Français   |  

Subscribe to the whole site

Home > English > NEWS AND ANALYSIS > The Spectre of Donald Trump – An Assessment

The Spectre of Donald Trump – An Assessment

Tuesday 12 April 2016, by Saib Bilaval

The candidate in the 2016 American presidential race who has garnered the most amounts of coverage, controversy and concern is Donald Trump, the billionaire real estate tycoon whose hate-fuelled campaign for the Republican ticket has been portrayed by the corporate media as having just about created a national crisis.

Months have been spent in displaying, explaining and analyzing the popularity of Trump, ultimately furthering his chances as the primaries began in the early states. As the prohibitive GOP frontrunner now, he is too close for comfort in the political rearview mirrors of the world. The threat of him as at the highest office of the most powerful country in the history of the world has woken moderates, liberals, libertarians and progressives alike to a potential future of limitless civil and military strike.

There are, however, a few reasons to believe that the spectre of Donald Trump does not loom as large as the hand of the money-fuelled status quo – that, in fact, he is the least electable candidate still in the race, with Hillary Clinton an arm’s-length second. Let us go through a few insights I have come across.

The Republicans constitute 27% of the American electorate, as opposed to 42% Independents and 31% Democrats. Having the support of 40% of Republican electorate (making up for those opposed and the general turnout) does not make Trump the threat he’s spun out to be by the media, as the eminent economist Robert Reich has also pointed out.

The Trump campaign’s former communications director Stephenie Cegielski wrote an open letter on her resignation that had an insightful comment in its lines – that when Trump originally hired her, their aim was to finish second place as a protest candidate to disrupt the Republican party, and secondly to get double digits in terms of delegate percentages. The Trump campaign however blew up. It appears that like in the Democratic Party, there is an appetite for political outsiders who aren’t afraid to criticize the actions of their own party as well. So the truth is, Donald Trump was not really aiming to be President – not even the GOP nominee. Perhaps this explains why till recently the closest thing Trump had to a ground-game was his tweets – and why he never bothered to assemble a policy team in the first place. In addition, one must note that Trump took the blessings of Bill Clinton weeks before announcing. His purpose appears to have been initially entirely one of chaos. Now, however, whether due to ego or the scent of victory, Trump is moving pushing towards the ticket.

Perhaps this also helps us understand why Trump makes so many bigoted, controversial statements. The main reason discussed by media is his reality star experience and to keep media focus on him. He knows how to get constant coverage, and knows that ‘more of the same’ doesn’t work. He has mastered the art of the soundbyte, and how to fool the crowds with his mock-authenticity and conservative caricaturing,

The belated media concern over Trump has two main streams of action: the first isfollowing and criticizing each of Trump’s statements as and when he makes them – it is in a way self-defeating in purpose. Additionally, each new scandal is discussed, condemned, discarded and forgotten. The second stream of action is a long-term critique of Trump that is wholesale condemnatory in nature that informs the frame of reference of journalists, hosts and reporters. It is in some ways a monolithic critiqueof what they can conveniently analyze and say what he stands for – a racist, sexist Islamophobe and pathological liar - without looking too deep into his propaganda methodology and electoral tactics. Hence, Trump is portrayed as exactly the same each time, everywhere, with everyone. More importantly, neither of the two discourses adequately study nor address the threat.

Another attack on Trump that emerged was the Sanders/Warren line, though it is worth pointing out that Sen. Elizabeth Warren only recently started condemning the Republican frontrunner. This critique characterizes him as a pathological liar who obliquely alludes to the failings of the Iraq War, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the role of big corporations (and money) in politics, while offering no solutions other than teenage gossip and the standard Republican policy fare - which includes giving tax breaks to billionaires like him, ignoring climate change, zero gun regulation, lowering the minimum wage, and withdrawing welfare. The racist garnish is to create a scapegoat, a common enemy and to fire the base feelings in the name of populism – denounced by both the media by this time in the election cycle, and by all far and wide. Warren has also adequately abolished the successful, rich, “keeps his word on a deal” image that Trump spent decades cultivating. The impact of this devastating assessment on Republican voters: difficult to see.

What has harmed Trump’s image more, is a domino effect that began when a conservative radio show host in Wisconsin decided to aggressively question him, and called him out on his inconsistencies. This soon spiralled into mainstream TV pundits being in a rush to pounce on Trump and roast him – once media heads realized the ratings value of attacking him or perhaps their conscience finally got to them – you decide. Because all this time, every top journalist in every main stream channel wanted Trump to keep coming back for interviews, because the money was where the ratings were, and they were afraid of aggravating away their access to him by asking tough questions. And hence Trump flip-flopped at a televised town hall hosted by Chris Matthews on deployment of nuclear weapons in the Middle East or even Europe, as well as several times within seconds on abortion.

In their disgust towards the values Donald Trump espouses, most critics haven’t watched every part of every speech – either watching a stump speech or two or an analysis of one, of by just seeing the soundbytes. While the lens of the pundits has well exposed how inept Trump would be at governance, they have failed to notice how skillful Trump the politician is (regardless of Trump the governor).

