If PT Barnum had sired a son who was raised by the bunnies of the Playboy mansion and groomed at a Shiba Inus specialty salon, he would look, sound and earn quite a bit like Donald Trump. This improbably wealthy pup has long served as a punchline and a comfort that untold privilege can secure neither intellect nor appropriate hair and would still today be enormous fun if he were not also the Republican presidential front-runner. There are, of course, many Tuesdays yet to pass before the Super one that will impact a nation and test the sanity of its citizens. But, as of this Tuesday — one which closely follows Trump’s public observations that immigrant Mexicans are generally rapists and that female broadcasters unenamoured of him are generally on-their-periods—the guy is number one.
Following last week’s GOP debate where the reality TV star urged for the national need for “more quickness” and “more brain”, a raft of surveys situate Trump in a convincing lead. Morning Consult’s tracking poll conducted at the weekend among Republicans sees him at 32%, almost three times that of closest rival Jeb Bush. Iowa’s first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses are considered highly influential and Public Policy Polling has him out in front at 19% in that state. NBC’s poll released Sunday also has him as the preferred nominee for Republicans and we could naturally conclude that the liberal democracies of the world are headed directly to hell. Albeit in a very nice handcart staffed by Eastern European models who promise to serve us shrimp cocktail before the Trump handcart transport consortium files for bankruptcy four times.
There can of course be no doubt that the western world is bound to choke soon on the rind of its own excess and it is probably true that a deluded restaurateur like Trump will, if he does become president, hasten the moment of our final bite. But, we’re stuffed like a shrimp with or without this guy and, if you don’t believe me, take a little time to view the other GOP candidates. When you find yourself thinking “that Rand Paul has some really interesting things to say”, you know the present context is one of normalised evil.
Even a glimpse at the Dems provides little more cheer. There’s some boutique hope in the form of Bernie Sanders whose “utopian” urging to an affluent nation to actually care for its citizens is drawing big crowds. But these are unlikely to be big enough to contest Hilary Clinton’s faith in big money. Or anyone else’s. Nothing is big enough, not even a devastating financial crash that produced homelessness and lost income across a nation, to destroy the idea that the concentrated accumulation of wealth is inevitable and necessary. Rich is good! Even though it clearly isn’t.
We can laugh at Trump — it’s impossible not to — or we can despair for his crudeness. We can also say, as many have, that his ultra-Clive Palmer style is evidence of diminished faith in politics. Or, we could, perhaps, admit that his ideas are not really noteworthy at all.
Trump might claim to be anti-politics, or its close synonym “anti-politically correct”, but he was hardly the least “political”, or most conservative, man on stage last week in Cleveland. Rubio claimed that the modest Dodd-Frank post-crash finance sector regulations had hurt banks. In a post-Snowden world, Christie called for tougher data retention. Cruz turned a shade of Republican red as he vowed to prosecute Planned Parenthood for allegedly criminal activity. There are more nativist and more fundamentalist and militaristic candidates than Trump. But the hate — and Trump’s hate forte seems to be for Mexicans and for women he considers unattractive or menstrual — is really just window-dressing in a nation where growing wealth inequality is the most urgent problem.
All these guys stand for a downward turn in the ratio of wages to productivity. All these guys stand for an ascent in the assets held by corporations. That one of these guys is singled out for saying these things so nakedly seems a bit unfair.
And, Trump has been singled out. Fox News, the US’s most-watched cable news service, is giving the man a shrift shorter than Rand Paul in bare feet. During the debate shown on the channel, broadcaster Megyn Kelly was tougher on the entrepreneur than she was on any other candidate. Following the debate, Fox News managed to assemble the only focus group of Republicans in the nation that had an overwhelmingly negative reaction to Trump. Like the GOP itself, a party that is happy to rob women of reproductive healthcare but comes over all My Body My Choice when Trump makes possible reference to periods, Fox has disinvited the man from the race.
Today, even progressive US news outlets are focusing obsessively on Trump’s sexist outbursts — as though these are even news from the guy who bought the Miss Universe franchise.
At best, this disapproval from all sides can only reaffirm the idea among ultra-conservatives that saying hateful things about entire classes of people is a joyous act of rebellion. At worst, it takes the gaze from where it needs to be leading up to the primaries which is on the economy, Stupid.
Trump, who has been at the centre of micro-economic failures, could lead America into a catastrophically stupid economic failure. But he is leading a large number of Americans into increased impatience with non-core bullshit—and, like it or not, a slight directed at a newscaster is non-core. Like an ill-considered wink, this moment is meaningless and it’s right for Trump, however fundamentally wrong he is about most things, to call the widespread media interest in his period comment bullshit. It is bullshit. It’s bullshit to elevate moments of politicians’ sexism. It’s sexism in policy, for which there is plenty of evidence, which is not bullshit. But, we’re unlikely to talk about that when we could talk about the man’s character and extraordinary hair.
That there is only bullshit policy — stop the Mexican rapists from crossing the border and menstrual blood from leaking out of women on TV! — underneath Trump’s no-bullshit bluster doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that his sole qualification as manager of the world’s largest economy seems to be “I have a net worth of eight billion dollars!” He has learnt the art of the bullshit reveal from his time on reality TV. He is currently the only guy in the GOP who looks as though he’s really interested in the no-bullshit business of the economy, Stupid.
And the rest of us are interested in his flubs and his hair. These are, of course, spectacular. But, if we’re not more careful to look away and put our noses directly to elaborate bullshit, we’ll all be living hard like Playboy bunnies by 2017.
Previously by Helen Razer: