DONALD Trump is scary, but not as scary as the circumstances that produced him. How alienated can citizens of the US be that this dangerous buffoon has got as close as he has to being president of their country and leader of the so-called free world?
Difficult as it may be, let’s, for the sake of this column, park the latest revelations about his reptilian attitude to women. Let’s, for a moment, examine Trump as merely a demagogue, who has smashed through traditional politics in a country that claims to be the freest in the world.
His performance in the debate last Monday told all that is needed to know about the man. He dispenses lies like confetti.
Asked about the video that exposed him as a sexual predator, he ranted about ISIS. Questioned on his taxes, he let fly on ISIS. From a query concerning the great humanitarian crisis that is Syria, he found an easy way into ISIS. By the middle of the week, he was declaring that if Hillary Clinton wins, the US will be overrun by ISIS.
The Islamic fundamentalists are only one strand in the worldview of Donald Trump. As far as he’s concerned, America is in the toilet. Its friends are running rings around the country in trade deals, its enemies laughing at the ineffectuality of its leaders.
Crime is rampant, jobs are disappearing, and, if you’re not careful, the government and their friends are likely to whip the shirt from your back, and your home from out under your feet, unless somebody strong comes along to protect you, he is telling Americans.
And who among the tribunes of the free world is to step forward to defeat this threat to our way of life? What genius can meld political and military strategy, tip-toeing through the minefield of inter-religious relations in a world turned upside down, while fighting crime and creating jobs at home? A man with orange hair and an ego the size of Africa, who rose to fame by declaring: ‘You’re fired’.
Maybe he’s starting a trend. How about Kim Kardashian for chair of the Federal Reserve?
One of the themes Trump kept reverting to, during last week’s presidential debate, was that Hillary Clinton was all talk and no action. This was rich, coming from him. He has got as far as he has by being all talk, having never been involved in the action. He talks a great game, in vague sweeps of all the issues.
His calling card is that he has been a hugely successful businessman and he will now bestow the benefit of his acumen on the country. In reality, he’s been a fair-to-middling businessman, making great hay through a combination of a large inheritance, hard neck, and a network of contacts.
Trump says he is a billionaire, but he will not publish his tax returns. No other politician running for the presidency could ever hope to get away with that one.
There is grave suspicion that he has paid no federal tax for the last 20 years, because he has availed of a law that exempts him, on the basis that he declared a billion-dollar loss in the mid-1990s.
Imagine that? His selling point is his business acumen, yet he lost $1bn in one year. Not just that, but he brags that his tax affairs make him “smart”, rather than a leech who uses and abuses state services, not to mention his employees, simply because he can.
Again, this sort of behaviour would have long ago sunk any other mortal.
Personally, it wouldn’t surprise me if Trump hadn’t a racist bone in his body. The offensive utterances about Mexicans and Muslims, and anybody who isn’t white and eligible to vote, sound like something from a man exploiting race, rather than expressing any innate prejudices. That would expose him as even more shallow than if he had a warped racial view.
He is merely tapping into a sentiment of great swathes of middle Americans, who feel disenfranchised. Many among them hark back to the innocent and halcyon 1950s, when all was well in the supremely white US. Prosperity was on tap for anybody who wanted it and the minorities knew their place in the great scheme of things.
Now, things have changed. The browning of America is well underway. Many of the angry white males, in particular, see this phenomenon as wrapped up in the downward trajectory of their own fortunes. That their view is based entirely on emotion rather than reason is not the point. They feel it and Trump has become excellent in exploiting those fears.
Back in the 1960s, as American leaders were being assassinated, and Vietnam split the country down the middle, the writer, John Updike, declared that “God has withdrawn his blessing from America”. In a Trump presidency, it would be a case of God help, not to mind bless, America.
If Trump didn’t exist, some sharp mind in Hollywood would have invented him in a script about the disenchantment with politics and the direction of the US today.
That feeling also feeds into some, but not all, of the animosity directed towards Hillary Clinton. For many, she represents all that is wrong at the moment.
She is a professional politician who is effectively a manager, rather than a visionary, somebody who wants to keep the show on the road, rather than reshape a country that is increasingly the preserve of the wealthy.
This is evidenced by her connection to Wall Street, which she doesn’t so much embrace as tolerate, because she accepts that it is necessary for her to reach her goal of power.
So the election has been reduced to a stark choice. The demagogue, who is an empty vessel, but who represents change, for good or ill. Or the competent, experienced politician, who epitomises continuity.
The choice is not dissimilar to that which faced the British people in the Brexit referendum, in June. We know how that one went. And the reality is that if Trump had not had the personal history of a reptile, if he had simply reined in some of his more extreme impulses, he would still be in with a great shout, irrespective of a complete lack of substance or vision.
That reality should not be ignored. When Clinton does win, as she must surely do now, she would be well-advised to stop and take stock of where the US — and, by extension, much of the western world — is now at. If she doesn’t recognise that the status quo is kaput, then she will merely be kicking one big can down the road. But, as a long-standing political manager, schooled in the short-term, that is most likely what she will do.