SCARY! The New York Daily News, fifth largest newspaper in America, devoted its June 17 cover page to Donald Trump’s declaration of presidential candidacy. (True! This page above is not photo-shopped.)
How to explain The Donald, as Himself enjoys being called? Donald as in Donald J. Trump, that is—the billionaire boor and failed casino magnate who seeks the Republican Tea Party nomination for president of the United States.
This man is many things, none of them attractive: glitzy real estate developer, golfer, impresario of “reality TV” and phony TV wrestling bouts, climate change denier, conspiracy monger, litigious gasbag, peddler of cheesy neckties sewn in Chinese sweatshops. Thusly, Mr. Trump qualifies for the Ugly American Hall of Fame:
- He claims that Mexican immigrants are mostly drug dealers and “rapists,” and that the U.S. must build an impenetrable wall along the entire border of 2,000 miles (km 3,220);
- He intimates that President Barack Obama, an American-born Christian, is actually a Kenyan-born Muslim whose degrees from Columbia University and Harvard Law School are counterfeits;
- He maintains that an honorable member of his own party, Senator John McCain, is undeserving of respect because he was captured by Viet Cong soldiers in the 1960s who imprisoned and tortured him for five years when he refused to betray his American comrades;
- He labels women he dislikes as, variously, “fat pigs,” “dogs, “slobs,” and “disgusting animals.”
But Mr. Trump gets as good as he gives. The media here in New York—where The Donald resides in a sprawling triplex apartment atop the eponymous Trump Tower skyscraper on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue—have called him “clown,” “racist,” “misogynist,” “xenophobe,” “ignoramus sloganeer,” “liar,” and “hypocrite.” About the apartment, it is instructive to note that a library was installed in one of its fifty-three (!) rooms—library shelves at any rate. Upon completion of his volume-free reading chamber, Mr. Trump told a reporter for Architectural Digest magazine, “Now all I need is books (sic).”
For Mr. Trump, derision is publicity and publicity is as necessary to his existence as food and drink and breath. He both exhales and inhales personal insult.
Crassly speaking, the two-way vituperation is political gold. The more he behaves as a vulgarity magnet—as The Donald might say, “I’m a yooge vulgarian; I’m the best at vulgar, I can tell you!”—the higher he rises in opinion polls conducted among likely Republican Tea Party voters in the coming state preliminary contests leading up to the federal election in November 2016.
At this writing, Mr. Trump is far and away the odds on favorite Teapublican to oppose whomever the Democratic Party chooses as its standard bearer—never mind unanimous predictions to the contrary among dunderheaded pundits, who remain convinced of their errors.
In America, only two political parties are capable of winning the White House; historically, presidential contests are won by single-digit pluralities. To the surprise of everyone but Himself and a few heretical reporters—I include Yours Truly in this number—millions of Americans have gone bonkers for a wealthy Republican Tea Party blowhard who offers cartoon approaches to non-cartoon matters. Simultaneously, Donald J. Trump adulterates facts in the interest of providing affirmation for bigots and the simple-minded:
- On the estimated eleven million undocumented workers living in America, most of them Latino: “They have to go! We’re going to keep the families together, but they have to go.” (Damn the estimated $100 billion dollar cost. Damn the need to abolish the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, giving automatic U.S. citizenship to children born here to foreign parents.)
- On Middle East turmoil: “You bomb the hell out of [the Islamic State], and then you encircle it, and then you go in. And you let Mobil go in, and you let our great oil companies go in. Once you take that oil, they have nothing… I would hit them so hard… so hard your head would spin.”
- On climate change: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”
Although he lives in Manhattan, arguably the most cosmopolitan island of the world, The Donald’s sociological takes are less than diplomatic:
- Of African Americans versus Jews: “I have black guys counting my money. …I hate it. The only guys I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes all day.”
- Of women: “You have to treat ‘em like shit. …I’ve never had any trouble in bed. …When a man leaves a woman, especially when it was perceived that he has left for a piece of ass—a good one!—there are fifty percent of the population who will love the woman who was left. …All of the women on ‘The Apprentice’ [reality TV show] flirted with me, consciously or unconsciously. That’s to be expected.”
- Of himself: “I’m, like, a really smart person.”
- Of Marla Maples, second of his three wives: “Nice tits, no brains.”
- Of his daughter, Ivanka: “She’s got the best body. …I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”
It is one thing for a public man to say stupid (and creepy) things—repeatedly, endlessly. It is quite another matter that a great swath of the American public seriously considers him suitable for the White House. In the 1994 movie “Forrest Gump,” the halfwit namesake character imparts an unlovely, but fitting truth: “Stupid is as stupid does.”
Mr. Trump, according to the New York Daily News, is a clown—a laughable sort. As any child knows, clowns can be scary.
America lives in a not-so-funny moment of history, in which corporate power is on the verge of eclipsing governmental authority; has eclipsed, say a number of political scientists—those who remind us that Benito Mussolini’s notion of fascism as, more accurately, corporatism. The financial linchpin of the 2016 presidential election underway is, essentially, a laissez-faire corporate shakedown—unrestrained, secret, and made perfectly legal by the 2010 Supreme Court decision in Citizens United v. F.E.C.
