A Few Observations about Donald Trump

Like a lot of people, I’ve been scratching my head over the whole Donald Trump phenomenon. It is too early to make any conclusions about Trump, although I will make a few observations about him and his “presidential campaign.”

  1. Trump will ultimately fail because he has no organized movement behind him. Success in American politics is largely a matter of strategy and organization, and Trump seems to have neither. Nor does he seem to have the sophistication and intelligence needed to build or lead a movement.

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  1. Trump has failed to avail himself of professional political guidance, which could prove fatal.

 

  1. The best way to think of Trump is as a leader in search of a movement. This makes him the opposite of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), who has effectively been drafted by a well-organized grass roots movement as its leader or standard bearer.

 

  1. Trump has no real ideas or agenda. Instead, he simply puts out ideas he hopes the mob will like. A classic example of this is the Muslim immigration ban nonsense; Trump had basically ignored the whole issue of terrorism and faith until other candidates started attracting attention with comments about Syrian refugees. Trump simply amped up their rhetoric in order to attract more attention.

 

  1. Trump’s success is largely based upon media attention. Part of this comes from his willingness to go along with the media and play its games. He’s always willing to talk to reporters and is usually available for an interview. This makes it seem as if Trump has far more support than he actually does. As I noted elsewhere, Bernie Sanders actually has more support than Trump does.

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  1. Trump is a classic American demagogue of the George Wallace, Malcom X or Huey Long variety, saying and doing outrageous things to get popular support. Like Long and Wallace, Trump is trying to position himself as the champion of the common man against the establishment. Like Wallace and Malcom X, Trump says outrageous things he does not necessarily believe to attract support. Wallace was a strong supporter of racism and outspoken segregationist in the 1960s, yet he later retracted those things and even apologized to black voters in the 1980s. Malcom X abandoned much of his early racist rhetoric late in his career as he began attracting mainstream media attention.

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  1. There is a strong possibility that Trump will be assassinated or the subject of an assassination attempt. Both Long and Malcom X were publicly murdered by assassins, and Wallace was shot and paralyzed on the campaign trail in 1972.

 

  1. Interestingly enough, Trump seems more European than American. His rhetoric is more akin to France’s National Front or Britain’s bizarre UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) than anything in U.S. politics. My sense is that such rhetoric and tactics are just too alien to work in American politics. Like those groups, Trump is willing to appeal directly to racist and religious prejudice in ways that even the most right-wing U.S. politicians recoil from.

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  1. Trump’s media association could backfire on him because of the suspicion and distrust average Americans have for the media. My guess is that a lot of rank and file Republicans view Trump as a shill for the New York media and his campaign as some sort of work (wrestling lingo for stunt or hoax) engineered by the liberal elite or Hillary Clinton. The Republican candidate that takes this line could attract a lot of votes in the primaries.

 

  1. A Republican that really wanted to destroy Trump would attack him through his weakest point: his media associations and celebrity status.

 

  1. Trump’s status as a billionaire from New York could be his greatest liability. The country is in an antiestablishment mood right now, and whether he wants to admit it or not, Trump is part of the establishment. He’s wealthy, he’s from New York, and much of his success comes from his celebrity status and media connections.
  1. Trump is running a highly secular campaign. There is a blatant hostility to religious belief in Trump’s rhetoric. He’s attacked Ben Carson’s faith in public and gotten away with it; that seems out of step with a largely Christian Republican base. Trump’s attacks on Muslims could be a dress rehearsal for a similar campaign against evangelical Christians.

 

  1. His Muslim immigration ban will have a lot of appeal to secular intellectuals—strangely enough, a group that does not vote in Republican primaries but does have a lot of influence over the media. That means he has some elite backing even if elitists do not admit it.

 

  1. Trump lacks the discretion, intelligence and sophistication to succeed in American politics. He seems to have no understanding of the rules of American political campaigns, and his knowledge of Middle America seems shallow and superficial. Nor does Trump seem to grasp what’s needed to win a U.S. election: a strong organization with lots of disciplined, dedicated, hardworking and highly motivated members.

 

  1. Trump has attracted absolutely no support from the Republican party establishment or anybody inside it. Nor does he seem to have any backing from professional political operatives, which is critical to success in U.S. politics.

 

  1. The popular outrage that is fueling the Trump campaign (and the Sanders campaign) is real and will not go away. The political, social and economic developments driving that rage, such as income inequality, America’s dramatically changing ethnic composition, the decline of American power in the world, technological change, decline of traditional industries, the retail apocalypse, the disappearance of jobs, the decline of traditional religion and the growing secularization and urbanization of American society are going to accelerate.

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  1. Trump is just the first of a long line of demagogues, charlatans and opportunists that will rush to take advantage of these trends. He could be tame compared to those who come after him.

 

  1. Trump is simply too New York to appeal to the average American. What goes over in the South Bronx does not necessarily sell in Peoria, Pueblo or Nacogdoches, as Donald could soon learn.

 

  1. The most disturbing thing about Trump is his almost complete hostility to the Constitution and basic American values such as liberty, justice, equality and tolerance. Trump would shred the First Amendment with his anti-Muslim crusade and trample the Fourth Amendment with his attacks on immigrants. Trump seems hostile to the whole idea of freedom and America itself.

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  1. George Will does a great job of pointing how Trump could wreck the Republican Party’s reputation as a bastion of conservatism in a recent column. If Will is right this could be very bad because a healthy democracy needs a successful conservative party to balance a liberal one. Currently the United States has a successful liberal party the Democrats who heavily outnumber an anemic Republican Party. Trump could destroy the Republicans by driving conservatives away.

 

My prediction is that the Trump phenomenon will burn itself out as the American people reject it, yet it could have a lasting impact upon American politics. I doubt Trump will win the Republican nomination, but he could start a political movement, although he will quickly lose control of that movement as other more sophisticated and experienced leaders emerge. Unlike Trump, those leaders could succeed because they will be willing to compromise with the establishment and work within the political system. The first of those leaders, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), has already appeared. I doubt he will be the last.