POLITICS – EDITORIAL – The length of our recent Canadian election campaign, one of the longest in our history, pales to insignificance when compared to the seemingly endless mega-marathon of the American presidential contest. From initial declarations of candidate interest, through caucuses and state primaries, to the conventions and finally the election, our southern neighbours endure a grueling 20 months plus of airwaves saturated with never-ending media reports, punditries and updates on what is unfolding in the bunkers of presidential aspirants. But unlike any previous election that we have monitored, there is an element of lunacy in this one that has “elevated” the campaign to breathless heights of pure spectacle. This is thanks to the candidacy of one man – that primitively irrepressible reality TV star and billionaire Donald J Trump. Travelling through the United States, we have been hard-pressed to find any news on an American media outlet that does not carpet bomb the airwaves with his name. In a land where spectacle trumps substance and celebrities guarantee an audience, this “unique” US presidential aspirant is a media dream.
Relishing his smug look of constant disdain, they follow his every invective, his every slur or sexist sneer (“you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever”). The bombast and buffoonery, his avalanche of false and trumped-up claims and his blatant refusal to admit error when confronted are trademarks of his candidacy. Who but a political sociopath would ban all adherents of a certain religion from entering his country or plan to deport 11 million alien residents. This new Clown Prince of Politics is a media dream precisely because he is a spectacle. And a significant percentage of Republicans are savouring every moment.
And it is only lately that the media have realized that this carnival is actually a presidential contest. Trump has proven to be an excellent media manipulator, but in his cantankerous name-calling and kindergarten antics, he is but a B-level actor as in Belligerent, Bullying and Banal.
But now, thanks primarily to Trump’s bluster and narcissism, this carnival has descended from spectacle to farce. Two of the three main candidates, Trump and Marco Rubio have now set the bar so low, they have started to dig. When was the last time you heard candidates hurl vitriol at each other which included the words con-artist and liar? Trump avowing that Rubio had the biggest ears he had ever seen and Rubio suggesting that Trump had wet his pants now passes for substance in a presidential debate. These Republican presidential candidates have become elementary school kids fighting over the monkey bars in the playground.
However, it is Trump who has set the tone with his mongering diatribes. He speaks to the rural and suburban gut-lands of America; to older, predominantly white males, to those pining for a mythical 1950’s Father-Knows-Best America that never existed, to those yearning for the certainty of authoritarian rule, who coincidentally, maybe the same fundamentalists who long for the creation of a redeemed Christian nation under God. He speaks the language of the fearful, to those uncomfortable with unfamiliar skin tones and strange gods, to dispossessed and angry blue-collar conservatives robbed of job opportunities, their economic aspirations dashed by what they see as a grossly over-entitled Washington-Wall Street cartel of bought politicians and dishonest billionaire bankers.
And he gives gleeful voice to an alarmingly large and growing “bubba brigade” – that great swath of under-educated voters, guns and Bibles at the ready, willing and able to follow a muscle-voiced leader to any place but where they are. If, as Trump opined in a recent speech, “I love the poorly educated,” it appears the relationship is reciprocal. Spectacle has created a “leader” who is Hitlerian by design and Orwellian in intent!
If Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination which, as a result of the Super-Tuesday primaries is becoming a foregone conclusion, the Grand Old Party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and Reagan will be shaken to its foundations and may not survive the debacle in its present form. With its trade-mark immunity to the opinions of the world beyond its borders, America takes itself very seriously. With Donald Trump as the Republican standard-bearer, the watching world is increasingly unwilling to reciprocate.
Peter Globensky was a senior policy advisor in the office of the Prime Minister and first director of programs and advocacy at the International Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Development in Montreal.