A summery summary of the Donald Trump election campaign and where the billionaire presidential candidate stands in US politics
“I will be so good at [insert anything], it will make your head spin.”
- Donald Trump [on anything]
As we dig out fleece blankets and obnoxious beanies for the coming autumn, one chilling name haunts the memory of the summer gone by: Donald J Trump, once a schoolyard bully figure and laughable political hopeful, now a schoolyard bully figure and the frontrunner for Republican presidential candidate – by a mile. Political commentators are dubbing this spell the “Summer of Trump”, and not just because he resembles a refreshing, orange-flavoured popsicle. He’s dominated US news coverage since his announcement to run in June – he’s the most Googled presidential nominee in history (which is slightly unfair, since in the days of Thomas Jefferson, people had to send hand-written notes to the Google headquarters find out the soccer results or the latest Bieber beef) – and he’s dramatically risen in the polls, trouncing once-favourites like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio by double digits.
The “Summer of Trump” is such an accurate coinage: The Donald has checked all the boxes for the classic American summer. Here’s a sample of the typical summer activities in which the real estate mogul has partaken:
To the popular summer resort of…Iowa. In August, Trump hit the Iowa State Fair – a rite of passage that marks the start of the campaign season. But part of this rite is to appear like the average Joe: which is why Hillary was in pink plaid and Jeb Bush broke his paleo diet to chomp on a greasy pork chop. DJT, however, landed in the cornfields in his Sikorsky chopper.
This is part of his (paradoxical) appeal: in showing his wealth, he somehow becomes more a man of the people than any of the other, careful-treading candidates. His display of affluence is a statement of leadership, but more importantly, he’s defiantly shunning political pretences in his actions and shaking off political correctness in his words. And this appeals to a certain demographic of people who’ve grown tired of the charades and facades of Washington – regardless of whether Trump has laid out any actual policy or not (spoiler: he hasn’t).
So what is this demographic that he’s struck such a chord with? According to polls, it’s chiefly older, male, working-class citizens without college degrees. In terms of political stance, though, things get cloudier. Trump polls pretty equally with moderate and somewhat conservatives, as well as far-right conservatives and Tea Partiers; he splits the evangelical vote, and even does well with Independents.
In blunt terms, Donald Trump is a rabble-rouser. He’s eschewed meet-ups at quaint New Hampshire pizza parlours for big-ol’ Texan-sized stadium rallies, reminiscent of rodeo or NASCAR throngs. (The irony, of course, is that NASCAR severed business ties with Trump following his controversial remarks about Mexicans, as did NBC and Univision.) These Trump-a-thon festivals have attracted huge crowds in the Heartland – about 17,000 in Dallas and 30,000 in Mobile, Alabama – with originally free tickets touted online for $100 apiece, like actual music festivals. (Except without real musicians like Neil Young and R.E.M., both of whose records were played during Trump rallies without permission. Michael Stipe told Trump to go f*ck himself.)
Summer arts and crafts
The Donald still made time this summer to dally with some arts and crafts, namely by stitching his slogan, “Make America Great Again”, onto a baseball hat. (Or then again, maybe this was done by hard-working Mexicans, who he cherishes so dearly.) President Obama contended with this assumption earlier this month, saying “America’s great right now,” and that, “There’s nothing particularly… American about talking down on America”.
Needless to say, the idea of greatness is largely subjective, and conservatives would probably argue that the progressive measures that have defined Obama’s presidency – the Affordable Care Act, legalisation of same-sex marriage, leaving Iraq, negotiating a deal with Iran and making steps towards tackling climate change – are not “great”. Yet they can’t argue with the fact that the administration has turned the economy around: it was Bush who left the legacy of an economic collapse, and now the unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been in seven years, with 11 million Americans back at work.
