Will The Truth Trump All?
I’ll admit, I was a fan of The Apprentice when it first premiered (before that horrible abomination Celebrity Apprentice came on air and the whole thing became an exercise in watching c-list celebrities compete over who had less pitiful name recognition). The show was entertaining, and at the time somewhat original, and the backstabbing of the boardroom was a delightful example to watch of unfiltered human nature. All that being said, I would certainly not say I am an overly enthused fan of Donald Trump himself. I’ve found his books largely uninspiring repetitions of the same clichéd advice (aside from his first one, the biographical Art of the Deal, which actually is a good read), his personality crude and lacking in any hint of modesty, and his sense of taste to be simply tacky.
As you can imagine, I have been rather surprised by his quite meteoric rise in the polls in recent weeks following his splashy entrance into the race for the Republican 2016 presidential nomination. After formally announcing his bid weeks ago at a rather circus like event, there was almost universal scorn that the whole thing was a joke and the only question would be whether the Donald would drop out before the deadline to publicly file his net worth. Then, to the surprise of everyone, something funny began happening. Donald Trump’s numbers started rising, as polls began emerging showing him in second and even first place both in early primary states and nationally. Now, let us not exaggerate this too much. In a field with nearly a dozen contenders a candidate can be “first” with only ten to fifteen percent of the vote (hardly a commanding level of support), but still as the days went on the punditry, while still dismissive and scornful, began speaking with an edge of doubt in their voice, as if they were now worried that the entire thing was not entirely the joke they had originally taken it to be.
I certainly would not describe myself as a Donald Trump for President supporter, and I’ve been as mystified by the mini Donald-mania we have witnessed in recent weeks as anyone. The more I have pondered it, however, the more I have been reminded of the eternal “but….” I feel the urge to say whenever I begin to dismiss Trump as a buffoonish comb-over and nothing more. Yes, Trump is a buffoon and a boaster, but on the rare occasions he has put aside his persona he has displayed flashes of an actual shrewd intelligence and a willingness to bluntly speak the truth.
It is that last part especially that I believe has been behind his rise in the polls as of late. The job of a politician has evolved very much from one of governing to one of being a professional job interviewee, with the goal singularly being winning elections and everything else coming second. The triumph of liberalism over all other ideologies has led to hyper-partisanship, as political parties fight ever more bitterly to disguise the fact that fundamentally there is no difference between them other than tone and posture. The 24 hour news cycle and amateur journalism of social media has meant every tiny flub and gaff now as the potential to be deadly. The end result of all this has been that aspirants to public office never say or do anything that has not been sound-tested and campaign researched extensively to ensure that it will never offend or even mildly annoy anyone aside from diehard partisans of the opposite side (who honestly would be offended by a simple “hello, how are you?” if it was uttered by an individual wearing party colours from the wrong side of the colour spectrum). The wider public, who are simple but not stupid, knows this. When every candidate is a Jeb Bush or a Hillary Clinton, airbrushed to be inoffensive and rehearsed to be unfaltering, people begin instinctively long for someone who will say something that comes with a ring of sincerity and is not a carefully scripted soundbite designed to offend no one and mean nothing.
Enter Donald Trump, stage right. Everything about the man is the opposite of what we have been conditioned to expect from political aspirants. Instead of recycling rehearsed statements, he rambles and rants. Instead of soothingly saying sweet-nothings, he’s offensive and outright rude. Every word that comes out of his mouth sounds very much like it is something he actually believes, even if his own at times delusional mind is the only one that does so. We’ve seen a very similar phenomena to this here in Toronto, when the former mayor, Rob Ford, was propelled to power on a populist wave of support from neglected suburbanites and commuters ticked off at the condescension of downtown elites who had previously dominated the political process, and a core of them remained rabidly loyal to him even after later allegations of drug use and general buffoonery turned everyone else against him. This could largely be attributed to the fact that people didn’t care Rob Ford smoked crack, and hung out with drug dealers, and in general made a fool of himself whenever he opened his mouth, because every utterance and blunder simply reinforced the sense that Ford, warts and all, was a genuine article.
And then there is what Trump chooses to say. I will give him credit for being willing to address the big issues head on, whereas most others in the political area prefer to tip toe around them. While his proposed solutions are often wanting, at least he acknowledges what the big problems are. Trumps quite frankly admitted that the core of America’s economic problems, while brought to a head by the Great Recession, are rooted in the fact that the country’s entire economic structure was built upon a set of premises that no longer hold true, and that the generation of prosperity that followed World War II came about from a brief moment of unparalleled industrial domination in America when no other nation on earth could hope to compete which has since been undone by the forces of globalization and outsourcing. Until that is somehow address, the rest is truly gravy, yet no one is willing to do so. Democrats shy away from it because the old blue model of unionized jobs for life, with benefits and pensions guaranteed by employer and government, is as central to their identity as the promise of “the America Dream”, where anyone can go from rags to riches, is to the Republicans. Admitting that both conceptions are beginning to slip out of grasp is an admission neither side can make, so instead they say nothing.
On illegal immigration Trump’s blusterous tone does not erase the fact that the country already has an excess of low-skilled labour, and that there is hardly a demand for more of it. While most Americans are willing to accept a pathway to citizenship for illegals, they also want some assurance that if this is done there will be checks and controls put in place to stop future waves of undocumented workers from following. An acceptable compromise, even to someone like me who finds the que jumping performed by illegals an insult to those who aspire to legally come to America and have bothered to follow the proper channels and laws governing the process. No one, however, seems able to propose a realistic way of achieving this. Given the atmosphere is it any wonder that Trump’s pledges to build “a great big wall” hold appeal? So what if it might not work, people say, it’s not like anything else has.
We’ve seen other examples of this, particularly across the pond in Europe where voters, in ever greater numbers, have begun turning away from the same old tired political parties that tell them in unison of the untold joys of multiculturalism and globalization and instead are listening ever more to the once taboo fringes, whether they come in the form of Madame Le Pen or Mister Tsiparas. Finding that twenty four hour Thai takeaway and two dollar t-shirts from Bangladesh are poor consolation for the departure middle class factory jobs and the ghettoization of their neighborhoods, these people are fertile soil for brash populist demagogues of which Trump is but the most recent.
The lessons of this should be listened to by democratic purists in their crumbling cathedrals who bemoan the disengaged electorate and overly slick nature of our modern day politics. If what you truly aspire to is someone who will speak the truth, do not be surprised when that truth turns out to be one that you happen not to like. Jeb Bush may be one side of the coin democracy produces, a bland and inoffensive smile in a suit that offends and pleases no one, but Donald Trump is the other, an ugly and loud preacher to the mob who will quite happily tell the populace what no one else is. We have built this funhouse we find ourselves trapped in, and as we stare at the distorted images in the mirrors we flinch at the realization that the hideous sight before us is merely a shadowy reflection of ourselves.