A disaster in the making
YOU have had it up to here read ing about Donald Trump? Well, if a candidate is about to be chosen by his party as its nominee for president in the next general election, as Trump appears to be, given his win after win in five East Coast states in last Tuesday’s primaries, you better read all you can about him. The man may, just may, become America’s next chief executive.
After his stunning victory last Tuesday night, which has given Trump the widest path to a majority of pledged delegates, and clearly narrowed, if not eliminated, his two remaining opponents’ chances of stopping his now inexorable march to the Republican presidential nomination, you wonder about it all. Then you wonder about something else: Who are these Americans who have voted for him and cheered lustily at his rallies? And why has he hit a chord with them?
Sure, experts, pollsters and political analysts have repeatedly told us who these folks are — alienated and under-educated working stiffs who feel that immigrants are taking over their jobs, their neighborhoods and their American way of life. Their incomes have remained frozen despite the putative recovery from the 2008 recession, and they have continue to struggle to pay their kids’ college tuition — where they can afford to send them there — meet their mortgage payments, and secure their families’ future. And that does not include the cost of tattoos.
Enter Donald Trump, a populist who speaks their language and shares their prejudices, if not their travails. Like Barry Goldwater in his 1964 Republican campaign, who told supporters that “extremism in the pursuit of freedom is no vice,” Trump tells his that racism in the pursuit of political expediency is no vice. He mocks. He dares. And he is provocative, he is funny and he is entertaining, for who would’ve failed, at his rallies, to be entertained by the man’s insurgent rhetoric and scandalous, offthe-cuff wisecracks?
And never mind that he is a phony, a charlatan and a clot who is clueless about how to lead a big power with global responsibilities. But darn it, he knows how to be responsive to his supporters’ angst. He consoles those white middle-aged, middle-brow, middle-Americans who feel that the America their parents and grandparents had known — with Doris Day and Rock Hudson bantering in “Pillow Talk,” Elvis Presley crooning “Heartbreak Hotel,” and Ralph Kramdon asking Alice if she wants to go to the moon in “The Honeymooners” — slipping away from them, its culture transforming right before their eyes. Trump promises to retrieve that lost Eden to them, that forlorn, vacuous America of yore.
But Americans are a diverse people, evincing extremes in their world view — America is not called a “nation of nations” for nothing, whose population is made up of people who literally come every country in the world — and this is why, in a way, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are the flip side of each other, two dialectical opposites, attracting equally impassioned supporters, but ones with fiercely contrasting views. Sadly for Bernie, Trump’s supporters outnumber his.
Trump is so confident, after his resounding victory in the primaries last Tuesday, of his impending nomination by his party at its national convention in July, that he gave what was dubbed a “foreign policy speech” at the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington the following day, a speech so incoherent and vague (surprise, surprise!) that it bordered on meaning- less, where, no, he did not pledge to bring back waterboarding, kill the family members of Daesh militants and deport en masse 12 million undocumented immigrants, but he did pledge to “put America first,” whatever he meant by that.
In an editorial last Thursday, the New York Times wrote: “No one’s fears are to be allayed by this speech ... It did not exhibit much grasp of the complexity of the world, understanding of the balance or exercise of power or even a careful reading of history.” The Washington Post editorialized: “Mr. Trump degrades people, serially insulting women, Latinos, Muslims, immigrants, Jews and others. He erodes the discourse, frequently and flagrantly lying about things such as whether ‘scores’ of terrorists have recently entered the US as migrants — one of numerous false claims he made in his speech on foreign policy Wednesday ... In short, he should inspire fear that someone so lacking in judgment and restraint could acquire the powers of the presidency.” As for those few sane Republicans still left on the scene, they can always listen to Lesley Gore and sing along, “It’s my party and I can cry if I want to.”