While his decision to wait a whole two days before disavowing the endorsement of David Duke, Grand Wizard of the Klu Klux Klan drew widespread infamy, the pragmatism of the act should also be noted. In those two days, Super Tuesday, the largest set of simultaneous primaries that included most of the South came and went, which Trump won in a landslide. He flip-flopped till the South was over, and then moved on to change his message when approaching the more liberal or moderate states in the North and the Midwest.

Further, his bigoted characterization of Mexicans as ‘criminals and rapists’ was made (following his presidential run announcement in New York, of course) mostly in the South, but he avoided it in Nevada, repeated it in South Carolina, and has by now toned their fixture of his stump down.

On the other hand, when the primaries veered towards the Midwest, Trump began to bash the TransPacific Partnership, and how the corporations and Congress has sold the people of America out. To say that opposition to the TPP does not resonate would mean ignoring why on the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders is doing so well against Hillary Clinton, despite the odds tilted in her favour. Knowing that 40% of New York was Catholic, his comments of abortion were a pragmatic overture in that direction. It appears that half-truths are just as effective with less-informed voters, especially when most politicians are not willing to speak even a quarter of the truth on issues such as Wall Street, campaign finance, healthcare, and trade deals.

While now it is undeniable that Trump’s campaign is faltering, largely due to him as it should have, if only the media had not been so selfish, and there is talk of a brokered convention – perhaps one must come to terms with the fact that the Trump wave was greatly exaggerated, partly boosted by media naivety and greed, partly by a lack of endorsements on the Republican side early on in the race.

While Trump has had large and often violent rallies, they have not matched the mammoth rallies Senator Bernie Sanders has held all over the country. The largest rally Clinton has had is 4,500. Both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders beat Trump in the polls (Clinton neck-and-neck, or winning by upto 6%, and Sanders by an average of 20%).

An ABC poll shows that 63% of Americans say the would definitely not vote for Donald Trump, compared to 55% for Ted Cruz, 49% for Hillary Clinton, 46% for John Kasich - while only 37% of voters said they definitely would not vote for Bernie Sanders.

The Republican National Committee has also seen an exodus of staffers of color, signalling that conservatism and racism are now seen as inseparable, another blow that would harm the Republican Party as a whole electorally, given the shifting demographics of the United States.

In his own way, it also appears that Donald Trump is making his own right-wing caricature of Bernie Sanders’ populism – a denouncement of the economic and political system as rigged. This includes presenting himself as an ‘outsider’ despite being a billionaire, includes attacking Wall Street and the political establishment as in the pocket of special interests.

This populism also includes overtures to the independent voters. However, in polling and exit-polling Independent voters are overwhelmingly for Bernie Sanders, except in Ohio where they voted for John Kasich to stop Trump. Take Sanders out of the picture and independents prefer Trump over Clinton by 65-35 in most polling. Sanders as the Democratic nominee would deny Trump the Independent vote, and without it, Trump has no chance to win.

And while Trump has attempted to be populist, he has not gathered a fraction of the support Sanders has among millenials. More millenials support the senator from Vermont than support Trump and Clinton combined. The future of the country rejects the politics of Trump, almost equivocally.

If the Trump wave is highly exaggerated and largely manufactured, then we need to look at what discussing the Trump wave enabled the media to NOT talk about – the rise of the real insurgent, Bernie Sanders. While Trump poses as anti-establishment, he is part of that very billionaire class that has benefitted for decades from politics as usual. Hillary Clinton does not stand to lose anything from a hypothetical Presidents Trump’s policy, nor does Trump or his billionaire colleagues stand to lose if Hillary wins.

Sanders, on the other hand, rejects SuperPACs and big money in politics, as well as corporate lobbying. Most importantly, he rejects the Wall Street consensus, and attacks every special interest at the heart of its wrongdoing: the military-industrial complex, student debt, Citizens United, the pharma lobby, the fossil fuel industry, Walmart and the fast food chains. His record, independence and consistency have convinced millions of people that he is the only candidate in the political system that is NOT for sale. The rise of Sanders has very heavily shifted the dynamics of the Presidential race into different horizons.

The battle is no longer about Hillary vs Bush, or Hillary vs Trump, or even Democrats versus Republicans – the true fight is between Goldman Sachs and Bernie Sanders.What the billionaire class threw back in response to Sanders, was the most obnoxious, racist campaign in recent history dressed up as an upsurge for Donald Trump - to divert the public for Sanders’ message.

Some of Trump’s frustration-filled defiance involved almost mirroring Sanders, if not countering him altogether to delegitimize his anti-establishmentalism, a bit too strategic. He announced that if the nomination is snatched away from him, there could ‘perhaps’ be riots, on the same day that Sanders announced that he would be taking the fight for the Democratic nomination till the convention and to deny Clinton the required 2,383 pledged delegates if not total delegates so as to have an open convention.

In fact, in its fearmongering about Trump the corporate media, the media has ended up using the Gobbels-esque tool of the big lie, overwhelming the public with the long shadow of a Trump-wave, attempting to make the people rush into the arms of the political two-party establishment that sold them short for decades. Trump is not taking over America. The corporate establishment just wants you to think so. With Jeb Bush out of the race, Trump’s racism is the same-old divide and rule tactic to distract voters from the political process....the biggest beneficiary is Hillary Clinton. The lesser evil theory used to justify voting for Clinton against Trump must be done away with.