Tuesday, 8 November 2016
America Decides: America is Better than Donald Trump
Last week the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. This is apparently a big deal. I'm British and so I cannot be expected to know of such things (even though we actually invented the sport - just had to put that in). I only mention it now because it is the sort of completely irrelevant event that writers traditionally refer to as though a sporting event has some kind of resonance or even symbiosis with an event as unrelated as a presidential election. Of course it doesn't. Unexpected things happen all the time, that doesn't mean that this is the year of unexpected events. Leicester City won the Premier League in May. Did that mean that Britain voting for Brexit a month later was inevitable? Of course not.
What makes sport great is that it does throw up stories like the Cubs or Leicester winning things against the odds. Politics is not supposed to be unpredictable. This is not the same as saying that it should be impossible for an outsider or an unfancied candidate to win. Of course it should. But they should only be able to win if they would be good at the job they are trying to get elected to, if they can convince enough of the centre ground - sensible, normal people with jobs, maybe children, who pay taxes and who have no tribal affiliation to one party. They should only win because they have a viable prospectus for achieving the aims they set out. The Cubs and Leicester won by playing well. The same cannot be said of Donald Trump.
The betting is actually that Hillary is going to be prevail. The electoral college system and the Democrats advantages mean that they will pull her through. It looks as though there is going to be a big turnout, particularly of Hispanic voters but also of black voters. Many will be voting for Hillary without any great enthusiasm, but they will be voting against a man who has insulted them, condescended to them, patronised them or simply ignored them to play to his bovine brainless base.
Clinton doesn't really deserve to win if truth be told, but, as the video above alludes to, she has not been operating on a level playing field where the media is concerned either. The Trump campaign has alleged that it has not been treated fairly by the media, but in truth he has been allowed to act with near impunity. During the primaries Trump was seen as the joke candidate who would never win. Then he did. But once he was the official candidate for the most powerful office in the world he was still not given the scrutiny he deserves.
How has Trump got away with his appalling rhetoric, the lies, the evasions, the racism? Because the media has allowed him to. Yes, the email scandal deserved coverage, but how is it that the man who can lie more times per sentence than anyone in American electoral history has been allowed to get away with his disgusting utterances, his provocations, his angry tweets, his abuse of women, grieving parents, his serial dishonesty? During this campaign Trump has repeatedly made claims that are obviously untrue. See the video below. He has denied he has said things, offered completely erroneous facts, offered up brazen denials of things we know to be true. It is his strategy in all things and it has been a strategy of his entire campaign during this election. Think of the time he acted as his own spokesman and then denied it. Think of the time he boasted about grabbing women by the genitals and then claimed, in front of 80 million people, that nobody has more respect for women than him. Think of the time his campaign claimed that one of his senior aides did not manhandle a reporter who tried to ask Trump a question. They claimed she was a liar, that it never happened. Then when footage emerged proving that it had happened they claimed it was no big deal anyway. This is the Trump modus operandi: deny, obfuscate, abuse the accuser, call them names. Continue this regardless of evidence, regardless of the facts. Trump is so utterly confident in his claims and denials it speaks of either astonishing arrogance or possibly of delusion. Either way it is not an attractive quality in a president. Yet it is Hillary who is regarded as more dishonest.
This is a man who has not paid any federal taxes for 20 years and yet he still refused to release his tax returns. Then, when some of the returns were released showing that he is a tax dodger he shrugged and said that it made him smart. Yet he is regarded in polls as more honest than his opponent. How did that happen? How has Trump got away with this?
Even when he gave a half hearted acknowledgement that he had been wrong over the so called birther issue concerning President Obama's birthplace and consequent eligibility for the presidency he was allowed to try and pin the blame on the Clinton campaign. That is a disgusting calumny, but one that is typical of Trump. He always deflects, he always dodges. He sprays around his vicious invective and then holds up his hands and says: 'who me?'
