John Gotti was known as ‘Teflon Don’ for his ability to evade criminal charges, but compared to Donald Trump the notorious mob boss looks more like quicksand.
Trump embodies an unprecedented political phenomenon. The 24-hour and increasingly hysterical media cycle has made most elected officials overly cautious, condemning them to weasel words and what Orwell called “newspeak” for fear of slipping up and derailing their career.
And yet, the new rules of engagement – where a gaffe could be fatal and the outrage police are always on high alert – seemingly don’t apply to Teflon Don.
Consider a select few of the gems from this campaign:
He inferred that all Mexican immigrants are “rapists”. Regardless of your views on border security, this is vicious and unwarranted description of the grandmothers, children and upstanding citizens – not to mention rape victims – that are no doubt included among the millions of Mexico-born American residents.
He called out former presidential hopeful John McCain as a fraud, despite the Arizona senator’s distinguished record of military service including as a prisoner of war in the Hanoi Hilton (a youth starkly at odds with Trump’s own pampered and perfumed Upper East Side upbringing).
And of course, just this week his latest thoughtful contribution to public policy: a ban on all Muslim travel to the United States – originally including Muslim Americans currently abroad – despite religious freedom being a fundamental theme of the founding documents and moderate Muslims and allied Arab heads of state being absolutely crucial to defeating radical Islam. Even Israeli PM Bibi Nethanyahu, who has spent his life fighting Jihadists while Trump was renovating apartments on Park Avenue, has decried the proposal as ill-conceived.
In all of these cases, and countless more, Trump’s game plan is the same: make a headline-grabbing announcement and then water it down – a flip-flop that would see any other candidate relegated to yesterday’s news.
Compare his treatment with that of Mitt Romney, who, despite being a far more suitable candidate for president, had his shot at the White House all but sunk when he (arguably accurately) explained that 47 per cent of Americans are dependant on government handouts and pay no income tax – a far less offensive and outrageous statement than Trump’s Gestapo-esque proposal that Muslims display ID badges.
The media’s complicity in the Trump freak show is astounding. As other – more serious – candidates are forced to fly around the country making their case to anyone who will listen and fighting for scraps of precious airtime, Trump descends the escalator in his palatial skyscraper and meets his fawning (or at least encouraging) press buddies in his own lobby.
Some of the more conspiratorial conservatives suggest the media pays so much attention because they are hell-bent on a Hillary win and know Trump is damaging the Republican brand.
While this may be true of MSNBC and other Democratic mouthpieces, a more likely scenario is that they are simply enjoying the much-needed ratings, as reality TV fans tune into cable news in unprecedented numbers.
One of the most common praises of Trump is that he ‘calls a spade a spade’. His political incorrectness appeals to many liberty-loving folks, not just in the GOP base.
I’m all for freedom of speech and don’t believe offending people should be a crime, but that doesn’t mean we should celebrate crass and piggish behaviour – like mocking a physically disabled journalist with base-level humour even the most insecure 12-year old class clown wouldn’t laugh at. You can rebel against PC orthodoxy without being an arsehole.
The other often-heard piece of admiration is that he is a “businessman and not a politician”. But this narrative is also problematic. Stacked up against other contenders, Trump hardly epitomises the American dream.
Carly Fiorina rose from secretary to CEO and beat cancer along the way.
Ben Carson was raised in the ghettos of Detroit, broke and fatherless, and became one of the world’s foremost neurosurgeons.
Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and John Kasich all grew up in immigrant households and sought public office despite their foreign names in order to give back to the nation that has offered their families so much.
All of these stories are more emblematic of the American ethic – and the Republican message of social mobility through incentive and ingenuity – than Trump’s own life in an elitist Manhattan bubble, the son of a minted property developer who left him millions.
In some ways Trump is more representative of everything we hate about politicians than politicians themselves: he is a complete egomaniac, has no discernible or genuine philosophical beliefs, is obsessed with the media, out of touch with the everyday coffee-table discussions of Americans and will say whatever it takes to get his manicured mitts on the levers of power.
With all of this in mind, how the hell is he not only still around but leading in the polls?
The only reasonable conclusion is that the voters are not being serious, they are ‘taking the piss’ as we say Down Under.
Sure, there is a distinct group within the conservative heartland that like the ‘tough guy’ persona and the xenophobic message, but this group is not big enough to have him where he is, otherwise there would never have been an Obama presidency.
As I travel around the country I often hear everyday citizens lament the ludicrously extensive 24-month presidential election cycle, and the fever pitch reporting of it.
Perhaps Trump is the American people’s way of seeking revenge – a plaything they can throw to the media and postpone the serious debates between the likes of Clinton and Rubio and Cruz that will surely come.
Or maybe Trump is the real deal and it is me that is out of touch.
I am a dangerous foreigner, after all.
A roadside mural in western Colorado depicting ‘Donald the Dragon-Slayer’. Photo credit: AJ Stolte
Published 10 December 2015