Fear, loathing with Trump

In a coun­try on edge, his tac­tics just might work

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - THOMAS WALKOM

Don­ald Trump’s cam­paign for the United States pres­i­dency is based on fear. It uses out­ra­geous hy­per­bole. It might also work.

Day One of the Repub­li­can con­ven­tion in Cleve­land shows why. Much of the press at­ten­tion fo­cused on what went wrong as Repub­li­can del­e­gates kicked off the four-day con­ven­tion to for­mally crown Trump their pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee.

In­deed, many things did go wrong. There was a messy, al­beit short-lived floor fight over the rules. With the ex­cep­tion of for­mer pres­i­den­tial con­tender Bob Dole, the grandees of the Repub­li­can Party — peo­ple such as Ge­orge W. Bush and John McCain — were vis­i­bly ab­sent.

Trump’s wife, Me­la­nia, de­liv­ered a speech that in places ap­peared to have been cribbed from one that Michelle Obama, the cur­rent first lady, gave in 2008.

Other speak­ers prais­ing Trump for his grasp of na­tional se­cu­rity is­sues in­cluded some, such as soap opera star and for­mer un­der­wear model An­to­nio Sa­bato Jr., who had no ob­vi­ous ex­per­tise in the field. So it was easy to laugh. But I sus­pect that many Amer­i­cans watch­ing Mon­day’s tele­vised pro­ceed­ings were not laugh­ing. I sus­pect that many were nod­ding in agree­ment as speaker after speaker de­scribed the U.S. as a coun­try on the edge of chaos, in a hos­tile world where no one can feel safe.

Amer­i­cans are in­ured to most gun vi­o­lence. But the re­cent at­tacks on police in Ba­ton Rouge and Dal­las have raised the stakes to dis­turb­ing new lev­els.

When Mil­wau­kee County Sher­iff David Clarke, an African-Amer­i­can — and a Demo­crat — de­clared from the podium Mon­day that “blue lives mat­ter,” he struck a chord.

Those who fol­low the ins and outs of U.S. pol­i­tics will know that Clarke is a vo­cal and con­tro­ver­sial critic of the Black Lives Mat­ter move­ment, which sprang up in the af­ter­math of police shoot­ings of African-Amer­i­cans.

But all that those ca­su­ally tun­ing in Mon­day saw was a black police of­fi­cer call­ing on all Amer­i­cans, in­clud­ing black Amer­i­cans, to obey the law.

And what’s so bad about a pres­i­den­tial can­di­date who sup­ports that?

Sim­i­larly, other non-celebrity speak­ers cho­sen by the Trump team pro­vided com­pelling tele­vi­sion.

Mary Men­doza told the story of how her son, him­self half-His­panic, had been killed in a mo­tor ve­hi­cle ac­ci­dent by an un­doc­u­mented alien from Mex­ico.

African-Amer­i­can Jamiel Shaw told a sim­i­lar story, al­though in this case, his son was mur­dered by a Mex­i­can il­le­gally in the U.S.

In a ra­tio­nal world, these two anec­dotes wouldn’t be enough to jus­tify Trump’s de­mand for a wall along Amer­ica’s south­ern bor­der. But in a fear­ful world, they can carry great weight.

Be­sides, there is more than a lit­tle truth be­hind at least one of Trump’s cri­tiques: The war on ter­ror has not worked.

It did not work when it was be­ing pros­e­cuted by Ge­orge W. Bush. In its lat­est it­er­a­tion, the war against Is­lamic State mil­i­tants known as Daesh, it is not work­ing un­der Barack Obama.

Fif­teen years after the U.S. and its al­lies in­vaded Afghanistan in reprisal for 9/11, the Tal­iban there re­mains un­de­feated. In Iraq and Syria, vic­to­ries on the ground against Daesh have suc­ceeded only in mov­ing the bat­tle­ground abroad — to Paris, Brus­sels, Or­lando, Nice and most re­cently Wurzburg, Ger­many, where an Afghan teenager armed with an axe wounded five peo­ple.

This is not to sug­gest a Pres­i­dent Trump would do any better against the mil­i­tants. In a ma­jor for­eign pol­icy speech this April, he de­clined to say how he would deal with Daesh, say­ing he didn’t want to tip his hand.

But he also said, cor­rectly, that mil­i­tary ac­tion alone wouldn’t be suf­fi­cient.

All of which is to say that Trump’s cam­paign has legs. He is bet­ting that dis­si­dent Repub­li­cans will hold their noses and vote for him just to deny Hil­lary Clin­ton the pres­i­dency. He is bet­ting that enough other Amer­i­cans are fear­ful enough that they will cast their bal­lot for a self-de­clared strong­man. On both counts, he may be right.

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