Many Americans still remain out of employment, of course, and Obama admits, “We can do even better”. Bernie Sanders, the self-proclaimed socialist who’s currently topping Clinton in both Iowa and New Hampshire for the Democratic nomination, is striking a chord with young Americans with his plans to decrease college tuition, rebuild the middle class and redistribute wealth out of the hands of the one per cent. Somehow billionaire Trump, on the other end of the scale, is also enticing lower-income workers, with the perhaps valid claim that “the middle class is being destroyed” – but without the same substantial policies that Sanders and others are proffering. There’s the constant negative rhetoric, the hostile blame-it-on-China language, and then the characteristic braggadocio assuring his devout followers that “we’ll have so many victories” when he’s in the White House.
But what are the policies of Donald Trump? We know his stances – he’d repeal Obamacare, shut down the Iran deal and chuck out any existing gun control measures and believes that global warming is a “hoax” – but little of what he concretely plans to do to “make America great again”. He boasts about his foreign policy in much the same way: “I will be so good at the military, it will make your head spin.” Note that this was at the end of an interview in which he mistook the Kurds for the Quds Forces (an Iranian military force) and dismissed his ignorance on ISIS leaders by saying that “by the time we get to office, they’ll all be changed”. He also confused Hezbollah with Hamas, though qudos – sorry, kudos – to him for not throwing hummus into the imbroglio.
Oh – but we do know that he wants to build a big wall.
Summer of white supremacy
Uh…OK, maybe this one isn’t a staple of everyone’s perfect summer…
Evan Osnos wrote a great article for the New Yorker in which he explored white nationalist support for Trump. The particular form of xenophobia known as white nationalism comes from a fear of change: the belief that soon, the United States will be more Hispanic than white. It’s a paranoia of the loss of an identity – hence the preference for the term “white nationalism” over “white supremacy”, which is often closely associated with the Ku Klux Klan. Yet, Trump has been officially endorsed by David Duke, former KKK Grand Wizard – a figure that the mogul didn’t seem to want to distance himself from, humbly declaring, “a lot of people like me”.
Trump is tapping into this fear of an identity crisis, and of Hispanic immigrants taking jobs from white Americans. The answer? He plans to build the Trump Wall across the border, which apparently the Mexican government will pay for, to keep out illegal immigrants, who he now infamously said are “bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some I assume are good people…” While business partners ran for the hills, he clearly appealed to the baser instincts of a lot of people.
But it is Trump himself who engenders this climate of the yeehawing, intolerant rabble, and Mexicans aren’t the only ones in the firing line. There was also a call (well, more like a yell) from a supporter just a few days ago to “get rid of” the Muslim population, which he addressed as a “problem”, to a nodding-in-agreement Trump. The tycoon did nothing to counter this bigotry, nor to dispel this man’s belief that Obama is Muslim – as John McCain magnanimously did in 2008 when posed a similar question – but instead promised, “we’re going to be looking at a lot of things”.
So will the Summer of Trump turn into the Fall of Trump, or the… fall of Trump? Or will it be a Fiorina Fall, a Carson Christmas, or will there finally be some autumn colour to those pallid Bush leaves?
Political analysts by and large aren’t convinced that Trump can maintain his baffling momentum – and perhaps that’s the reason it’s been dubbed the Summer of Trump, alluding to a mere fleeting phase in this long campaign. They stress that polls aren’t the best predictor of success, but that often it’s the campaign money raised and endorsements that best foretell longevity. While Bush has 23 endorsements from members of Congress, Trump has zero – a sign of his unpopularity with the GOP establishment, which knows after 2012 that the best route to success is to court Latino, young and female voters, rather than push them away. You know something’s wrong when you’re on the Republican side and Fox News is your archenemy.
Or then again, maybe the businessman and reality TV star will eventually be hired as GOP nominee, and that next summer’s convention season will turn into another Summer of Trump. Followed by a possible four or eight more Summers of Trump. Only time will tell as to whether Air Force One will need to be traded for a Sikorsky chopper, and whether the Oval Office will have to accommodate the Apprentice boardroom. And around 100 boxes of hairspray.
Image from: http://presidential-candidates.insidegov.com/stories/5187/23-ridiculously-offensive-donald-trump-quotes
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