There is nothing funny about Donald Trump.
While many are seeing his run as the joke that just keeps giving up new punchlines, his run for presidential office should be taken deadly seriously for the tremendous danger it represents and the type of personality-cult strongman politics that lie behind it.
I think many Americans -- as well as onlookers internationally -- are simply assuming that, each time he goes "too far" in one outrageous statement or policy pronouncement after another, at some point he will come crashing down and that his run for the most powerful office in the world will finally come to an end.
They may be waiting for a very long time.
While the road to victory in a presidential race is an epic one, and while he may, indeed, turn public opinion decisively against him for one reason or another, the fact remains that what makes Trump's style of politics, which some have compared to that of former Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, as alarming as it is is that it is not about policy at all.
It is about theater. His overt and insistent flaunting of political conventions and norms is his appeal to those who are cheering him on. That is his politics. The details are irrelevant because there are no details.
It is about the bombast, the anger and the lashing out at "elites" and "political correctness." That is the beginning and the end point ideologically.
Take a look at Donald Trump's campaign website. All there is is Donald Trump. It is so policy-light that it could make a grade school campaign for student council with cries for "more school dances" and "no homework" look like it was being run by policy wonks.
It is a politics that takes broad themes of unfocused popular rage and attempts to embody them in an over-the-top, megalomania-driven persona. In this politics it is the going ever further, the always "going too far" and forever resetting what "too far" means, that is the appeal and the draw. The audience watches as the reality show continues and they want the main character to get even more outrageous and to make those around him even more outraged.
I wrote in 2014 of how Rob Ford -- a fact that was mystifying to his opponents -- became Toronto's "entertainer-in-chief" echoing the antics of Nero centuries before who had been very popular with sections of the people while loathed by the elites. Trump takes this and elevates it to a bigger and far more dangerous stage. And as with any personality driven political narrative that attempts not simply to tap but to actually inflame popular resentments it has deep tinges of fascism to it.
While the Republicans have helped to create a climate where disgraceful, racist, sexist and homophobic views are commonplace and where extremist thinking has become mainstream in the United States, Trump takes it to its logical conclusion -- he is openly misogynist and racist without the usual "dog-whistle" phrasing or any code words.
So much so that even the Republicans and Fox News are becoming unnerved! They have begun to take steps to try to derail his candidacy before it goes any further and before he actually begins to possibly win some primaries.
If they succeed, Trump has strongly hinted he might run for the Presidency anyway as an independent. I, for one, would not count him out if he does.
Their problem -- and the problem that his Democratic and left opponents will face -- is that the attacks on him play into his own persecution narrative. They allow him to portray himself as the victim of dark forces intent on stopping his quest for the people to "Make America Great Again", a slogan that is a perfect blend of banal grandiosity and vague meaninglessness.
In an era of terrible disaffection, when people feel genuinely disempowered and unrepresented by mainstream politicians, and where regardless of who gets elected the broad outlines of the way the economy functions changes very little -- if at all -- this type of political nihilism and lashing out by Trump will appeal strongly to a section of the electorate. We are likely to find that his supporters will be staggeringly and tenaciously loyal whatever he does or says.
But while the worst that Ford could do was bring a city's progress on many fronts to a crashing halt, Trump, were he to win, would have control of the world's most powerful military and a vast nuclear arsenal.
That would be nothing to laugh about.
photo by Gage Skidmore via wikimedia commons
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