Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official position of The Rock.
In all likelihood, Donald Trump is going to be the Republican candidate for the 2016 Presidential election. If you had said that to me – or to most other Americans, I’d like to imagine – a few months ago, I straight up wouldn’t have believed you.
Trump catapulted himself into the national spotlight this past June, when he coupled his announcement of his candidacy with the declaration that he would build a “great, great wall on our southern border” and “have Mexico pay for that wall,” because “nobody builds walls better than me, believe me.” He then went on to support his proposal by stating that “when Mexico sends its people, they are not sending their best,” but rather, are “sending people that have lots of problems…they’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists.” He also clarified that “some,” he assumed, serve as the exception to this rule and “are good people.”
I’m sure you have heard an innumerable number of references to and snippets from this speech, but I think it’s worthwhile to reiterate some of the exact diction to illustrate just how ridiculous it actually is. It’s nonfactual fear-mongering and scapegoating at its most obvious, language better suited to an intolerant uncle at Thanksgiving than a potential Presidential nominee. I very genuinely believed that the legitimacy of his campaign would stop where it started; how could anyone take this man seriously? Trump, however, continued to surge in public polls until December, when he ratcheted up his bigotry and knack for proposing discriminatory solutions with this statement: “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.” This is, without a doubt, the most hateful and horrifying proclamation from an individual being considered for American public office that I have heard in my lifetime. It vilifies and demonizes over 1.6 billion people – almost a quarter of the world population; it is likely unconstitutional; it has earned Trump worldwide derision, instant comparisons with fascism, Adolf Hitler, and Japanese internment camps. He has also received the support of white supremacists – most notably that of David Duke, former leader of the Ku Klux Klan. To somehow make matters worse, Trump initially refused to condemn Duke and the Klan, stating, “You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group I know nothing about.” Says the candidate for President of the United States about the Ku Klux Klan after doing that exact same thing to Mexicans and Muslims. Lovely.
At this point, I was absolutely certain that Trump had sounded the death knell for his campaign. This statement alone should be sufficient to delegitimize any presidential candidate, and signals the primary source of condemnation employed by opponents of Trump’s presidential contention: he is a racist, discriminatory demagogue that arouses fear and bigotry in the American public. Duke’s assertion that his followers will meet people with “the same kind of mindset” if they volunteer for Trump’s campaign has been reinforced by polls taken by Trump’s supporters. In South Carolina, for example, of his voters in the state’s primary last month, 74% percent support his ban on Muslims, 33% support barring gays and lesbians from the country, 70% wish the Confederate flag were still flying on their statehouse grounds, 38% wish the South had won the Civil War, 20% disagree with the abolition of slavery in the United States, and only 69% disagree with the notion that whites are a superior race. Such concerning stats, when combined with the two major proposals outlined above and the perpetual violence against protestors at rallies that Trump himself only encourages, (You don’t have to go much farther than Facebook to witness this) comprise the main source of denunciation of the Trump campaign as one rooted in hate and discrimination. Trump more closely mirrors a dictator more closely than he does a potential leader of the nation that holds itself up as the world’s beacon of democracy, a comparison only heightened by his calls to limit the freedom of the press and praise of dictatorial leaders, including Vladimir Putin, Saddam Hussein, and Kim Jong-Un. This doesn’t even touch on his well-documented history of misogyny and disrespect of women, a topic Emma excellently analyzed for The Rock in an earlier article.
But it’s the middle of March, and Trump is running away from the remainder of the Republican field on a seemingly unstoppable march towards the GOP nomination. So what is happening here?
Thomas Frank recently wrote for The Guardian after watching “several hours” of Trump speeches:
“I saw the man ramble and boast and threaten and even seem to gloat when protesters were ejected from the arenas in which he spoke. I was disgusted by these things, as I have been disgusted by Trump for 20 years. But I also noticed something surprising. In each of the speeches I watched, Trump spent a good part of his time talking about an entirely legitimate issue, one that could even be called leftwing. Yes, Donald Trump talked about trade. In fact, to judge by how much time he spent talking about it, trade may be his single biggest concern – not white supremacy.”
