Given that it’s April Fool’s Day, I suppose I’ll allow myself a piece about Donald Trump—you know, in the spirit of the holiday. The absolute madness of the U.S. presidential election is something I’ve steered well clear of. There are so many fools these days, it seems, that even poor Mr. T is exhausted from all the nonstop pitying he’s had to do.
One can hardly talk about fools these days without talking about Donald Trump, the tiny-handed bully and alleged billionaire whose name is synonymous with folly—a King of Fools to put Quasimodo himself to shame. And so it is to Trump that I turn my digital pen today, though in fairness, this is less a standalone article than it is a 1000-word “preface and response” to a 1,300-word article that appeared in Salon today. That article, written by the very astute Michael Bourne, posits one of the wisest questions about Trump Nation that too few of us have been asking. You can scroll down to the article first, if you want; but I imagine these comments serve it better as a preface, so I’m not linking it until the very end.
I’ve never been worried, really worried, about President Trump being a thing that’s happening. Like all his spurious failed lawsuits, like all the failed businesses that continue to chip away at his misreported fortune, like all the boastful cheques he writes with his rich white mouth that his low-rent classless butt can’t cash, Trump is a short-distance runner. And the election-heavy United States is one of the most unforgiving environments in all of politics for a man of his strengths and weaknesses. Let’s remember, for a moment, that the 78-day election we just had in Canada was the longest one in Canadian history. The 2016 U.S. election, from its first candidate announcement to election day, will run 596 days for a four-year term. The country literally is in the middle of elections 40% of the time. It is the marathon state of all marathon states for monster elections. And as a walking talking pocketbook, the anthropomorphic personification of the American Dollar itself, Donald Trump can absolutely go the distance. But as a thinking, talking human being, he absolutely cannot.
In every sphere of life, from temporarily landing supermodel wives who abandon him in hatred and disgust to launching product after product that lasts for about 15 minutes before collapsing, Trump is a sprinter, not a distance runner. He bursts out of the gate large and in charge, plenty loud and plenty intimidating, but waddles to a gasping stop after the first 50 metres as his weakness becomes evident and it becomes increasingly clear that seeing things through to the end is utterly beyond him. This is a man of limitless ambition and limitless greed, people. If being President of the United States had ever been within his reach, he would already be there right now. Or, more likely, had the presidency a very short time and then found a way to lose it even before his natural term was up.
There’s no reason to believe Trump hasn’t peaked in life; I happen to think the apex of his power was around 1990 — 26 years ago, now — right before the biggest fishes in his empire started collapsing under the weight of their own bankruptcies as support base began to understand that Trump is not, and will never be, a strong finisher. He’s the guy who takes a dump mid-race, blames his failures on whoever else is handy, and quietly moves on once he’s passed the buck. The people of Trump Nation are starting to figure that out, and the momentum of his crazy train has finally started to slow down as a result.
Trump does not know how to deal with hardship. He doesn’t know how to deal with adversity. He can bully people who gainsay him, but he can’t handle being well and truly challenged. Like a military general who only knows how to launch blitz attacks, he has no tactics to handle a protracted conflict. He’s the general who’s going to get his troops massacred the minute he has to plot a tactical retreat, and everybody except him realizes he doesn’t know how.
These are the reasons I’ve never been too seriously worried about President Trump. But the remarkable little article I’ve linked below reframes certain things in a new perspective, and it’s a perspective that chills me to the bone in ways that imagining Trump and Kim Jong-Un trading whole massacred cities in a thermonuclear slapfight never did.
The two worst possible outcomes of the presidential race are these: Trump wins, or Trump loses. We instinctively know which of these is better for America and the world. But we’ve been so gripped by our terror of what a Trump victory would mean that we haven’t also considered the lasting consequences of his campaign of hatred even when it grinds to its inevitable halt, like all Trump properties and schemes, as a catastrophic disowned failure. (Trump himself, we might say, is the king of all catastrophic and disowned failures. But I digress).