With this decision, corporations are now deemed the same as people: beings with equal “free speech” rights to engage in structured political fundraising. It seems not to have bothered five of the court’s nine justices, all of whom are Republican Tea Party presidential appointees, that ordinary wage earners and working stiffs are hardly in the same economic league as multi-billion dollar corporations.
Corporate interests have not been hesitant in boosting their investment in political campaigns. Dollar amounts have soar, yet the donor class of plutocratic puppet masters numbers only 0.00000125 percent of America’s three hundred and twenty million citizens, according to the New York Times.
Based on its analysis of Federal Election Commission data, the Times reported in mid-August: “Fewer than four hundred of the nation’s most affluent families have supplied almost half the money raised so far by presidential candidates [of] both parties. …This is an alarming new direction in modern campaigning that arose along with the nation’s growing income disparity, and is empowered by shadowy new methods of raising unlimited, untraceable money from the richest donors.”
The ailing Jimmy Carter said as much—twice before. But neither the Times nor any other corporate medium considered these remarks, from the man who was president from 1977-1981, worthy of reporting:
- On July 18, 2013, Mr. Carter spoke at an event in the U.S. city of Atlanta organized by the Berlin nonprofit organization Atlantik-Brücke. He told the assembly of students, journalists, diplomats, business and governmental leaders that America “has no functioning democracy at this point in time.”
- On July 31 of this year, Mr. Carter was interviewed on the “Thom Hartmann Program,” an internet radio show. He said of America, “Now it’s just an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery being the essence of getting the nominations for president, or to elect a president.”
For the most part, the fortunes of the U.S. oligarchy—the Fabulous Four Hundred—are accrued from Wall Street swindles and despoliation of the atmosphere through the burning of coal and oil. The oligarchs’ multi-thousand-dollar checks now fall like a fine spring rain upon obsequious candidates. Some among the über-oligarchs rain down millions. The right-wing oil barons Charles and David Koch, for example, recently announced they would spend a cool billion to support the Teapublican cause. The calcified casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, of similar right-wing tendency, is good for at least half that amount.
With such prices paid, the Fabulous command bipartisan attention to whatever greasy needs may arise.
The exceptions that prove the sorry rule are named Donald Trump Bernie Sanders. Neither man accepts corporate underwriting—The Donald because he has no need of doing so, the Vermont senator out of moral conviction.
Senator Sanders, the wispy-haired Democratic candidate and unabashed socialist, is a refreshing contrast to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, her party’s leading money-grubber. Mr. Sanders, too, confounds media dunderheads unable to understand the appeal of his spirited campaign. The senator routinely draws tens of thousands of voters to campaign rallies, and now surges north in opinion polls—notwithstanding his aversion to bellicosity, and the average individual donation to his campaign: $33.51 (€30.14), according to the Federal Election Commission.
To its disquisition on the “alarming new direction” in American presidential campaign funding, the Times added, “The irony [is] that only the billionaire Donald Trump [dares] hint at the threat to democracy posed by the power of the ultra-rich.”
The god of perversity is revealed.
As a star of television, radio, and the tabloids, The Donald is a prince of the American celebrity culture. His every utterance is hot copy for corporate media. He is now the sine qua non of U.S. political news reportage—of late reduced to a trump-trump-trump of headlines that blaze with his latest repugnancy.
With determined disregard for civil discourse and political conventions of merely months ago, Mr. Trump is the runaway train of the presidential campaign season; a runaway train that no one can stop—or stop watching.
Many of my countrymen are properly embarrassed.
As well, my German friends and colleagues may feel flushed of face. For it happens that The Donald’s grandfather is one Friedrich Drumpf (the Trump family’s pre-Anglicized name), an immigrant from the Rhineland-Palatinate ortsgemeinde of Kallstadt. According to Gwenda Blair, author of “The Trumps: Three Generations that Built an Empire,” the enterprising Herr Drumpf supplied liquor and pliant females to rough-and-tumble miners during the 1890s Klondike gold rush era in Canada’s Yukon Territory.
Is it any wonder that a pimp’s grandson holds half the human population in crude regard?
During a televised forum of Republican Tea Party candidates in early August, moderator Megyn Kelly asked if Mr. Trump’s habit of calling women “fat pigs” et cetera demonstrates a useful presidential temperament. On air, The Donald scolded Ms. Kelly for what he sensed was disrespect. Later, he complained to Ms. Kelly’s male boss that her behavior was doubtless accountable to menstruation. Or as Mr. Trump put it in a subsequent TV appearance, “She had blood coming out of her—wherever.”
Donald Trump, president of a professional wrestling league, won a July
wager with rival billionaire/promoter Vince McMahon. Mr. McMahon, on
the losing end, had his shaved in the ring. The staged humiliation was
overseen by Trump fighter Bobby “the Dominator” Lashley.
In 1980, we Americans laughed when a Hollywood performer and cigarette company pitchman aspired to the White House, a washed-up actor who once played the rôle of second banana in a movie about a chimpanzee—Ronald Reagan and Bonzo, respectively, co-stars of the 1954 “Bedtime for Bonzo.” Two decades later, we scoffed at a verbally challenged ex-drunkard, college cheerleader, and failed Texas oil executive who ran for president. When the laughter died, so did a few hundred thousand in George G. Bush’s pointless Iraq war; then came world economic recession.
Is it wise to now laugh about overtures from a clown with the cash to make his ego-dreams come true?
As head of The Trump Organization, one of The Donald’s most favored duties is presiding over a corporate division called World Wrestling Entertainment. Which is the country’s foremost promoter of choreographed bouts between steroid-clogged combatants who assume theatrical personas of villainy or valor. Most fans of the faux sport, many with more tattoos than teeth, believe the ring action to be genuine physical skirmish between wholesome athletes and evildoers. Mr. Trump and colleagues in this line of work do all they can, gleefully so, to perpetuate the very profitable spectacles.
In his dystopian book of 2009, “Empire of Illusion: the End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle,” journalist Chris Hedges offers the “professional wrestling” industry as a leading indicator of America’s enchantment with bravado, falsity, and machismo fantasy. Implicit in illusion, he suggests, are corporate media; advertising agencies churning out jingles that flog needless products; TV and radio chat shows, of the type that that give platform to Trumpian grotesques; and educational policy that values testing over thinking. A former war correspondent for the New York Times, Mr. Hedges writes:
Hour after hour, day after day, week after week, we are bombarded with the cant and spectacle pumped over the airwaves by highly paid pundits, corporate advertisers, talk-show hosts, and gossip-fueled entertainment networks…[A] culture dominated by images and slogans seduces who are functionally literate but who make the choice not to read…We are a culture that has been denied, or has passively given up, the linguistic and intellectual tools to cope with complexity, to separate illusion from reality. …Public rhetoric is designed to be comprehensible to a ten-year-old child…We have transformed our culture into a vast replica of Pinocchio’s Pleasure Island, where boys were lured with the promise of no school and endless fun. They were all, however, turned into donkeys—a symbol, in Italian culture, of ignorance and stupidity.
Among The Donald’s many subordinates is a phalanx of lawyers. Some handled his two messy divorces, from Ms. Maples and, earlier, Czech-born Ivana Marie Zelníčkovà. Some handled his four bankruptcy petitions, involving hotels and gambling palaces gone belly-up. Various others are employed to file lawsuits when Mr. Trump’s surprisingly thin skin is chafed.
Of the latter ilk is one Michael Cohen, who threatened to sue two young reporters in July—Tim Mak and Brandy Zadrozny. Mr. Cohen got wind of their intent to publish an article for The Daily Beast, an online magazine, based on an ugly 1993 allegation by the ex-Mrs. Ivana Trump: she said The Donald had once committed marital rape. In a browbeating telephone call to Mr. Mak and Ms. Zadrozny, the lawyer Cohen was recorded saying:
I will make sure that you and I meet one day while we’re in the courthouse, and I will take you for every penny you still don’t have. And I will come after your Daily Beast and everybody else that you possibly know. So I’m warning you: tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting. … I’m going to mess your life up…for as long you’re on this frickin’ planet…[Y]ou’re going to have judgments against you, so much money, you’ll never know how to get out from underneath it. …[R]est assured, you will suffer the consequences. So do whatever you want. You want to ruin your life at the age of 20? You [publish] that, and I’ll be happy to serve it right up to you.
Soon thereafter, Ivana Marie Zelníčkovà amended her claim, explaining that she felt merely “emotionally” raped. And Mr. Cohen apologized for how he addressed the young reporters.
While The Donald never apologizes, he is occasionally chagrined. Witness the California Superior Court matter of Donald J. Trump v. Bill Maher, a breach-of-contract complaint in which The Donald sought $5 million (€4.51 million) from defendant Maher, a Los Angeles-based comedian and host of a popular social satire program for HBO Television.
With reference to Mr. Trump’s unusually orange hair and his peculiarly pursed lips—and in the context of The Donald’s loud insistence that President Obama pony up his American birth certificate, as dispositive evidence that is not an “illegal alien”—Mr. Maher said on air, in January 2013: “[S]uppose that Donald Trump had been the spawn of his mother having sex with an orangutan. …I hope it’s not true…but unless he comes up with proof, I’m willing to offer $5 million to Donald Trump.” In a rare admission of asininity, Mr. Trump and his lawyers—three of them this time—withdrew the complaint.
In reasonable theory, Donald J. Trump could become the Republican Tea Party presidential nominee at his party’s convention next summer. What may come to pass in the November ’16 general election is anyone’s guess.
Some things, however, are as certain as stone. Such as, The Donald exists in the universe of his own creation. He is the living, breathing, and braying embodiment of an oxymoron called reality TV. As such, he is America’s emperor of illusion—and therefore assured of a yooge audience, willing to know nothing beyond the daily effluvia of his orangutan lips. God help us.
—Thomas Adcock is America correspondent for CulturMag