The Weird and Dangerous Appeal of Donald Trump

The Following is an Essay by Member William:

It is very possible that Donald Trump will be nominated by the Republican Party as its presidential candidate. The most recent poll shows him with 36% support, compared to 16% for his nearest rival. He has far from a majority of support; but since the Republicans have many more winner-take-all primaries than do the Denocrats, 36% may well get him the nomination. As some of the lesser candidates in polling drop out, I would imagine that he will get at least a bit of their support, thus moving closer to 50%. If he ever gets to 50%, he will win the nomination, as strange and unsettling as this would be.

Trump’s big advantage in this race is that the “conventional” Republican candidates, the ones who hold office, are so absolutely insipid and unexciting, even to the party supporters. He stepped into a vacuum that no one realized was so large. And even though his candidacy always seemed like a joke, or a publicity stunt, I have seen enough strange candidates come out of my usually responsible state of California, and actually win, that it isn’t all that surprising. I remember my parents being stunned that George Murphy, whom they described as a mediocre actor and song and dance man, got elected Senator here. And of course Ronald Reagan parlayed his success in “B” movies, and spokesman for General Electric in radio commercials, to Governor and then two-term President. Arnold Schwarzenegger moved from bodybuilding and action movies to Governor; apparently he is back doing action movies; and I just saw him doing an ad for an action video game. So this is unfortunately not as unusual as some might think.

The appeal of Donald Trump is both obvious and extremely disconcerting. He is, at least through his campaign statements, a would-be dictator and fascist. He seems to believe that he can run the country like he can a business which he owns. He has a poor teenage student’s grasp of actual governance, history, or social realities. But of course for many people, therein lies his appeal.

Trump is actually the latest in a long line of American demagogues who rose to potential presidential power. Huey Long is one that immediately comes to mind when one considers Trump. There were also the likes of Joseph McCarthy, Ross Perot, Pat Buchanan, Ron Paul. This country seems to manufacture a number of them. What is the weird, fascinating and repellent appeal of such people? I would suggest a few themes which run through the philosophical fabric of this country, which can at least help to illuminate the appeal of Trump to certain segments of the voting public.

“He’s Just Like Us.”

Trump has this skill of seeming just like the guy down the block, albeit a billionaire one. How much of this is an act, how much of this is real, is anyone’s guess. He’s got that New York accent; he blusters, and complains, and jokes around. He does not use “political speak,” those measured cadences which most people are tired of hearing. He talks like a regular Joe. He can talk about football, or watching TV, or getting stuck in traffic. One must admit that even among those of us who think he is very dangerous and very ignorant, he is sort of fun to listen to–for at least a few minutes.

And most of these demagogues, excluding McCarthy, were fun to listen to. Huey Long had a folksy charm. Ross Perot was a strange person, a sort of ultra-rich crackpot; but he was entertaining, when he did those infomercials. Trump gives the viewer some bang for his watching buck, and that is all that many would-be voters actually want.

“I Am Oz, The Great and Powerful”

That was what the man behind the curtain said, through a flaming ball of fire which he had concocted out of a science class trick. And of course it was very effective, creating the illusion of greatt power, and cowing the masses. Even more importantly, the inhabitants of Oz looked to the Wizard to solve all their problems, and to give them the things which they most desperately wanted, and could not otherwise obtain.

The myth of one person, wizard or king, who can literally or figuratively wave his hands, and solve all the complex problems, exerts a strong draw upon almost everyone, even if you realize that it is simply an illusion, or a pretense. When we are young, we look to our parents to solve everything. When we are older, we wistfully wish for someone to cut through all the complexities of life, and make the problems go away. Thus the appeal of cults to many people who ironically had become disillusioned by conventional religion, and had a great cynicism about the words of political leaders. Many of them fell into various sects run by a self-styled sage or charismatic charlatan. Many still do so, as we know.

So here is Trump, who has the ignorant but brazen person’s certainty that he can easily fix things that far more intelligent people struggle with. Again, how much of this is what he actually thinks, and how much is just a performance, is hard to discern. But for every national or international issue, he has a quick and belligerent solution. Immigration a complex and sensitive matter? He’ll build a large wall across the border. Terrorism frightening and disconcerting the populace? He’ll just wipe them out in some fashion, and that will be that. Worries about the economy and jobs? He’ll create many millions of jobs, though he has no specifics. He’ll go right past the Congress, the Supreme Court, the Constitution, to get things done And people who get frustrated with all the gridlock in Washington, and all the things which don’t get done, think that Trump the CEO can cruise right through it all.

“Step Right Up, Ladies and Gentlemen”

Who doesn’t love a carnival, at least before one becomes attuned to the con game involved? Even so, being knowingly conned for a few bucks can still be fun; why else do people go to Vegas? The appeal of the effective carnival barker is that he makes his potential patrons feel that something exciting and wonderful is beyond the entrance gate. Things never before seen! Amazing tricks! Wondrous surprises!

There is a kind of ennui which sets in when a populace gets jaded with the popular forms of entertainment. There are so many shows, so many movies, so many musical peformers using autotune, and singing versions of the same song. People want novelty, they want hype. They want the new great thing, in what they watch, and the products they buy. I admit to very occasionally turning on one of the shopping network channels; I never buy anything, but the sales pitches are interesting. One would not believe how many different beauty treatments they try to sell, always with some super-new ingredient derived from the cactus plant or a melon. They are always hawked as “something new and amazing, to rejuvenate your skin; a mixture of a dozen rare ingredients.” Really, not much different from those bottles of colored water that were sold to the gullible at any public event.

So what we have are voters looking for something new and exciting. I well remember Susan Sarandon, well known disliker of Hillary Clinton, saying of her favorite, Obama, that “I don’t know what he will do as president, but it will be exciting.” And I am sure that others thought that, too; he was an unknown quantity; most of his campaign was “hope and change.” And so now comes Trump; and many people want to believe his hype, and his vague promises of having solutions which will make all the difficult problems go away, if only they will buy what he is selling. It is both very sad and very frightening, that there are many voters who will vote for Trump simply because he will provide a new form of entertainment for them.

The Myth of the CEO President

Americans have always had a fascination with business tycoons, the so-called “captains of industry.” From John D. Rockefeller, to Carnegie, J.P. Morgan, and on, people here have generally had a high admiration for what they see as the risk-taking, will to power, and even ruthlessness of those who rose to immense wealth in the business world. Calvin Coolidge once famously said, “The business of America is Business,” and that seemed to be so true–until it all collapsed in the stock market crash, and a third of the populace was ultimately out of work, and reduced to selling pencils or apples on the streets.

In some sense, the business giants are our royalty; not inheriting it, but rising to the top through what is often seen as the American values of daring and resourcefulness. And so we have long flirted with the idea of a businessman being president; the concept being that someone who can make a fortune in the corporate world, could effectively run the country. However, running one’s own company is far different than running a country. Further, a business leader might be able to get away with a tyrannical running of a company he owns, where he has absolute power. But in politics and governance, one has to compromise, and seek a lawful middle ground, as much as that chafes at some people’s sensibilities. We are a democracy, at least in intention, with many checks and balances put into the Constitution by the country’s founders. A business leader’s background is actually inimical to what is needed to govern the country.

But the appeal to many still remains. From Lee Iacocca to Ross Perot, now recently to Meg Whitman, Carly Fiorina, and Donald Trump, there are many Americans who pine for a businessperson to “get things done.” It’s a mytn, of course, but a pervasive one. And actually Donald Trump, or at least the companies he owned, declared bankruptcy four times. A government doesn’t get a corporatist’s cushy landing out of taking advantage of the bankruptcy laws. The economic fabric of the country is destroyed, and tens of millions of people lose their jobs and savings.

Politics is Entertainment

The line between politics and entertainment is increasingly disappearing. Actually, the line between anything and entertainment is vanishing as well. One could easily write a book about all of this; the way that everything is sold as spectacle; the way that the TV networks will do virtually anything to get people to watch a dumbed-down and hyped-up version of reality.