This, ultimately, is where the source of Trump’s sustained success this election season lies. It by no means excuses the intolerance that characterizes his speeches, views, and rallies, but Trump appears to have placed his finger on the general heartbeat of discontent permeating the American middle class. Many citizens have become disillusioned and fed up with a political establishment typified by partisanship, lofty rhetoric, and wealthy representatives more concerned with ‘playing politics’ than achieving actual results for the suffering middle, working, and lower classes of the United States. This is a very real, genuine feeling in our country – one that has similarly enabled the rise of Bernie Sanders on the opposite side of the aisle – and Donald Trump has chosen trade and deindustrialization as the central talking points of his campaign. To quote Frank again:
“It seems to obsess him: the destructive free-trade deals our leaders have made, the many companies that have moved their production facilities to other lands, the phone calls he will make to those companies’ CEOs in order to threaten them with steep tariffs unless they move back to the US.”
This appeal is coupled with Trump’s apparent success as a businessman, his energetic and entertaining personality, and his refusal to adhere to a sense of political correctness that so many politicians hold themselves to. His supporters believe that, as such a political outsider, he understands the plight of real Americans, is honest, and tells it like it is. Add that all up, and you’ve got a cookie-cutter understanding of what a Trump voter sees in the man.
However, there is a huge discrepancy between the persona that Trump puts forth and the person that he actually is. John Oliver brilliantly analyzed and explored this difference on his show “Last Week Tonight,” disproving each supposed strength of Trump listed above and demonstrating just how much of a projection he is. If you haven’t seen this video, it’s absolutely crucial that you watch it; if you have, it’s well worth watching again, both to remind you of the realities of the man vying for the Presidency and to contextualize the remainder of this article.
It truly is an incredible and hilarious exposé, the implications of which are vital to further explore. The idea that Trump is ‘honest’ and ‘tells it like it is,’ to me, is the most absurd. As Oliver alluded to in his piece, PolitiFact, an independent organization trusted by the New York Times and other internationally renowned news sites, fact-checks the claims made by presidential candidates and politicians that appear to be factually based and can be objectively verified as such. Of the 107 such statements Trump has made since he declared his candidacy, only one was found to be true, whereas eighty-two were found to be “mostly false, false, or pants on fire false,” with 64 falling in the latter two categories. Here’s the link to Trump’s full profile on the site that I would encourage everyone to look into, but those numbers in and of themselves are insane. I want to highlight a few of the falsities he peddles that speak to how little of an understanding Trump actually possesses with respect to the plight of the middle class. While his position as a political outsider does render him free of the corruption and influence that may hinder an established Washington politician, and he has demonstrated an ability to point out the basic troubles of the middle class, the former makes him no more qualified than I or any other Rock writer, and the latter no more than, well, most politicians. When you really take a look at what comes out of Trump’s mouth, it becomes pretty clear that he has no idea what he’s talking about.
In the Republican Debate in New Hampshire last month, Trump claimed that the United States “is the highest taxed country in the world” – a stat he has repeatedly cited in interviews – and said that he would lower taxes on businesses and the middle class, a staple policy of the Republican party. His contention that the U.S. is the highest taxed country in the world, though, is far from correct. When tax revenue is measured per capita, America ranks 17th out of 29 countries tested by the OECD, and ranks 12th from the bottom of a list of 115 industrialized countries when taxes are measured as a percentage of GDP. When announcing his candidacy back in June, Trump stated, “Our real unemployment is anywhere from 18 to 20 percent. Don’t believe the 5.6, [the government reported rate of unemployment]. Don’t believe it.” This, too, is simply incorrect and a huge overestimate. The most expansive calculation of the unemployment rate, the U-6 rate of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, measures “labor underutilization” at 10.8 percent. In his victory speech after the New Hampshire primary in February, Trump further inflated these false claims: “Don’t believe those phony numbers when you hear 4.9 and 5 percent unemployment. The number’s probably 28, 29, as high as 35. In fact, I even heard recently 42 percent.” Further exploration of the site illustrates Trump’s evident lack of understanding of how taxes, GDP, and trade negotiations work. These quotes I’ve listed, though, demonstrate not only that Trump doesn’t really understand the economy, but also that he’s willing to say pretty much anything to incite fear and anger in the American public to earn their support.
