory, and I think no one knows that better than Trump.
Let's take a trip down remembrance road to a simpler time, when America's greatest concerns were importing enough Pokemon cards and wondering if Y2K would doom us to a thousand-year reign of darkness. Donald Trump was running for president and promoting his bestselling book, probably in between watching episodes of Friends he taped on VHS.
Now, in 2015, Trump is running for President and promoting his new bestselling book, and probably watching Friends on Netflix in between campaign stops.
The working title was The America We Still Deserve: Uncle Sam's Revenge.
He's got the same pose, the same haircut, the same cross between "I'm trying to seduce you" and "I need to poop" in his eyes. Oh, and the books have the exact same premise. America is broken, and only Donald Trump, with his no-nonsense, tell-it-like-it-is attitude, can fix it. He's an outsider, not a career politician, and he's a loose cannon who plays by his own rules. They took his wife and kids and left him with nothing ... to lose. Can you even tell them apart based on their descriptions?
Crippled America (the second one) is like an HD re-release. Their content is the same mix of policy position, Trump hype (according to these books, Trump hasn't lived the American dream so much as he's skull-fucked it into submission), and shots at his "enemies" -- which in this context means people who have mildly inconvenienced him. Hell, they both came out around the same time as new Star Wars movies. There's probably a Mad Libs template. There's only one key difference: No one's calling out his 2015 book as part of a marketing stunt.
Maybe he's just being more subtle this time around.
In 1999, The New York Post pointed out that Trump's book (and his entire campaign) had been dismissed by the political world as irrelevant. USA Today also expressed skepticism about his motives. The LA Times and Newsweek ran articles pointing out that Trump was more interested in being a salesman than a statesman. I could go on and on, because Trump's presidential ambitions were met with more doubt than claims of a time machine that also gives blowjobs. And sure enough, Trump eventually dropped out, but only after boosting his public profile. A few years later he launched The Apprentice, and he's been in the spotlight ever since.
Trump's new book prompted little skepticism. CNN, Business Insider, ABC and others ran excerpts with no criticism. MSNBC's list of its "best bits" includes the quote "I use the media the way the media uses me -- to attract attention" without a trace of self-awareness. Here's a Time story about what a great launch the book had. Here's another from Yahoo. There have been critiques of his policy, but that only implies that we should be taking him seriously. It's like giving serious logistical thought to a child's proposal of fighting crime with an army of Jedi walruses instead of explaining that it's just a movie. No one's arguing, as the media watchdogs of freaking Booklist did in 1999, that "Lots of presidential candidates write books to promote their campaigns, but Trump may be the only man ever to run for president in order to promote a book."
The audio book contains a subliminal message encouraging you to buy Trump Natural Spring Water.
There's just a face value acceptance of Trump's ambitions now. Or to put it another way: In 1999, SNL ran a sketch mocking Trump's campaign. In 2015, they let him host the show.
We're Much More Open To Craziness Now
Between Trump proposing a ban on Muslims entering the United States, calling Latinos a bunch of turbo-rapists, and slandering the Irish with words so unspeakable I dare not repeat them here, he sounds like a rambling old man who's upset that he can't call Asians "Chinamen" anymore. But that's really no different than his views in 2000, when he wanted to overthrow Castro, invade North Korea if they ignored an ultimatum to disarm, throw even more Americans into an overcrowded prison system, and perform public executions.
Oh, but he had a tax policy straight out of a Rush Limbaugh fan's nightmare of socialist America -- a one-time 14.25 percent tax on anyone with more than 10 million dollars to pay off the national debt in one fell swoop. Putting aside the devastating shock that would deliver to the economy, it sounds like a proposal from a 15-year-old who just learned about communism and can't stop talking about how it's theoretically the perfect system.
I'm sure Miss America here would be thrilled by that idea.
He's less consistent than a nursing home that ran out of Metamucil. He wanted to privatize social security but introduce public healthcare. Yeah, Donald Trump, arch-conservative, proposed a government program more liberal than Obamacare. But now he wants to abolish Obamacare (but keep social security public). He used to support longer background checks on guns and a ban on whatever "assault weapons" were defined as the week he was asked about them, and now he wants guns everywhere so citizens can play hero. Trump is the kid on the playground who ate worms so the other kids would look at him, and when his shtick got old, he started asking what he should eat instead. "Hey, I see you guys are all looking at that cockroach in the corner. What if I ate that? Or are you more into rats now? I'll eat a rat. I'll eat anything."
Trump has always been happy to propose whatever crazy idea will get him on the front page, but now we're guaranteeing him the spot. No one took Trump's 2000 tax plan seriously, and there was certainly no one who endorsed a war with North Korea. Before 9/11, George W. Bush's winning foreign policy proposal was "Hey, I think we should be less interventionist." Now, Republican candidates are tripping over themselves to provide the manliest ways to shoot down Russian planes and start a war. Trump wasn't even the first candidate to speak against Muslim immigrants -- Bobby Jindal, who has the charisma of a wet sock, said it's completely reasonable to discriminate against them. Trump just said it the loudest and angriest, and also, in what I'm sure is a total coincidence, hours after he dropped in the polls.
"Who do you hate and fear, sir? The Welsh? I can work with that!"
Dedicating the news cycle to Trump's insanity and then getting shocked when he says something outrageous is like giving your dog a treat for shitting in your bed and then acting surprised when he does it again. Turning Muslims into boogeymen is easy political fodder -- they're only about 0.8 percent of Americans and they don't vote Republican (anymore). But it only works if people pay attention. The kid on the playground stops eating worms if everyone -- including those who just want to gawk at how gross and desperate he is -- stops watching.
After 9/11, George W. Bush praised America's Muslims. After the San Bernardino shootings, Republican candidates, Trump among them, competed to have the most hysterical response. But they're only saying what they think will help them get elected, which says more about us than it does about them.