And it is this aspect of the Trump character that ought to have been analysed and re-analysed during this campaign. This is a man who can never admit that he is wrong or mistaken. This is a man whose narcissism is elevated to a level that would be positively dangerous in office. When asked whose advice he would seek as president he replied: "first of all I would listen to me. Because I have a good brain."
Who says that? Even if you are deranged enough to think that, who would actually say it out loud? Answer: the man who could be the president elect of the United States in 24 hours time. Trump famously never reads anything. He cannot be bothered. The only advice he seems to take is from accountants and tax attorneys. And there is simply no evidence of the giant intellect he imagines he possesses. He once famously, as part of his pitch for the presidency, claimed that he is very smart. "I know words," he said. "I have lots of words." As John Oliver pointed out: the biggest word he used when telling us how many words he knows was the word 'words.' An analysis of one of his speeches discovered that he never uses any words that are longer than three syllables. The vast majority are one and two syllables. The word he used most often? It won't surprise you to learn that it was 'I.'
Trump has a strange kind of magnetic charisma it is true, but it is not the kind of charisma you equate with charm. It is born of a kind of astonishing assuredness. He exudes self assurance quite at odds with his actual talents, which are minimal and seem to amount to no more than an epic ability to bullshit. He bullshits very very well. He is a world champion of bullshit. His entire career is built on it. If he wins today he will be the president of bullshit.
And Trump has no friends. He has nobody. This is sad for sure, but it is also revealing. When asked in an interview who his close friends were, who he relied upon for advice and counsel he couldn't think of anyone. Nobody. Only family. But it does explain why he seeks his own counsel and advice and why he came up with that bullshit line about his having a good brain. Could it be that this man has no friends because he is so eminently unlikeable and so eminently untrustworthy? Has he lost the few friends he has ever had and now only has business relationships? He's had several failed marriages and relationships too. It starts to reveal a pattern doesn't it. The man who boasts of how rich, well connected and popular he is is actually lonely and isolated.
There was a scene in the West Wing once as the president went to give his State of the Union address. He gave a supporter some advice for if he ever became president. Do you have a best friend he asked? Is he smarter than you? His interlocutor answered twice in the affirmative. Then make him your chief of staff said President Bartlett. President Trump would have no such luxury. Perhaps he would make himself his Chief of Staff. If only he could clone himself he could fill the entire West Wing.
Underneath the bragging and the preening, Trump is just a frat boy who never grew up, who was probably told he would never amount to anything and has spent his entire life trying to prove whoever said it wrong. Because underlying it all is an epic level of neurosis and anger. His skin is famously thin. When accused, not without some justification, of having little hands, he fired off angry letter after angry letter at the authors of this supposed slur. How would a man who gets that angry about being called out for having small hands cope with the world of diplomacy? All our enemies would need to do to score a win over the US would be to bring up his hair and his little hands. If they mentioned his bankruptcies and Trump University he would probably declare war.
But putting that weighty consideration to one side, it reveals why Trump is campaigning for the presidency and why he is always seeking the approbation of others, why his entire career has been spent trying to build up his own image. He is lonely and isolated and needs the publicity and column inches, the beautiful wives and girlfriends as affirmation. If he loses today he is likely heading for a massive temper tantrum or even a breakdown.
During the campaign various intelligence agencies have shared with candidate Trump their analysis of Russian hacking efforts into the Democrats and into the American election. Trump dismissed their expert analysis. He knew better. This is disturbing for a number of reasons. First Trump again summarily dismissed experts and refused to take advice. He prefers his gut instincts perhaps, it's so much easier than reading all of those boring reports and listening to people. But there is also the possibility that he just doesn't want to say anything bad about Russia. Does he rely on Russian investors? Does a hostile foreign power have some kind of hold over the man who would be president?
Certainly there is no love lost between Hillary Clinton and Vladimir Putin. But this not due to a lack of respect on Putin's part. It is because she was extremely critical of him and recommended that the administration approach all relations with Russia with extreme caution as they were manipulative, dishonest and cynical. Trump on the other hand they regard as being a useful idiot.
Now to be fair I did write above that Trump never reads anything. So I should correct that. He reads newspaper clippings about himself. Every morning, when he awakes at 6am, Trump likes to start the day reading about himself. One cannot help but wonder if this habit has had to change of late. After all there are very many thousands of column inches being written about Trump right now, much of it very uncomplimentary. Trump famously takes umbrage at any and all slights. He has even been known to tweet angrily about people who have been disobliging about him or to cast aspersions about them based around their sex or ethnicity.
The basis for the Trump candidacy, if it has any internal logic at all, is that he is a successful businessman and so he can bring the skills from his business career to bear on the world of politics. There are a few problems with this. First, the skills of a politician and a businessman are not really interchangeable. It is certainly unlikely that you could go from one to the other without any intervening period as Trump has attempted to do. Others have tried and they have usually crashed and burned. Trump has succeeded thus far, albeit in a very unusual and atypical election cycle. The Republican field was too big and Trump rode through the middle dodging and weaving and laying low and spraying out invective without ever debating. When he tried to do this when it was just him and Hillary he failed ignominiously, again because Trump never listens to anyone, he won't take advice. He employed people who agree with him and who call him a genius.
But how much of a genius is he? The great businessman? He has gone bankrupt four times. His businesses are a long litany of failure and great bombast that didn't live up to expectations. His foray into casinos failed due to massive indebtedness. He is a renowned teetotaller and yet launched his own vodka. Predictably it was a pathetic flop. The same was true of his steaks. He took over an airline, Eastern Airshuttle, that had been operating for 27 years. He changed its name to Trump, gave it a characteristically glitzy new image and within a couple of years he was handing it over to creditors.
You get the feeling that Trump just enjoys the launches: the glitz, the glamour. The attention. That sentence deserves to be written in capitals and italicised actually. THE ATTENTION. That is all that this campaign is about. Trump loves the attention of his launches and so a presidential bid is like manna from heaven for him. Lots of people cheering him. Lots of journalists paying attention to his lies. Lots of banners with his name on them. He does so love to see his name plastered everywhere, on tall buildings, on planes. His attempt to run an airline failed, but now he has a plane flying all over the country with his name on it anyway. Will he want the same on Airforce One?
Trump likes to tell us how rich and successful he is. Yet he tends to get annoyed when it is pointed out that he inherited a great deal in the first place. He is no rags to riches exemplar of the American dream. It has been calculated that had he simply invested the money he inherited rather than go into business with it he would now be worth 3 times what he is actually worth. And that is if we believe his claims of what he is worth. There is a reason he won't release his tax returns after all. We already know that he hasn't paid any tax for 20 years, we already know that he hasn't paid any money into his own charity for nearly ten years. So what other deep dark secrets is he hiding? Could it be that Donald isn't a billionaire at all? Could it be that the great businessman is actually a failure only a few months away from yet another bankruptcy?
Trump is a brand and that is all. He has always been interested more in his own publicity and bragging rights than in running a business. As a businessman he is very good at talking (so long as you don't pay attention to what he is actually saying, which is gibberish) and less good at actually running a business. He knows next to nothing about doing that. It is left to others. His businesses are built with debt. The Trump empire is like a Ponzi scheme, a confidence trick played on people who buy into the image and cannot see behind the curtain. He just keeps shuffling the money around, giving the appearance of wealth and power and hoping nobody notices how flimsy it all is.
And that is what his presidential campaign is all about. It was never meant to go this far. He knows, deep in his heart, that he is not up to being president. Underneath the brash exterior is a man with crippling insecurities and a deep need for attention. He loves the attention that the campaign has given him but he would be driven distracted if he actually won and suffered the slings and arrows of actual government and of the inevitability of disappointing people. All political careers end in failure, and yet Trump never admits that he has failed at anything. His approach to all setbacks is to simply pretend that they have not happened.
