There’s No Easy “You’re Fired” for Donald Trump
So the latest incident of Donald Trump “going too far” is in. Following the first Republican presidential debate, the Donald apparently took issue with his treatment from one of the moderators, one Megyn Kelly from Fox News. In his own words, “she had blood coming out of her eyes, she had blood coming out of her whatever” described Ms Kelly on the evening of the debate, and all and sundry have been crowing ever since that this is finally the beginning of the end of Donald Trump’s so far unstoppable ride at the top of the polls.
Personally, I am doubtful (at not the least because the latest poll taken post-debate has shown Trump’s numbers again going up). I wouldn’t necessarily agree that what Trump had to say regarding Megyn Kelly was sexist, but it was certainly crass and downright rude. However this is certainly not in the same vein as Trump’s earlier dismissal of John McCain’s war service and time spent as a POW in Vietnam, or his even earlier comments (which began his rise in the polls) on how Mexico was sending “rapists” over the border. It was certainly no worse than the countless incidents since announcing his run when Trump has described his fellow running mates as losers, wimps, failures and various other insulting terms.
Yet when each of these incidents has occurred we have seen the exact same reaction, as Trump’s opponents leap on them and proclaim that this time “he has crossed the line” while somehow remaining blissfully unaware that all such previous declarations of such have fallen on deaf ears by the wider public. This represents a fundamental misunderstanding of both the reason for Donald Trump’s surge in popularity and the best way to go about undermining it. In their obsession with denouncing every bozo eruption that comes out of the Donald’s mouth, his opponents have been simply tilting at windmills; searching around in a metaphorical hat for the ever elusive white rabbit that they feel will somehow make the entire problem disappear.
The reality is that Donald Trump has been making crude and clownish remarks for most of his life. He’s made a career out of insulting people. Controversy and downright rudeness is simply part of his persona at this point. People expect it from him, and his supporters have priced it in at this point. Indeed, to a section of the population, tired of hearing the same sound-tested clichés all designed to be as vague and inoffensive as possible, Trump’s crassness merely comes across as a sign of honesty (Wow, this guy said what? Damn, he must be saying what he really feels). Trump’s opponents, in short, have been waiting for him to simply self-destruct, and it looks like that is not going to happen.
To take on Trump, his adversaries for the nomination need to recognize where his support has been coming from; it’s really not that hard to understand when you think for a minute. Trump has been surging in the polls for one very simple reason: he’s been willing to take on the issues that no one else has. Donald Trump has managed to tap into a very sizeable segment of the American public that feels ignored by Washington DC. Whether its immigration, foreign policy, or the decline of industrial America, these people feel that no one has any answers (largely because these are very complicated issues and modern democracy tends not to be conducive towards addressing problems that require thought and nuance to solve). As the same old platitudes get spouted by the same old faces, they see America slowly becoming a nation of hamburger flippers and busboys, with a southern border that has become a revolving door, as foreign powers defiantly do as they wish without any apparent fear of retaliation.
Like it or not (and many politicians these days quite evidently dislike it), there is a sizable portion of the electorate that wants the border secure, is skeptical of the new globalist “knowledge economy”, and is tired of surrender and retreat on the world stage. You can talk about the wonders of globalization all you want, but it’s not going to mean much to the middle aged former auto worker who now stocks shelves for minimum wage. Similarly, promoting the glories of multiculturalism and diversity to the single mum in Arizona whose kids attend a school that is seventy percent Latino and now teaches its classes in Spanish will likely fall flat as well. The East Coast elite of academics, journalists, and progressive activists that increasingly dominate the political process have trouble grasping this. To them uncontrolled immigration and globalization simply means cheap consumers goods, fun new cuisine, and getting a cut rate deal on gardening and childcare. They remain above and largely unaware of the real pain that is felt by those not among the privileged few.
Then along comes Donald Trump, and not only does he address these issues head on, he also promises to fix them. He declares, with the utter self confidence that only a true egotists can, that he’ll stop the flow of illegal immigrant, bring back the manufacturing jobs lost to China and Bangladesh, and put America’s enemies in their place. How will he do this? The details are sketchy, but it’s not like anything else is on offer, so people believe it (for no other reason than it is a natural human urge to believe in something). Trump will build a wall on the border with Mexico, and make them pay for it! Trump will put a tax on China and bring back our jobs! Trump will pulverize the Islamic State AND take all the oil back to America as booty! He’ll make America great again, damn it! To a public that is tired of being told they can’t do this, and must be realistic about that, and that only compromise is an acceptable choice about the other thing, this is music to the ears.
Undercutting Trump’s support means taking on where that support comes from, and it’s far from an impossible task. The New York real estate mogul has been very high on confidence when addressing these issues, but very low on details. By actually engaging with the questions of how to secure the southern border and how to adapt to the hollowing out of America’s industrial base, Trump’s opponents can blunt him by exposing his solutions for what they are: largely nonexistent and widely untenable. It’s all very well to proclaim you would build a wall across the border, paid for by the Mexican government, but the likelihood of it actually happening is farcical (Mexico wants the border to stay open, it both relieves pressure on their own labour market and provides economic assistance via remittances sent home). Putting a tax on China (whatever that means) sounds wonderful, but the history of using economic protectionism to rebuild industry has been written and the results are demonstrably poor. As for the claim that a former reality television star and real estate investor will somehow be able to better prosecute the War on Terror by sheer force of personality…..well, let’s just say I have severe doubts about this alleged “secret plan” to defeat ISIS that Trump will not speak of out of alleged fear it will be stolen by his opponents. Pointing out these inconsistencies and presenting a credible alternative plan will do far more to undermine Trump’s surge in support than focusing on whatever latest piece of buffoonery has come out of his mouth.
Donald Trump can be beaten, but it won’t happen by simply sitting back and waiting for him to fail. It will require first the recognition that he is speaking on behalf of a section of the electorate with legitimate concerns, and actually making an effort to address them. Democracy’s great strength is that when a sizable enough portion of the electorate wants something addressed they will eventually find someone to address it. You can fool people, but only for so long. We should take note of Europe, and the rise of the far right there in recent years and reflect upon that fact. Trump may be the chosen representative for the restless of America’s electorate at this time, but continue to ignore them and they may next choose someone far less buffoonish and far more dangerous.