Why Even Kryptonite Wouldn’t Work
(VANCOUVER ISLAND) Rational people everywhere are bewildered by the 2016 presidential election. It’s astonishing that the occupancy of the White House for the next four years is being contested by two people who are, each for their own reasons, detested by a majority of the people in the country they are seeking to lead. It’s hard to understand how a campaign, that should be about weighing and comparing the track records of governance and legislative successes and failures of the candidates, so rarely even touches on substantive issues. It is mired instead in re-litigating phony scandals that have been investigated ad nauseum and laid to rest countless times on the one hand, and, on the other, fact checking and exposing an endless series of lies that keep being repeated, also ad nauseum. But despite all the mud that’s being slung and the apparently bottomless pit of sleaze in which Donald Trump insists on wallowing, the most astonishingly incomprehensible aspect of this clown show is that Donald Trump continues to be a viable candidate with a narrow, but still substantial, path to victory.
Pundits, professional political operatives, seasoned pollsters, and the public at large are constantly expressing their bafflement that the Republican candidate is able to commit every sin against politics, social interaction, and human decency imaginable and still manage to put up a respectable showing in the polls. Trump has offended every minority group in the nation from African Americans, Muslims, and Latinos, to veterans, the disabled, and women. Those groups, in aggregate, form a large majority of the population of the United States, and yet Trump continues to be a threat to win the presidency.
Donald Trump has lied with such frequency and regularity that it is literally the case that, if he makes a statement of fact that is actually true, it becomes a news story. Donald Trump has done and said so many idiotic things that would have disqualified any other human being as a legitimate candidate, that I doubt if anyone would be astonished if he decided to prove his assertion that he could shoot someone on 5th Avenue and not lose a single vote. Short of actually doing that, he has managed to prove that his followers cannot be swayed by any normal means of persuasion.
Take cheap shots at a war hero? They love it. Blow kisses at the Russian dictator? No problem. Claim that his business acumen qualifies him for the presidency, despite it being public knowledge that he has failed more often than he has succeeded? Irrelevant. Call his opponent crooked while he is under indictment for fraud and RICO conspiracy and under investigation for bribing a state governor? Chants of “Lock her up!” Nothing can dissuade his fans.
He can vacillate, flip flop, and babble incoherently on matters of policy. He can double down and reaffirm his commitment to promises that everyone knows are the purest unfeasible fantasy and still command their loyalty. And rational people can only shake their heads in confusion, and wonder what on earth it would take for him to lose that vast wellspring of support he delights in whipping into a homicidal frenzy at his rallies.
It is apparent that all the lists of people he has defrauded, contractors he has stiffed, employees he has exploited and refused to pay, bribes he has paid, and taxes he has evaded will have a zero net effect on his unthinking and vocal followers. They simply don’t care. And they don’t care despite the obvious fact that they would explode with righteous indignation if his opponent had committed even one of his countless outrages.
That’s it. That’s all there is to it. Trump has always been insulated from the opinions of others or any real consequences of his words or actions by his inherited wealth. He used the vast fortune he inherited to raise himself to media prominence by pushing the envelope of public tolerance by giving interviews in which he said things that were right on the borderline of acceptability. He cultivated a reputation as an enfant terrible while he stickhandled one high profile business disaster after another; masterfully manipulating the media, he burnished his persona as a brash playboy, and created the myth of his Midas touch and enormous personal fortune. His acolytes eat that up. They like it when he goes on Howard Stern’s shock radio show and uses language and expresses misogynistic and racist sentiments that were even offensive back in the 50’s before people fully recognised their inherent ugliness. They think it’s cool that he impersonates an employee and gives himself a standing ovation for his infidelities. They hero worship his braggadocio with reference to his wives and mistresses, whom he refers to as “beautiful young piece(s) of ass”. And Trump himself has never felt any negative feedback for his adolescent attitudes. It was there, but he never felt it because, as a textbook narcissist, he only hears what supports his pathologically inflated self-image.
Donald Trump has always been a racist. Or at least he has long been a practitioner of racial discrimination. It’s entirely possible that his discriminatory housing practices were the result of greed; he might have believed that refusing to rent to African Americans was simply a business decision to increase the profitability of his New York housing developments. If so, that is arguably even more contemptible than simple anti-black prejudice. In any case, when he tapped into a rich vein of racial hatred among his base, he kept hitting the race-baiting button to get his fix of adulation.
It was, of course, inevitable that his committed base of followers would have a discernible streak of race-based animosity; he announced his candidacy with a speech in which he characterised Mexicans as rapists, murderers, and drug dealers. Reacting instantly to the positive response sparked by his bigotry and offensive language, he spent the next year and more ramping up the racist rhetoric and expanding the cast of targets of his vitriol. Before he charged to the front of the pack of the GOP primary candidates, he had expressed his contempt for pretty much every identifiable minority group in the country, and his angry and marginalised hardcore followers were ecstatic to hear him voice the hatred that they had all been suppressing since their kindergarten teachers had taught them how to behave in civilised society.
And that’s why he can’t do anything that would disqualify him, or even lose the vocal support of his base. They don’t care about his policies; he has none. They don’t care that the wall that formed the lynchpin of his candidacy is utter nonsense; they only care that they heard someone they wish they were (or were married to) give them permission to express their frustration as violent hostility to visible minorities they can now feel good about persecuting. A ban on Muslims entering the country? Whatever. Just let us hate them openly and treat them with discriminatory contempt.
The bottom line is that Trump cannot alienate his followers as long as he keeps the heat up on his rhetoric of hatred and contempt for his opponent, for the incumbent president, and for everyone who is not white, male, and poorly educated. He has no plans, he has no foreign policy, he has no domestic policy. He hasn’t any knowledge or even interest in any of the subjects with which a president should be thoroughly conversant. What he has is attitude. And that’s not about to change. And neither will the loyalty of those for whom attitude is everything in this election.