Politics, More Than Ever, Is About Entertainment
So in 15 years, we've opened the insanity floodgates and become less willing to call a shrieking spade a shrieking spade. That's a sign Americans are more radical and polarized than ever before, right? Nope -- Americans have the same spread of beliefs they've always had. It's only the parties that have changed, with Republicans pushing out their (relatively) progressive politicians and the Democrats shedding their (relatively) conservative wing. Trump is just the inevitable conclusion of that strategy.
So now I'm going to ask you a question, and I'd like you to answer it out loud so the microphones we secretly installed in your home can record you for statistical purposes. How many people do you know who are sympathetic to Trump, and how many do you know who find his views repulsive? Unless you're reading this on a device powered by a private generator deep in the backwoods, I'm betting the numbers skew heavily toward the latter.
"The sharia law enforcers will never reach me here!"
I don't know a single person who supports Trump, although I'm not exactly in his demographic. I do, however, have friends who love to mock Trump, express outrage at Trump, dress as Trump for Halloween, introduce Trump role play in the bedroom, and so on. Regardless of what you think of his opinions, the man is entertaining. He knows how to get attention and rile people up, and that's valuable in a country in which elections are grim multi-year death marches. And at this point, polls are completely meaningless. Making predictions based on them is like calling a basketball game when the score's 6-2.
But the media needs content, and we want to be entertained by that content. So we hype up the Republican debates like they're the Super Bowl, then break down the best "zingers" instead of looking at substantive policy issues, because who the fuck cares what John Kasich would do a year from now? Hey, here are multiple articles dedicated to Trump's ability to get attention by insulting people, a skill he polished to perfection during 14 seasons of The Apprentice.
"Oh man, Trump just nailed Cruz on the economy! Or on Iran. One of those debate things."
It's not just the debates (and their associated drinking games). The Huffington Post initially filed articles about Trump's campaign in their Entertainment section. The Guardian did a sarcastic live-blog reading of his new book. We all mock him on social media. Because it's fun. So was Trump's 2000 campaign -- it was a farce from start to finish, and it got the mockery it deserved. By which I mean that everyone had a good laugh before getting back to business instead of sticking him front and center.
He seems as baffled by it as anyone else.
Politics has always had an element of entertainment, and it's always been a team sport, because seeing your hated rival lose is often more fun than seeing your own team win. But now we're the Globetrotters, and Trump's the Washington Generals. Everything he says is lunacy, so "winning" takes no effort. We don't have to keep up with the ever-shifting battle lines in Syria and study the minutia of tax plans. We just have to make a Facebook post that says "I disagree with the crazy racist, and boy is his hair ugly, am I right?" and we've done our civic duty. It's fun to watch the Generals flounder around before you dunk on them.
In 1999, Trump quit the Republican Party after denouncing it as "too crazy right," a claim that looks laughable today. But he really quit because they wouldn't make room for someone who was only interested in hawking his brand. Now he's happy to dominate a stage shared by Republicans who make the 1999 set look like a bunch of pinkos. Why wouldn't he be happy? They're way more entertaining.
In A Strange Way, This Is A Good Sign
It's tempting and easy to look at Trump's temporary popularity and argue that America is going in the wrong direction. I mean, I kind of did it myself just now. But the night is darkest just before the dawn -- or as I prefer to put it, the hippo farts the loudest just before it falls silent.
As seen here.
You may not know many Trump supporters, but the founder of Stormfront, a neo-Nazi website, said that Trump has prompted a surge of new users. Trump is also the star candidate of Free Republic, who are neo-Nazis without the balls to call themselves neo-Nazis. They're the fringes of society, the people whose already-irrelevant beliefs are breathing their last gasps. And if you read one of the 8,000 articles floating around with the premise of "I, a normal person, went to a Donald Trump rally," you'll notice a running theme: The people the reporters encounter are scared. They're scared of black people, they're scared of foreigners, they're scared of the media. They're scared that the America they know -- in which straight white Christian men hold all the cards -- is dying.
And they're right.
Sorry, disturbingly enthusiastic lady.
In 2000, Trump didn't need to bully his way into the mainstream to spread a message of white supremacy, because it was already implicit in political discourse. And when I say "white supremacy" I don't mean the "other races are subhuman mongoloids" kind -- Donald Trump isn't a fascist. I mean the kind where white dudes just had it easier -- not because of malice, but because that was just how the system worked. And they liked that system, because shit, why wouldn't they? I'm a straight white dude, and it's a pretty great experience. But with every day that goes by, the system changes just a little bit, and that's scary if it's the system you've relied on for your whole life. If you want to skip to the comments and dismiss everything I've said as the ramblings of an "SJW," now's the time, neck hair enthusiasts.
Back? Okay, great. Now consider this: The fact that Trump's supporters are loud and angry and petulant isn't a sign that America's getting more extreme. It's a sign that the country's progressed to where their once-common views are now extreme. Looking at Trump and saying that America is getting more radical is like looking at Alabama in 1963, when peaceful black people were attacked with fire hoses and police dogs and blocked from entering a university by their own governor, and thinking "wow, black Americans have never had it worse!" They were finally starting to get it better, and some people didn't like that.
You can focus on Trump's supporters insulting and beating protesters,
or you can focus on the protesters successfully disrupting his stupid speech anyway.
Well, black people getting rights didn't destroy America, Muslim immigrants won't destroy America, and the sex robots we'll inevitably build won't destroy America either. Trump will lose, and a few years from now, most of his supporters will realize that hey, America is still doing alright because the greatness was inside us all along. Maybe it will be just in time for Trump to write another book.
Check out Mark's short story collection or visit his website, which is currently doubling as a campaign page for Michael Dukakis.
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