When he isn’t citing completely unsubstantiated statistics, Trump isn’t saying much of anything at all, further illustrating the degree to which he’s grasping at straws. If you’ve watched the Republican debates, you’ll have seen that Trump speaks largely in generalities, either refusing to share specifics or simply demonstrating his inability to expound upon his basic plans. In the February 25th debate in Houston, when pressed by Marco Rubio on the details of his heath care plan, Trump could offer no more than saying he would “get rid of the lines” around individual states to encourage interstate competition, a basic tenant of Republican health care policy that can also be found in Rubio’s plan. The only sense of legitimacy Trump offers is his constant insistence that he can get things done. I think Trump’s most oft-repeated assurance is, “Trust me, they’ll listen,” or, “Believe me, it will get done.” Right…
I’d imagine that Trump is actually encouraged to speak in generalities by his campaign, because what naturally comes out of his mouth is not only incompetent or incorrect, as illustrated above, but also insulting and unreasonable. As seen in Oliver’s video, in a phone interview with Fox News discussing his plan to conquer ISIS, Trump suggested that, “with the terrorists, you have to take out their families.” As Oliver correctly noted, that is an international war crime under the Geneva Conventions; moreover, according to former head of the NSA and director of the CIA Michael Hayden, “If he were to order that once in government, the American armed forces would refuse to act.” Trump has also mocked a disabled reporter and John McCain’s status as a prisoner of war, among other public missteps. To rail against political correctness, as Trump and his supporters so often do, is one thing, but to be a disrespectful egomaniac is an entirely different animal. Trump without doubt falls into the latter category, a fact that points to one of the more dangerous probabilities of a Trump presidency: he would be an absolute disaster for foreign relations. His claim that his toughness and negotiation skills would ensure that foreign leaders and politicians would bend to his will – “Trust me” – has been comprehensively proven wrong by international reactions to his campaign. Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has already stated that “there is no scenario” in which Mexico would pay for Trump’s wall and compared him to Hitler and Mussolini. The British Parliament debated banning Trump from visiting the United Kingdom, and the candidate has been the topic of satire and condemnation throughout the European media. Perhaps most disastrously, excerpts from Trump’s speeches have been used in the recruitment videos of Islamist extremist organizations. With respect to Trump’s concern over American safety from such terrorism, he only serves to exacerbate this threat.
Which brings us back to his proposed banning of Muslims, a plan truly emblematic of his demagoguery and incompetence. A closer analysis of this proposition neatly exemplifies the illegitimacy that characterizes the entirety of Trump’s campaign, and the disgrace its mere utterance brings to American politics certainly hasn’t gone away in the intervening paragraphs between when I first mentioned it and now, so it felt like a nice note to end on. When discussing the threat of Islamic terrorism with Hugh Hewitt, the conservative talk-radio host, Trump admitted that he didn’t know the difference between Hamas and Hezbollah, but assured Hewitt that he would “when it’s appropriate,” before continuing to state, “I will know more about it than you know, and believe me, it won’t take me long.” Well, Mr. Trump, when you’re proposing something as massive as a shutdown of Muslims coming to the United States, attaining at least a basic understanding of what’s going on in the Middle East beforehand probably wouldn’t be a terrible idea. To further illustrate his ineptitude and penchant for stoking fear and intolerance, here are a few of Trump’s favorite statements concerning September 11, which PolitiFacts has shown to be nowhere near true.
“I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down,” the Republican presidential candidate said at a Nov. 21 rally in Birmingham, Ala. “And I watched in Jersey City, N.J., where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.”
In reference to his belief that the United States allowed the families of the terrorists that perpetrated the September 11th attacks to return to Saudi Arabia right before the attack: “They left two days early with respect to the World Trade Center and they went back to where they went and they watched their husband on television flying into the World Trade Center, flying into the Pentagon and probably trying to fly into the White House…”
He often expresses these fear-based remarks to support his assertions that we must take unprecedented steps towards neutralizing the threat of Islamic terror. There’s no clear connection between these claims and the current status of extremism outside of “Muslims = bad,” but that serves as a useful insight into the mind of Donald Trump.
When discussing how he would implement this ban, Trump stated that, in order to prevent potential terrorists from entering the country, custom agents would ask them if they were Muslim; if they said yes, they would be denied entry. Wow. Brilliant. And, finally, just in case there was any doubt that Trump personally believes the bigotry he is disseminating, he told Anderson Cooper on Wednesday, “I think Islam hates us,” refusing to clarify this claim and differentiate between Muslims and those extremists that make a mockery of the religion.
Ultimately, our understanding and critique of Donald Trump requires a wider frame, an idea I’m borrowing from Lawrence O’Donnell and Louis C.K. The former employed the latter’s recent condemnation of Trump to discuss how the candidate is symptomatic of a larger cultural rot plaguing the United States. I’ve attached the video of this exceptional take below and encourage all readers to watch it, as it excellently supplements the more widespread understanding of Trump I hope this article provides.
Barring a major change in recent events, Donald Trump will be up for national election come November. Attacks on Trump’s credibility must continue to branch out and disprove any claim to legitimacy he has – a process that has thankfully begun in the critiques of his business failings – as he is a man truly lacking any strength or quality necessary to lead this already great nation.