We know that political campaigns are now turned into sporting events by the networks. It is not about issues, or nuanced stands; it is about excitement, tension, outlandish claims and stories. The people who own the media do not care how far they distort the truth, or ramp up phony stories; they want you to be compelled to watch the shows. After every political campaign, the pundits sententiously agree that yes, the coverage focused too much on meaningless personality stories or outright falsehoods–and then like perpetual addicts, they do it again in the next cycle. They want a close race; they want bombastic coverage; they want larger than life personalities. And of course they want the Republicans to win, since they are very wealthy entities whose owners all adhere to the religion of corporate wealth and laissez-faire economics.

What this has to do with Trump, is that he “sells tickets,” “brings eyeballs to the screen.” He guarantees a large audience for any show he is on. Of course, he had his own TV show; he knows how to sell it. When did the media ever want to cover issues? They want to cover Trump. And so, for all these various reasons, they will not even bother or dare to question Trump’s outlandish claims, completely erroneous facts, utter lack of understanding of how the government works, or how any of his so-called policies would actually fare if implemented. “Sell the sizzle, not the steak,” was a title of a famous book about marketing and business. Trump is all sizzle, no steak, no nourishment. But the media willfully ignores all of this, because Trump is a media sensation. And if the country has to ultimately learn the absolute horror which lies beneath Trump’s agenda and biases; well, it will not bother the media moguls too much; they are incredibly wealthy, and can survive economic and societal catastrophe. And besides, they cancel shows all the time. Maybe their next one will be a real-life version of “Mad Max.”

So while Donald Trump is at times laughable, and at times entertaining in a blowhard kind of way, the danger of his candidacy cannot at all be discounted. He appeals to something latent in the American psyche–the wish for an appealing kind of certainty; the man of action and high commerce sweeping through the tangled thicket with a machete; defeating the enemies, and solving all the problems which threaten to overwhelm us. Besides, “it would be exciting,” wouldn’t it? No. Real life, and real governance is not a television show or a movie. Those are escapism. Life does not become cheap entertainment, nor should old-time huckerstism and phony shillery become the way in which this country is governed. This is not some kind of video game which you can turn off if you are losing. And when the flim-flam show is over, the carnival barkers are left to count up their profits, pack up their tents, and move to another place, in their endless search for new suckers to fleece.


40 Responses

  1. Great post.
    William, you could write a modern version of Neil Postman’s “Amusing Ourselves To Death.”
    He was prescient but there are so many things he couldn’t know about: cell phones, video games, Hulu and Netflix, etc.

  2. Thank you, Sue. I guess I should read that book, it sounds provocative and interesting. Yes, entertainment is necessary in life, but life cannot be an endless search for entertainment. There is a lot of self-indulgence and superficiality in our society; the wish to be amused and catered to to at all times; I used to sometimes think that Johnny Carson could have gotten elected President, because Americans really wanted a cheerful emcee to come into their living rooms and make the difficult issues more facile and even amusing. But I didn’t really think that it would get to the point where it could actually happen. I should also see the movie “A Face in the Crowd,” which I never really wanted to see, but is perhaps apposite as well..

  3. If you get the chance to see “A Face In The Crowd” William, don’t pass it up. It”s pretty depressing but parralels what is happening today–especially Trump, almost perfectly.

  4. Brassy Rebel, I certainly shall see it, then. It is often on TCM. I think that it was made back in 1957 or so, but the idea of a folksy fascist demagogue rising to power, was always something to be concerned about here.

  5. I think I saw it on TCM. The guy in the movie certainly had a different background from Trump, but the appeal of Know-Nothing Populism was just as real then as it is now. Andy Griffith is incredible as Dusty Rhodes–I think they called him. Not a role you would associate with Griffith at all.

  6. Some ahole is changing the number of stars awarded to a comment.
    I know because I always give five.

  7. Whatever, Sue. Small people have small ideas. Bet it makes em crazy they can’t post a toxic comment. Boo Hoo. It’s our way of saying, “If we want any shit out of you, we’ll squeeze your head”. Ignore them, they are insignificant.

  8. “If we want any shit out of you, we’ll squeeze your head.”
    Is that an Uppity original? Very funny!

  9. Thought you’d like that!

    Donald. Donald. Donald. He’s going to talk to Bill Gates about “Closing that internet up”

    Why do I have visions of Gates falling down on the floor laughing his ass off?

