Mon, Sep 14, 2015 - Page 9 News List

‘The Donald’ and his clever Trumping of American politics

By pitching his appeal both to US patriotism and the country’s dark side, Donald Trump has proven that he is a lot more than just a political fling

By Elizabeth Drew

As Republicans and Democrats in the US go through the long process of selecting a nominee for next year’s presidential election, both parties face the same question. Will the anti-establishment — even anti-political — mood now dominating the contest last?

For once, Labor Day (the first Monday in September) was not the presidential race’s demarcation point: The overall themes had already been set. Revulsion at government and traditional politicians hit the presidential contest like a tornado in the summer, flattening the campaigns of some who were once seen as serious contenders.

Among Republicans this sentiment is, of course, no surprise, given their party’s steady rightward drift and consistent antipathy toward US President Barack Obama. However, it suited a wealthy, noisy braggart who barreled into the race attacking conventional politicians as “stupid” and insisting that he alone could get things done.

Those who wrote off Donald Trump as a “buffoon” failed to see that he has shrewdly read the Republican zeitgeist, and that he knows precisely where to stick the knife into competitors. His depiction of former Florida governor Jeb Bush as a man of “low energy” has done real damage to a candidate whom many had assumed — even before he formally entered the race — would be the favorite.

“The Donald” (no one has better name recognition than the former TV personality) has pitched his appeal both to American patriotism and the country’s dark side. His slogan, “Make America Great Again,” is aimed at those who are frustrated that the US can no longer impose its will on an increasingly confusing world. For them, and for Trump, Obama is to blame: He does not stand up to foreign leaders (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might disagree); he withdrew from Iraq too soon (though the timetable was set by his Republican predecessor); he even “apologizes” for the US.

Trump plays to the US’ persistent veins of racism and nativism: he vows somehow to round up and deport some 11 million undocumented aliens and fortify America’s border with Mexico by building a wall — paid for by Mexico. His striking narcissism (everything he does is “outstanding, great, terrific, the best”) is both his trademark and his policy.

In the middle of last month, as Trump’s poll numbers rose even after public statements that would have brought down mere mortal candidates, it dawned on pundits that he was no summer infatuation. It became evident that he might win the first nominating contest, the Iowa caucuses, and that he was leading in the second, New Hampshire, and other states. It was no longer laughable to say that he could be the Republican nominee.

However, the “anti-system” mood of this election campaign is not confined to the Republicans. US Senator Bernie Sanders the socialist and Trump the plutocrat are addressing much the same impulse. Speaking in clear, declarative sentences, Sanders sets forth an idealistic conception of government policy that appeals to a great many people on the growing left of the Democratic Party.

By contrast, Jeb Bush and the Democrats’ presumed nominee, Hillary Rodham Clinton, embody traditional politics. Both come across as focus-grouped, packaged, and cautious, whereas Trump and Sanders are seen by their followers as “telling it like it is.”

Sanders appeals to the popular frustration with the compromises made by the US’ leaders, including the centrist former president Bill Clinton. Hillary Clinton, trying to straddle the divide between the two wings of the Democratic Party, is increasingly leaning to the left as Sanders draws enormous crowds, something she has yet to accomplish. Moreover, her campaign is struggling to escape the quagmire produced by revelations that she conducted official business on a private e-mail server during her tenure as Obama’s secretary of state.

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