Paranoia is not only a trademark of an authoritarian leader; it is a method of movement building.
The 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign stands unequaled in history by the level of vitriol and hate being slung by both sides. The mutual and unrelenting allegations of sleaze, corruption, criminal behavior, and myriad other dirty laundry type issues being spewed forth has made the candidates of both parties the winners of a huge gold star for very bad behavior. Such trailer park antics provide a text book example of how NOT to run a presidential election campaign.
Beyond the candidates, the tenor of the narrative put forth by their surrogates in their attempt to sway the media has reached a new low that has left most Americans with a serious case of campaign fatigue.
Donald Trump, whose positive message of bringing jobs back to America, clamping down on Wall Street excesses, adherence to the U.S. Constitution as opposed to judicial activism by legislating from the bench, and other populist issues, generated a voter frenzy the likes of which the country had never seen. By late spring, this was Trump’s election to lose. But Trump increasingly gave way to his demagogic tendencies, which are fine – even necessary – when one is the “king” of one’s own business empire. But such imprudent behavior does not ring presidential and the American people recognize this.
By May, Trump’s lead over Clinton evaporated as the campaign – and the slugfest – went on. Most of the current polls, even the most optimistic ones (with the exception of the Rasmussen report), show a 5-to-10 point lead for Hillary Clinton. Nate Silver gives Trump only a 21 percent chance of winning.
In defense of Trump, Hillary Clinton does not shine either. Voters are equally disgusted with the Democratic candidate. The email scandals, Benghazi, and her climate change policies do not make her a favorite either. Clinton’s calls to shut down Appalachian coal mines, which put hundreds of miners out of work and many on the government dole, was one misstep that Donald Trump just never exploited to its fullest potential.
This was just one of many missed opportunities and provided an indication of Trump’s lack of personal political expertise, as well as that of his campaign managers. On the flip side, however, the main reason Trump has such a huge and dedicated following is because of his lack of political expertise. He is the consummate political outsider, and a large number of Americans feel it is time for an outsider, better yet a businessman, to step in and run the country like a business – not a charity.
It is interesting to see female voters interviewed on CNN quaking in fear at the thought of a Clinton win. These women plan on either voting for Trump out of disgust for Hillary or not voting at all. The anti-Hillary vote comprises a large number of female voters disgusted by her duplicitous behavior and who are deeply insulted by those on the left who dictate that women should vote for Clinton simply because they share the same double X chromosomes.
Whether he wins or loses, a post-mortem of Trump’s insurgent bid for the White House will have a long-lasting effect on the arrogant, establishment elements of the Republican Party. For many, many conservative voters this is not a bad thing. In the end, Donald Trump’s populism is a wake-up call for the Republican and Democrat parties alike, as they both have become inured to the every day realities faced by their constituents.
Democrats in fact tried to help Trump by warning him that the presidential election bid is not a TV reality show. The subtle hints by the Democrats for fair play and to try to bring Trump up to par to lift the debates to a level of respectable substance were lost on the shallow attack narrative the Trump campaign pursued. But on the other hand, is Trump smarter than we think?
Debates on substance, the military, economy, foreign relations, and social equality, were broad-stroked by both candidates, both of whom preferred to descend into a schoolyard type rumble. The debates were nasty. Ivanka Trump’s candid statement is true; nothing can prepare you for the presidential campaign.
Whereas Trump comes across as a revolutionary insurgent waging war inside the Republican Party and the establishment, the Trump kids are as politically astute as any other elite seeking political power.
CNN’s Dana Bash recognized this political savviness while interviewing Eric Trump. However, in the end, Donald Trump is running for president not his kids.
The key issue for the electorate is the question of whether Donald Trump is suitable for the office of the presidency. Trump’s suitability has been painted in the most negative light possible, mainly with comments about his fiery temperament. However, the more germane issue is his preparedness. By strict virtue of his lack of political and governmental experience, Trump would appear to be the least prepared to hold the office. But many voters think his success as a businessman makes him imminently qualified to run the country.
The Republican Party, in its blatant attempts to sink Trump, proved its utter detachment from the reality of regular Americans as Trump, with his populist message, steamrolled over the slate of Republican establishment candidates during the primaries. Brute, aggressive, and vocal, a political upstart uprooted the Republican Party’s order of things. And the Party was not happy. Once he was nominated, a number of Party elites remained (and still remain) “never Trump,” thereby driving a wedge through the heart of the Party and virtually nullifying any chance of Trump’s receiving any meaningful support from the Party machine. Yet somehow he persevered and managed to turn out thousands of supporters at his rallies across the country.
This division in the Republican Party illustrates the revolutionary mindset Donald Trump has applied to a deeply divided American political landscape. At no time in contemporary American politics can we find a sharper divide between the left and the right than in the 2016 presidential election, save perhaps in 1861 at the beginning of the Civil War. The U.S. is currently nowhere near the “brother-against-brother” carnage witnessed in the War between the States, but Thanksgiving dinner conversations – a great political and social barometer – have become increasingly divisive in recent years.
Trump is a manifestation of the anger that is brewing below the surface after eight years of extreme left-wing Democratic leadership. No matter the outcome, plenty of soul searching is needed in the post-election period.
Let us examine the errors of Donald Trump in reverse order, as the significance of his missteps is more distinctly visible.
The elites. Al Smith charity dinner. Donald Trump, despite his proclaiming himself a man of the people, is an elitist. While he is not part of the Washington political elite, he is a major player in the New York social and business elite. At a traditional charity dinner hosted by the Catholic diocese of New York, Trump had a chance to recruit the political elite to his side. However, he failed to see the significance of the event and was booed by his own fellow one percenters. Whereas all his prior indiscretions can be forgiven, Trump missed the significance of the event as a vehicle to engage “them,” his potential base. Trump’s comments alienated the crowd and caused the host to quip, “and here you go again.” The Atlantic wrote,
“Since 1945, the Al Smith dinner has been a democratic display of mutual, if slightly forced, respect. The candidates’ punchlines aren’t meant to suggest that politics is a joke, or a game. Rather, they acknowledge a bedrock principle of American society: Even in our most adversarial moments, we’re all on the same team.”
