By Jonathon Van Maren
Donald Trump is, for many political observers, the candidate who came out of nowhere. A bloviating fat cat tycoon with a string of expensive properties, bankruptcies, and a reality show, most were not even aware that he had any “Republican leanings” until he announced that he’d be running for president as a Republican. His campaign announcement, which featured The Donald backed by actors paid to applaud, earned the appropriately contemptuous headline, “Witless ape rides escalator,” from the National Review.
Contempt has turned to almost panicky fear since then—Trump doesn’t need to pay anyone to show up to his campaign events anymore. His fellow Republican candidates don’t seem to know how to deal with him or his recent surge in the polls—probably because to truthfully describe Trump for what he is would also indict a large portion of the conservative base, who for bewildering reasons seem to be missing the joke. Other darlings of the conservative base have also happily climbed into the Trump clown car, from the Breitbart sites to Sean Hannity, and Rush Limbaugh to Ann Coulter, who crowed yesterday after the release of Trump’s “immigration plan” that, “I don’t care if Donald Trump wants to perform abortions in the White House after this immigration policy paper.”
Coulter’s repulsive comment is indicative of something that Trump’s followers don’t seem to have noticed: He’s not conservative in any way. He’s always been very pro-abortion, and although he claims to have recently changed his mind, he’s the only Republican candidate in the field who, in spite of the revelations that Planned Parenthood sells the body parts of dismembered fetuses, wouldn’t defund Planned Parenthood. Which is no surprise—a veteran of the American pro-life movement who stayed at my house earlier this summer recalled protesting galas that Donald Trump hosted for Planned Parenthood in New York City years ago.
He claims that he wants to send troops back into Iraq, although the meaningless word-salad he serves up on foreign policy is one part machismo and three parts moron. He’s supportive of universal healthcare, which the Republicans have been screaming bloody murder about nonstop since Obama started talking about it. He does say a lot of angry things about immigration, which is what many conservative commentators desperately trying to explain him away are saying accounts for his rise—that he’s “tapped into anger” and such. Ironically, he’s the perfect caricature of what Democrats like to say Republicans are: Greedy, self-centred businessmen who have no ethics or values beyond “winning,” willing to say whatever anyone wants to hear (“I’m pro-life now!”), and as amoral as the day is long.
Because that’s another unavoidable point: Donald Trump is quite simply a scummy person. He trades his wives in regularly for much younger women, and once commented that, “I don’t think my daughter Ivanka would pose for Playboy, although she does have a very nice figure. I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I would be dating her.” Really, conservatives? You cannot possibly claim to want someone with integrity and dignity and values to be in the White House, and then slap a Trump bumper sticker on your car. That’s beyond stupid: It just shows all of your neighbors that you are what they thought you were—an angry dude who likes it when someone says really rude things to people you don’t like.
That’s what explains Donald Trump’s rise at the end of the day: He’s a man so drunk on himself that he says sober what others would only say after a half dozen stiff drinks. He calls people names, and he does it without any pretence of class or intellectual engagement, a schoolyard bully with a billion dollars. He’s playing to a crowd that hates political correctness, but embodies precisely what the defenders of political correctness falsely say we’ll turn into without it: Unsophisticated idiots. Apparently, no amount of crudeness or misogyny or bad manners is unforgivable as long as the vitriol is aimed at people we don’t like. It’s rather nauseating to see, and even worse to watch supposedly conservative people try to defend this new obsession with The Donald.
Donald Trump is America’s Rob Ford. Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, also known as crack-smoking Toronto Mayor Rob Ford, had the support of huge numbers of conservatives simply because we don’t like the Toronto Star or the snobby Toronto elites, and neither did Rob Ford—and he was more than willing to unabashedly say so. Every time he turned up drunk (or perhaps high, or both) somewhere, conservatives would offer up a patronizing There Goes Robbie Again chuckle, because while conservatives might be grimacing, we knew it would be nothing compared to the apoplectic rage over at the Star. Bit by bit, Rob Ford became increasingly indefensible—he smoked crack and who knows what else and lied about it, he was obviously an out-of-control alcoholic, and he said horrible, disgusting things about his wife. He wasn’t Toronto Mayor, he was the Rob Ford Show—but because he got aired on Jimmy Kimmel, Jon Stewart, and the rest of the late-night circuit, he didn’t care. After all, the litmus test of a public figure these days isn’t dignity, or intelligence, or even basic good manners. It’s fame.
And right until the end of his car-crash career as mayor, Ford’s followers stuck with him. There’s a very good chance that if he hadn’t been diagnosed with cancer, he would have won again. And even then, he handily won another position as city councillor.
And now America has its own Rob Ford, and on the biggest stage on earth. Donald Trump is, first and foremost, a reality star, and thus is, first and foremost, interested in ratings. That he knows how to get. Reality shows are a cultural cancer, and the Donald is currently trumping even Kim Kardashian as the biggest star. For years, television has been blurring the lines between reality and fantasy. Now, we have the perfect half-wit combination of the two: Part hair, part plastered frat-boy, part populist, all celebrity. And a culture raised on a diet of reality TV and the 24-hour outrage machine watches with delight as finally, finally, a man who can make politics interesting says all the things they mutter under their breath—on TV, and on Twitter, and to people’s faces! The politics of bread and circuses has a new ringmaster, and he’s running the show. One only had to watch the distaste and helplessness on the faces of the other Republican candidates as the Donald ran away with the recent debate to realize that they have no idea how to deal with him—or the culture of ignorance that produced him.
I’m sure commentators much smarter than I am will continue to try and explain Donald Trump to those of us who are mystified at how people who want someone who possesses honesty, integrity, and morals in the White House are willing to support Donald Trump, the very antithesis of all those things. But for me, the Donald Phenomenon is a combination of a culture of ignorance, an obsession with celebrity culture, and perhaps a conservative frustration that is manifesting itself as an adolescent tantrum. But the fact is—and I can’t believe it must be said–there is nothing to respect about Donald Trump, and respectable people should not be supporting him.