Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Donald Trump and the presidential-campaign-as-demolition-derby

I have given up on prognosticating on the prospects of Donald Trump's success in the 2016 race for the White House. I honestly thought he wouldn't have made it this far, and yet his juggernaut of bombast shows no signs of abating. The logical side of me wants to say that he's paving the way for Hillary, given that his polarizing brand of politics would seem to further solidify the Democrats' traditional support base as well as help it attract disaffected Republican moderates, if only as a one-time "Anyone But Trump" initiative.

But then logic seems to have no place in this contest.

The only sure thing anyone can say right now is that Trump has left the Republican Party as we know it in a confused and bloodied heap, not knowing what has hit it. If the party's 'establishment' and its preferred candidates came to this election season expecting a genteel road race, then surely their delicate Formula One cars have been repeatedly T-boned by Trump in a big ol' Made In America beater. By force of personality alone, this lone political maniac has declared the election a demolition derby rather than a race.

And the people who think Trump is the bee's knees aren't looking for nuanced rhetoric nor seasoned statecraft. No, they merely want to swill some beer, salute the flag, and see shit get smashed apart on the battlefield.

And that sums up his appeal to his rabid base, who seem to see bluster and belligerence as sacred virtues unto themselves. I've tried to sit all the way through live feeds of Trump rallies, and somewhere at the 20-minute mark my brain starts checking out, as there is only so long any sane person can tolerate non-stop vacillations between self-congratulations, vicious name-calling, and brazen crowd-baiting. Worse still is being presented with an audience that is all-too-eager to answer his every jolt of invective with mindless chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!".

As for the Republican Party itself vis-à-vis Trump, I am reminded of John Carpenter's 1982 remake of The Thing, in which the denizens of an Antarctic research base are being usurped by an alien virus that enters a host's bloodstream, replicates its molecules one-by-one, and then transforms the host organism into an non-human creature that is vaguely familiar but deformed and revolting nonetheless.

And so the Republican Party's moderate and 'establishment' wings must look at the collective manifestation of Trump and his movement as some sort of alien being that has snuck into their DNA on the sly, transforming the GOP into a repulsive caricature of itself, one that may come to represent the party in the popular imagination for years to come. (With the possibility of this crazed circus continuing for four long years, a Trump victory may be even more damaging than a loss, which is why it's easy to imagine moderate Republicans holding their noses and voting for Hillary this time around.)

Like the desperate characters in The Thing, the GOP elite must wish they had a political flamethrower on hand, but just like in the movie it's too little, too late.

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