This article for Salon considers the thing we’re really afraid of when we talk about Trump, though we may not know it. Much in the same way that the thing we call “Barack Obama” is not just a president of colour — he’s a very good-looking and well-spoken person of colour who goes on TV as one prominent agent among a coalition of dozens of old primarily white guys — Trump is likewise not the billionaire maverick John Galt knockoff he pretends to be. He is the representative of a very particular kind of white male American — the kind Mitt Romney and George W. Bush may have represented, too, but they were much more polite and diplomatic about pretending those supporters didn’t exist.
There is no pretending that Team Donald doesn’t exist. We cannot deny that the United States is swarming with a few million hateful Morlocks who believe that this colossal failure in a cheap suit will somehow “make America great again.” That they do not, by implication, consider America great now has always ruffled the eagle-feathers of traditional Republicans, who are generally speaking true patriots, if nothing else. But there are millions of those people—the streets and airwaves are teeming with them, all of them drunk on hatred and still drinking it. And right now, the Trump campaign is the open bar where they can all stay inside and drink their fill.
So what happens at closing time?
Where will those savage men stagger off to when Donald’s wild party of hate (let’s call it a “white rager”) is over? What will they do there, liquored up on all the frothing Neo-Nazi xenophobia Trump has pumped into them? As long as a presidential candidate with unprecedented unilateral Ku Klux Klan support is playing at politics, Trump Nation can exist with relative restraint (yes, folks, what you are looking at is restraint) under the pretense that they are trying to achieve something legitimate through the channels of formal office.
I’m still not afraid of what happens to America if Trump wins. He’s not a winner and never has been; and his biggest success in this campaign (it is, like all his success, fleeting) has been to make people forget that for a while. But in 1,300 chilling words, Salon correspondent Michael Bourne gives us here what the briefer, more disposable social media buzz on Trump cannot: an extended, far-seeing picture of the world that has made him, and the uneasy question of what will become of that world when he’s gone. Getting rid of Trump won’t solve that larger problem. It’s Trump’s oversimplified understanding, thought up and spoken at a 3rd-grade reading level, that suggests politics are all about who’s in the chair, who has the power, who is, in Bush’s famous words, the decider.
But there is much more to politics than those questions of rulership. Take, for instance, the number of people who want the answers to all those questions to be the same: Trump. Trump. Trump. Trump. It’s like the sound of jackboots marching into Paris. And it’s important to remember who wears those jackboots, and just how many of them there are. For all we compare Trump to Hitler—for all we love to invoke the increasingly appropriate Godwin’s Law in his case—Hitler was just one dude who did not, for all his frothing bully charisma on the podium, stand much of a chance when it came to invading Poland. If “Hitler invaded Poland,” as our history books teach us, two border guards would’ve held his arms and a third would’ve punched him in the face until he gave up and went home snivelling.
But Hitler didn’t invade Poland. Poland was not invaded by one dumpy-looking tantrum-thrower with an absurd-looking combover. No, it was invaded by one and a half million men with 2,400 tanks and 2,300 planes while he sat around in luxury—and every one of those soldiers swallowed every single word their commander-in-chief told them.
Judging by the popular vote of the Republican Primaries at the time of writing, with only 34 states weighing in, Donald Trump has a loyal fanbase of more than five times that size. He has won their hearts somehow, and carries their hopes; and when he inevitably fails, as fail he must, they’re not going to be happy about it.
Like Smaug the Golden before him — proportionally tiny hands, reptilian face, hollow breast and all — Trump seems fearsome enough, but one well-meaning leader with the help of a little bird might just down him in the end. And as in The Hobbit, slaying the dragon will be a moment of great happiness, and well it should be. But it’s not remotely the end of the story—and the waves raised when a dragon falls sweep onto strange far shores, making ripples in places even the very wise cannot know.
Bourne’s excellent original article can be found here. I hope you enjoy this lucid island in a sea of foolishness as much as I did: