April 2016
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The Trump next time

By Katharhynn Heidelberg

“The GOP is destined to lose the White House and the Senate if Donald Trump secures the nomination.” — Karl Rove, paraphrased.

If Donald Trump is the nominee, the “prospects for a safe and prosperous future are greatly diminished … Donald Trump lacks the temperament to be president. … Dishonesty is Donald Trump’s hallmark.” — Mitt Romney, excerpted.

“Ouch!” — Me

When a party that (at a national level at least) is infamous for obstructionism, love of warfare, greed, anti-intellectualism, misogyny, and bigotry says a candidate is too extreme, chances are that candidate is too extreme. When the candidate’s response is to call Rove a “dope” and question whether Romney is really a Mormon, it reveals a shallow thinker who cannot tolerate criticism, and who resorts to personal attacks. (And bizarre ones; had Trump asked, “Are we sure Mitt Romney is not really a panda bear eating blue cheese at a square dance?” it would have made as much sense.) He indeed lacks the temperament to be president.

Trump is a walking series of boastful, incoherent promises. He has no intention of keeping the promises that do not benefit Donald Trump. His totalitarian bent, megalomania and demagoguery are obvious, yet because he reflects his supporters’ biases and stokes their fears, they are blind to what everyone else can see.

“And I’m frightened by those who don’t see it.” — The Avett Brothers, Head Full of Doubt

Republicans who support Trump frighten me. Democrats who support Trump frighten me. Unaffiliated voters who support Trump frighten me; so do the educated supporters and the uneducated ones. They don’t all fit a single mold; it’s just that Trump plays them, and they themselves are weak enough in some critical area — even one chink in a suit of armor is an opening — that it’s easy for him. Mostly, I fear that there are others biding their time, whose thirst for power matches Trump’s, but whose quiet calculation outstrips his bluster.

History will look back and wonder how America was ever able to support someone so abysmally, obviously unqualified. We need to address it first, though, so that future historians are not scratching their heads in horrified amazement about something much worse than our obsession with a bloated-ego reality television star: The rise of future “Trumps.”

How did we reach the point where Trump was able to gain any traction as a presidential candidate? There are a host of answers, none perfect. While it is ordinarily lazy thinking to “blame the media,” the way coverage tends toward “Look what Donald said!” is a factor. Whether it is a factor because some media outlets are obsessed with ratings, or merely because such coverage is what attracts the most viewers, is anybody’s guess. That is, does the critical lack of substantive coverage arise from the way the national media have approached Trump, or does it arise from the way the masses ignore substance in favor of outrage?

While there certainly have been substantive pieces analyzing Trump, these have been too little and increasingly, too late. From the outset, “outrageous things Donald said!” dominated the coverage of his candidacy.

His pandering, dog-whistle declaration that he would build a wall between us and Mexico could have been met uniformly with actual analyses as to whether that would be feasible or moral, or do any good. (Hint: The answer to all of the above is “no.”) Who knows? Someone might also have pointed out that walls can keep people in as well as out.

Sometimes, the story became the television personality questioning Trump, rather than the issue. Fox’s Megyn Kelly is Exhibit A. The issue she raised at one of the first debates was how Donald Trump views women. And Trump — who seems to think his mere existence can bring ISIS to heel — quailed, then tried to present Kelly as the unreasonable one. The resulting headlines mostly boiled down to some version of: “Fight! Trump v. Kelly! Woo!” The stories should have focused on Trump’s contempt for women.

This isn’t to say there was no analysis of the ideas Trump was flinging to his lapdogs like so much raw meat, only that the analysis did not dominate the coverage and things might be different if it had.

Yes, some voters would still have flocked to his banner, but, deprived of the uncritical attention he craves, Trump might have grown bored and sought a starring role elsewhere. He would still be a bully and an insecure control freak, but he would not be in a position in which these character defects stand a good chance of sparking a global war.

There is a growing tendency to liken a public figure we despise to Hitler. It’s been suggested that this is the political discourse of children. Fair enough. Trump has not actually caused a world war or systematically murdered millions in the pursuit of non-existent racial purity.

There are, however, striking parallels between his rise in politics, and Hitler’s.

Trump makes astonishing promises and exploits people’s fears of “the other.” Notable example: He took the scapegoating of all Muslims for the actions of a few to a new level, by promising to ban Muslims from the U.S. Whatever one thinks of Islam, it should be obvious that Trump’s proposal is immoral and disturbingly reminiscent of Hitler. My hope is it’s just another empty statement he blurted out to appeal to voters who haven’t learned from history. My fear is he means it.

It is truly terrifying that, fewer than 100 years after the world said, “never again,” people are willing to hand over the reins to the likes of Trump. Even after history’s most egregious example of what happens when fear and bigotry are exploited and the exploiter is made leader, some stand ready to do it again. Maybe there are enough sane people, this time, to temper the results and the worst we end up with is four years of a bloviating child. (There is also that slender chance that Trump, having secured his spot, will finally act presidential.)

But in incubating a candidacy like Trump’s, we have exposed the nation to a future of candidates who might be much worse — cunning and practical enough to be subtle in their quest. (At least we can see Trump for what he is — um, yay?) We must change the climate that allows Trumps to flourish. Part of that involves addressing the frustrations that left so many people open to his siren song.

There is a sort of person who would do anything for personal gain. They only exercise restraint when an action will not provide them with something they want. The difference between them and Hitler is merely one of degrees of ambition and opportunity. We must starve the ambitious among them of that opportunity.

If America is at risk of slipping into fascism, Trump is not the sum of the threat. His supporters, too, are only part of the problem. The existence of people as described above is the other component. A national stage on which they can thrive already exists. A history replete with conmen in politics helped set that stage. Trump is the extreme result.

If Trump is elected and we do not act to meaningfully change this climate, the 2020 election could bring more of the same — or worse. This is a risk even if Trump loses. He could try again, refining his technique — or another, slicker version could rise in his place.

What are we going to do about the Trump next time?

Katharhynn Heidelberg writes in Montrose, Colo.


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