  10. That’s funny Uppity! I can envision your vision!

  11. *Bill Gates strolls over to the red phone. *Flick the Internet Off Switch, Skippy”

  12. I had no idea Bill Gates controlled the internet. Thanks for clearing that up, Donald.

  13. If they blocked his twitter account he’d have a coronary.

  14. What we could do instead and keep his twitter account and block everybody else from tweeting. But allow them to read his tweets.

  15. Don’t you have to have a heart in the first place, before you can have a coronary? 😈

  16. Uppity may have thought of the “squeeze your head” remark independently, but Mojo Nixon used it years ago in his song “Where The Hell’s My Money?”.

  17. Brassy Rebel, Andy Griffith’s character in “A Face is the Crowd” is Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes. I saw the movie in a theater when it came out in 1957 and have seen it more recently on TCM. An amazing performance, indeed! And great work from the supporting cast as well.

    Roz in NJ/NYC

  18. Thanx, Roz!

  19. Who the hell is Mojo Nixon.

    I don’t remember not saying the squeeze your head thing. It’s been that long. But then I am not given to remembering useless trivia. I’ll leave that to you! Jesus.

  20. Speaking of Bill Gates, I’ll bet he’s stroking out over Donald’s idea anyways. He’s been pushing for more and more and MORE visas for Middle Eastern software engineers he can bring here to put more and more and MORE American software engineers out of work.

    Toss in his obsessive funding of GMOs and I don’t regard old Bill as giving a shit what’s good for America.

    He’s laid off thousands of people and replaced them with H-1b foreign guest workers.

  21. It probably goes without saying, but it is still amazing the way that the media lets Trump get away with saying utterly inane things. Meanwhile, everything Hillary has said for the last thirty years is minutely analyzed by the same media.

  22. Everyone’s afraid of him, William. Terrorized, really. Oh wait, wrong word, right?

    Imagine him as president and how American’s would be terrified to criticize him. This is what a megalomaniac looks like. But you know who scares me more than he does? Ted Cruz. That one there has got his real agenda sitting in the closet. He’s playing the long game.

  23. Yes, Uppity, Cruz is a truly evil candidate. Both of them are horrifying to consider as president. Of course, except for Kasich, who is just a very conservative figure, the rest of this group is stunningly awful. I am hoping that there are still some”moderate” Republican voters out there who will not vote for their nominee; but maybe there are no more moderates in that party.

  24. You know, the Republicans are all over Tee Vee blowing it out of their asses about Donald Trump, that’s all they ever do, blow it out of their asses or legislate women. They have no other speeds. Why don’t they come up with decent candidates who are more tolerable than Donald if they are so disturbed. I honestly think he’s the best they’ve got. I think Cruz is secretly far worse than he is in many ways. You can FEEL him biding his time, waiting for Trump to trip up. He’s raw sleaze.

    They all look like idiots on TV trying to dump their own frontrunner who happens to be their frontrunner because the other guys are completely useless blowasses. They stand for NOTHING, they are mean, nasty and the only thing that matters is coming in first. They are embarrassed because Trump is only saying what they all think anyways. He’s just got bigger balls than any of them. And the truth is, he’s raising issues that NEED to be raised in this country instead of dancing around them. He’s over the top to the moon and it’s their own fault for ignoring this country in favor of their sponsors. They don’t even realize how STUPID they all look as in “Trump’s ahead it’s time for him to quit” lolol. And they actually make his numbers go UP. My God, these people need to regroup. The Bush Boys are all chewing on their fingers because they want that twit Jeb to be the candidate. I’m listening to yet another congressman saying, “Trump needs to get out of the way”. And of course he’s got to mention he’s a Born Again Christian. Obviously he’s annoyed because Donald is tying him up from legislating women more. NOt one of them can come up with a single sensible alternative to anything he says he wants to do. They chewing their knuckles trying to sell that moron Jeb to everybody because he’s pliable like the silly putty he is. They actually hold on hope for that jerk! Every time one of these idiots blabs, his numbers go up. They must be besides their stupid selves.