And so if, on the other hand, he loses on Tuesday imagine how he will respond. How will such a man respond when he goes from being the centre of attention to being yesterday's news? Answer: he will react with fury, he will claim he has been cheated, he will blame the media, he will blame a conspiracy. In short he will deflect, he will create smoke. He will create anger and recrimination in an already dangerous febrile atmosphere.
There is a great deal of anger and resentment in America and indeed elsewhere in the world because of the failure of democracy, although ironically the fact that it is being vented and has the establishment so worried is a testimony to democracy when you think about it. But those who have latched on to Trump as being their candidate have been sold a lie. Trump is no outsider. He went to boarding school and inherited millions. He started his business with a multi million dollar loan from his father, a subject on which he is tetchy. Trump has spent his life banging on doors begging to be admitted and buying his way in. He is a former contributor and supporter of the Clintons. He is not really a Republican.
He is not the man who is going to help out the working man, he despises the working man, exploits the working man and thinks anyone who works and isn't rich like him is a loser. He is a preening bully, a vain man with nothing to be vain about. His business career has been chequered at best. Often it has been fraudulent and built on debt he has reneged on. Most American banks now refuse to do business with him. Trump University was a brazen fraud perpetrated on ordinary people taken for thousands of dollars and for which he is likely to be sued in the coming months. The reason he has no friends is because he betrays people without a second thought. He is, for all intents and purposes, a sociopath. Yet he has the brass neck to say that Hillary Clinton is the corrupt one, the candidate who should be locked up.
Trump has no experience of politics and no appreciation of the compromises that are necessary. His view of politics and international relations is entirely transactional. He thinks you can operate foreign policy on a profit and loss basis. That is why he thinks that any countries that are not paying their way should be ditched and left to their fates. That is how World War II started.
But the main reason that millions should turn out and vote against Trump as president today is that he is a bigot, a racist, a misogynist, a pervert and, according to his former wife's testimony, later amended after the divorce settlement, much worse. Just during this campaign he has used racist language, bigoted language, pig ignorant language, demeaning language about women. Almost every minority we know of has been insulted and patronised by this elitist, chauvinistic pig of a man. He has been caught on tape boasting of having sexually assaulted women and then dismissed the women who came forward as being fantasists and liars.
The whole world is appalled at the spectacle of this presidential election, which has shown America in a terrible light and given great succour to its enemies and to the enemies of freedom, democracy and the values America usually represents. Donald Trump cannot be president because he cannot represent those values. Barack Obama has had his faults as president but he has been an urbane, charming and estimable head of state for the United States of America. Hillary Clinton will be the same. The same cannot be said of Donald Trump.
President Trump used to be a joke. It was famously a joke in an episode of The Simpsons, because, presumably, they thought the idea inherently absurd. They were not wrong. It ought to be absurd. It is a system that allows a dangerous buffoon to get this close that is wrong. When this is all over, when the dust has settled and long before the next campaign gets underway, both parties need to look at their selection processes and to insert some checks and balances.
But in the meantime the greatest check and balance is the American electorate. You have the power to turn out in your millions and defeat or hopefully humiliate this thoroughly unpleasant man. You have the power to stand up for decency, respect and indeed for democracy itself. You have the power to deliver the ultimate coup de grace to a man who bends the rules, breaks the rules and considers that people who obey the rules and pay their taxes are losers. He then accuses his opponents of being crooked and threatens to have them locked up.
Trump's great slogan is that he will make America great again. He has offered no prospectus to do so. Instead he seems to make it want to shrink back, to retreat, to shut itself off and barricade itself behind a wall that cannot be paid for and will never be built. He seems to think that America can be an autarky, shut off from the world. He knows nothing of economics, nothing of history, nothing of his own country's constitution. He is the draft dodger who abuses the families of war heroes. He wants to make America a meaner, nastier place, a less tolerant, respectful place, a country in his own hateful, hate filled image. America is better than that. It is a hundred million times better than Donald J Trump. The hundred million people who will vote today can demonstrate that.