A NEW TAKE ON TRUMP FROM OLIVER JONES, AUTHOR OF TRUMP: THE RHETORIC
|the book you must read|
"Baby Bad: TRUMP'S FINAL FACE IS THAT OF INFANTILISM"
If we were to imagine history as a electrocardiogram measuring heart rate over time, the heart beat falling on 2016 along with Trump, ISIS and Brexit would measure as a major systolic thump, one that sent ripples through every avenue of public discussion and deeply tailored - and for the most part, hardened - our collective world-view. Reports by finance ministers, business leaders and civilians indicate a sense of gloom at best, crisis at worst. Taking the cardiac analogy further, Trump may represent a major arterial blood clot, a cystic fat narrowing our communal capillaries or (perhaps most aptly) a medically archaic form of angried blood, one that elevates the heart rate and sends it thumping through the 21st century with hysterical, irregular rhythm. And after Trump was officially inaugurated as the Republican nominee, his act went from merely irregular to officially unhinged.
Trump began an ill-advised feud with the parents of Humayun Khan, a US soldier killed in 2004, attacked Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representative and a Republican, advocated a potential "strike first" nuclear strategy, called on Putin and the Russian secret service to mount an intelligence attack on Hillary Clinton, called on gun-advocates to do "something" about Clinton, predicted the November election would be rigged, proposed a ban on all immigration from countries "compromised by terrorism" and suggested that the onus was on women harassed in the work place to simply move on to another job. None of this was out of character, and the media reacted with fury and outrage - and massive air time - as always. There was one difference though: this time, Trump's poll numbers didn't soar - they dropped.
Why the change? From the tone of some editorials - in the wake of Michael Moore's "5 Reasons While Trump Will Win", followed headlines like "Why Trump Will Win" and "Social Media Patters Show Trump Is Looking At A Landslide Victory". The media and public had begun to take seriously the theory that Trump was all but unstoppable. His basic formula of outrageous insult, backed up with fantastic lies, seemed to be winning him every confrontation in every state he set his eyes on. But now his poll numbers were dropping in spectacular fashion and he'd begun to poll badly in key swing-states. The prevailing worry had been that Trump was channelling some primal energy in the American people, or was the bulkhead of a historical inevitability that would throw us all back into the dark ages - a repressive, racist state, an aggressive and protectionist foreign policy, the breakdown of international trade - or worse: total nuclear war.
Events domestically and overseas seemed to form a chorus around this narrative: Brexit, ISIS attacks in Paris, civilians shooting police officers in the US.; these events seemed to herald an epoch-breaking collapse in society and the world order, one that could dignify Trump's apocalyptic claims.
Then, as abruptly as it started, we declared Trump dead - "imploded", "self-immolating", on a "post-convention bender", "Unable To Control Self". Once again, Trump shocked his audience by continuing to act exactly as he had done all along. This time, it caught up with him. The tag that stuck to Trump - after businessman, celebrity, clown, narcissist and even fascist had all failed to pin him down - was "child".
Whether this represents a communal realisation and dismissal, or just the latest line of attack by our legions of journalists, is hard to know. But abruptly, focus has shifted from Trump as the new face of American fascism, to Trump as a kind of mad, overgrown infant - more incompetent than evil. Trump's campaign advisers began leaking bizarre and amusing anecdotes of Trump's complete unmanageability: Trump spends all his free time watching television, getting angry at his own coverage and reacting. Any critique of Trump has to be prefaced by "lavish praise - as if dealing with a child". An RNC member said he had to routinely "talk Trump down from a ledge". The head manager of Trump's campaign, Paul Manafort, resigned. In addition to his poll slump, Trump now began to suffer a flood of defections from the GOP establishment. Rep. Richard Hanna called Trump "unfit to serve", and promised to vote for Clinton at the general election. Republican fundraiser Meg Whitman also said she would vote for Hillary, and would even fund-raise for her.
The more optimistic of us may want to think that perhaps we collectively came to our senses. After a period of group confusion - like a herd stunned by the appearance of a strange animal - where we failed to identify Trump for what he was, a selfish, strange and maybe pitiable man, our critical faculties finally caught up with the obvious. We stopped being amazed at Donald Trump's feats of interpersonal savagery, dishonesty and vulgarity, and began to reject him.
The more pessimistic of us may instead see that Trump, a very weird prophet for a very messed up America, was rejected by an electoral system that has consistently ensured that nobody who is not (excuse the double negative) of a certain class and character can take the Presidency. We should note that the major defections from the GOP came not in the face of Trump's racism or nuclear proclivities, but upon realising that he probably doesn't have the personal ability to win the election. If Trump - a person so thoroughly obsessed with his own talent and brilliance - could see that implied criticism, it would hurt him most of all.
OLIVER JONES is the author of Trump: The Rhetoric (Eyewear, 2016). He has a degree in PPE from Oxford, and is a musician and poet as well as a political writer.
Editor's note: it remains to be seen if Trump is coming back, with a more restrained (relatively) Presidential tone this past week...