    Now they are pimping a conspiracy that Trump is really doing this to help Hillary. No kidding. These people are completely convoluted. The whole LOT of them is helping her. THey ought to be embarrassed for THEMSELVES that a guy like Trump is crapping all over them because they are nothing but nasty bloviators and Koch pimps. They’ve lost it all to a guy who hasn’t got more than 8 adjectives in his vocabulary: Great, Terrific, phenomenal, lots,……

    Imagine them sending that HORROR SHOW Dick Cheney out to trash Trump, as IF ANYBODY listens to anything he has to say, considering he’s the reason we’re in this mess with the middle east to begin with.

    Gawd, I could do HOURS on these nimrods.

  25. Hey, Establishment Republicans, are the thousands of people flocking to Trump’s rallies on Hillary’s payroll, too?

  26. Hahah good point.

    They’re beside themselves and they are getting what they deserve. They CREATED this monster. It’s the monster INSIDE of them. It’s all a reflection of themselves.

    Personally, I am enjoying watching all of this. All those blowasses are squirming. It’s like Trump pulled all their pants down.

    One congress critter on Tee Vee gave this flowery speech and then in the end, what was his major concern? We can’t have Trump’s ideas because we will never win Ohio in the general election. Yes that’s right. That is ALL that matters to them, it’s not about principle, it’s about having the properly picked person win.

  27. Bernouts are all in for the internet Feel The Bern challenge of……..of….
    drinking a glass of tabasco on video. Yup, that should do it.

  28. LOL Uppity! But you gotta post the videos! They’re hysterical!

  29. Oh for Chrissakes, these children are MORONS. I’m dying here. Hope they have their deductable for their Affordable Care Policy paid for already…

  30. I agree with you Upps. Trump is not the disease that infects the GOP. The very same people that are whining about Trump are the disease. Trump rising to the top is just a symptom. And how are any of these other bozos any better? Ted Cruz the evangelical snake handler? Marco “women should be birthing slaves for criminals” Jeb “you must publish your sexual history” Bush. Ben “Joseph stored grain in the pyramids” Carson? Carly “Let’s bomb PP over baby parts” Fiorina? The only thing Trump does is he makes it very clear where the GOP stands on things. The others try to hide what they believe.

  31. Did anybody see the picture where Carly had a meeting and five people showed up?

  32. Ga, 5 people! That many, huh?

  33. Hillary is on The Late Late Show w/ Seth Meyer tonight/this morning? at 12:30 AM (EST) on NBC.

    I think the reason Trump’s numbers keep going up is due to the media. They have such a low “trust” approval by the public that now every time the media piles on someone, people tend to gravitate to the person being piled on.

    And US Women’s Soccer team is up 3-0 over Trinidad in the second half.

  34. Saw Carly with Chris Cuomo. He definitely did a service her in that he found a way to ferret out her nastiness. Whoa. This one is a powder keg.

  35. Piece of Shit Cockroach, so-called police officer Daniel Holtzclaw cries like a little baby when the jury recommends over 200 years for this scumball serial rapist who used his position to prey on black women. I hope they pork this piece of shit every day of his life in prison. Preferably with painful objects. In between being put in charge of holding the wet soap in the showers.

    Look at this degenerate cry for his Mommy.

    I think this country needs to do some stringent mental testing on potential police officers before letting them loose with power and a gun. Too much nepotism where just being somebody’s son or relative gets you on the force…is also a problem. At least it is here.

    These women were afraid to speak up because they would be harassed by the brothers and “nobody would believe me”. This shit has to come to an end. I remember when cops were really helpful. This new breed is definitely a major step down.

  36. Uppity, on the subject of Holtzclaw, I was struck by how he targeted his victims. He was careful to go after wonen with drug problems or criminal offenses that would undermine their credibility. This creep is a predator hiding in a cop’s uniform. I agree that police departments need to do a better job screening. They also should be conducting regular reviews of those already on the force and weed out the Holtzclaws. There are surely many more like him. Unfortunately.

  37. And hiring more women for police forces is a good idea too!

  38. Rebel, unfortunately for him, and fortunately for his future victims, he picked the wrong woman and his foil began


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