Dissecting the Trump: Part II
Donald Trump's signature behavior has been the flagrant violation of the rules of rhetorical engagement for presidential candidates. The rules were created to maintain an aura of civility and piety over the nutty and often dirty process of presidential selection. But they also serve to disguise systemic deception, and Trump's sharp bending of the rules has a way of unmasking these deeper truths. Instead of, say, timidly advocating denial of drivers licenses to undocumented workers as a "public safety" issue that disguises anti-Mexican or anti-immigrant sentiments behind the cloak of a petty, punitive measure--a proposal gaining ground in several states--Trump doubles or even triples down, flaunting the word "rapists" as an excuse to deport a million undocumented workers. The shocking use of this terminology causes discomfort in society at large while specifically threatening the interests of entrenched roofing, construction, and meatpacking businesses in Phoenix. But it's very outrageousness also provides welcome relief for voters of all stripes, weary of the evasive discourse on immigration, distorted beyond all credibility by candidate cowardice and the fear of stepping into politically incorrect terrain. Trump's insulting language, even as you react angrily, jolts you out of this fear in ways that open up the space previously blocked by political correctness. This is healthy.
The word "rapists" also created a stir in television newsrooms. Pundits of all stripes who clucked about Trump's language seemed to be warning him, "we will not take seriously any candidate who violates our rules." But Trump's refusal to fawn for the approval of overpaid talking heads also created a rush of admiration. How refreshing to see someone mock this arrogance--even if one totally disagrees with Trump's assertions! In one stroke, Trump's use of language kicks at the festering mental logjam induced by political correctness. It hints at the hypocrisy of those who take themselves too seriously as arbiters of political reality while also fulfilling their true corporate function, which is to sell monopolistically priced pharmaceuticals and car insurance for self-interested media moguls. And it challenges the bipartisan collusion that has prevented any action on a subject most Americans believe needs serious attention, not glib doubletalk. Wittingly or unwittingly, the Trump campaign did some heavy lifting with the mere use of the loaded word "rapists." Why should we be surprised by The Ban?
So far the Trump campaign has been running on parallel tracks: On the surface, this is a campaign for the presidency, run by an amateur whose policies can be compared to those of other candidates. But on a parallel track Trump runs a parody campaign, using forbidden language that, in its earnest naiveté, somehow underscores the sham of contemporary presidential electioneering. And it is this second track that has generated Trump's poll numbers. The direction of Trump's policy (the first track) is not the point, at least not yet. We are so secretly delighted by the refreshing candor of this second track that we are willing to give him a short-term pass on the first. Yes! Kick those poll numbers up! Challenge the stuffy rules of presidential politics, insult the pundits telling us what to think, point out the tawdriness at all levels: this is fun! And we can sort out who we want for president later.
Trump, whose trademark hairdo itself suggests a vain or pompous man underneath, has deftly turned the tables and exposed television coverage, mealy-mouthed politicians, and the oppression of political correctness as being far more pompous than the Trump himself, who at least has the grace sometimes to laugh at his own shtick. This is an amazing accomplishment.
Political parties? Why, Trump asks, should the servant class of presidential elections, these empty shells no longer serving any observable public good, be allowed to choose the rules of the game for a debate to be watched by millions of potential voters? Good question. Fox News? Why should candidates cow-tow to its self-appointed mission to set the Republican agenda? The Trump scores again. ISIS? Why should voters pay the slightest attention to the carefully worded nonsense of candidates catering to fears within specific sectors of an electorate and vetted through the mirror of public opinion polls? Trump simply cuts through all of this by saying with a straight face that he has a foolproof way of defeating ISIS quickly and decisively which he will reveal only after he is elected. Has any other candidate in either party made any more sense of ISIS than this? Name one. Terrorism at home? Ban all Muslims from coming over here. How's that for starting a more honest discussion about domestic terrorism? Trump's in-your-face, deliberately incorrect language somehow begs the world to think outside the boundary lines of our log-jammed and disingenuous political discourse. This is healthy.
None of this means the Trump will be, or should be, President of the United States. Trump has spent so much time fighting the windmills of the second track of his campaign that we know almost nothing about the first track; and judging from what appears to be his support base, that might take us into dangerous territory indeed. But Trump's use of outrageous language in the past few months has unmasked the poverty of ideas inside most presidential campaigns, and the self-serving vapidity of most of what passes as news and commentary. It might even lead to a more honest public discussion about the serious problems that lie ahead.