Donald Trump alienated, likely deliberately, the rich and famous. Hillary Clinton got the message as well as the political last laugh though, as Trump’s gesture of a handshake was the sign of the defeated conceding to the victor. The charity dinner was the final straw for Trump.
The sex scandals. The sex scandal targeting Donald Trump’s past, rolling off like clockwork, was one of the most brilliant smear campaigns against him by far. Historians will spend decades studying and examining the tactics applied by the Democrats against Trump. Books will be written on the subject en masse. However, Donald Trump with a few exceptions was unable to politically counter the allegations. His response was a replay of a Clintonian denial response. The brilliance of the Clinton tactic was to divert entirely from the Bill Clinton-Gennifer Flowers-Monica Lewinsky, et al. affairs, not only deflecting from the scandal of a sitting U.S. president who perjured himself while in office by lying under oath, but making her opponent’s unproven allegations the centerpiece of its campaign. This cost Trump credibility with female voters on both sides of the political divide.
Xenophobia. A much abused word and regularly used in the Democratic narrative, Trump’s vitriol can be excused 99 percent of the time by the global population. The public is tired of the PC Gestapo from the left, but Trump has a long history of being a self-centered, brutal, take-no-prisoners American “businessman” and his rhetoric blaming society’s ills on blacks, Hispanics, foreigners, and Muslims just tunes voters out. After all, 31 percent of American voters are minorities. But while 69 percent of voters are white, they do not all necessarily side with Trump.
To non-Americans, Trump reflects everything that the rest of the planet cannot stand about Americans. He is loud-mouthed, nouveau riche, and opinionated. These traits, combined with a strong pinch of hate politics, makes Trump a right-wing nationalist, a trait that alarms both moderate Republicans and conservative Democrats alike. However, this “put America first” attitude strikes a cord with middle-class Americans who have seen their jobs evaporate, taxes rise, and health care costs spiral out of control thanks to Obamacare.
“I am smart” on taxes. To the left, Trump made his billions from the sweat off the back of the working class and his wealth is therefore somehow tainted. Yet let us not forget that it was Trump who provided thousands of jobs to the working class. Assertions that he has not paid any personal income tax in years, if they are true, do not indicate any illegal evasion of tax. The country’s tax code is written in such a way that those who are smart, and can afford smart lawyers and accountants, can limit if not eliminate personal and corporate taxes by extensive use of deductions and depreciation. While the left sputters that this just isn’t right from a moral standpoint, it is absolutely 100 percent legal until Congress changes the tax code and makes it otherwise.
Clinton, on the other hand, has utilized the same tax code to profit personally from the Clinton Foundation, an ostensible charitable organization. One case in point is the Foundation’s filtering of funds to large donors in the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. Little, if any of these funds ever made it to the devastated and poor Haitian population; instead they lined the coffers of Clinton cronies. To many on the right, such behavior is much more morally reprehensible than any creative accounting Trump has done in his business affairs.
In the end, as a voter interviewed on the BBC opined, “On November 10, nothing has changed for Donald Trump. If he loses, he is still a rich billionaire. If Hillary Clinton loses, she is still a rich politician. For me, it is the same, I don’t benefit from either of them.”
And then we have the Khans. If anything was a turning point it was Trump’s attack on the Gold Star Khan family. Besides Trump’s insensitive comments directed at Mrs. Khan, Trump gave us an insight into his shallow understanding of the military. Coupled with his derisive comments against former POW and American hero Senator John McCain, the Khan comments were a direct assault on the sensibilities any presidential candidate should possess. Trump then went on to attack the military elite and the intelligence services. Trump’s message appears to be: do not join the American armed forces if you are a Muslim, and do not become a prisoner of war, even if it is beyond your control.
Trump does have a point in criticizing the military leadership under the Obama/Clinton White House years though. Democrats and certain circles in the Republican Party torpedoed generals like David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal. One resigned in disgrace over an affair, while the other was felled by a report that Rolling Stone magazine found out to be untrue clearing the architects of a successful war strategy in Afghanistan.
Nevertheless, Trump fails to recognize a major point and that is neither Senator McCain nor Captain Khan was forced to join the armed services. Though a draft was still in place, McCain voluntarily attended the U.S. Naval Academy and went to Vietnam as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy. Khan, an Emirati immigrant of Pakistani parentage, attended the prestigious University of Virginia, where he received his U.S. Army commission after serving in the Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC). These two brave men served their country willingly. Donald Trump did not. Instead, he avoided military service by a series of deferments.
Donald Trump has not merely channeled his TV persona onto the political stage, he has morphed into a right-wing revolutionary who challenged the entire status quo in the United States. Trump’s Iowa rally’s “call for revolution” is evidence of this challenge to political party order, the military, society, and political correctness.
Though he rose to greatness and wealth from relatively humble means, Trump is a member of the elite. As such, he is not one of us, the blue-collar working masses. Though he pretends to be one of us he is not. He is part of the one percent. He is smart, no doubt, as he singlehandedly defeated the entire Republican elite, old and new, and has stoked the anger of a majority of us.
We will not know to what extent this anger and yearning for change has been harnessed into votes until November 8th. You can believe whatever you want from the polls and their cherry-picked sampling models. However, this race was Donald Trump’s to lose. If he loses it will be due to his own making.
by Arthur McMillan (This is part one of a two-part article. Part two will focus on Hillary Clinton)