Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Political Clown Factor

It's easy to dismiss Donald Trump as some kind of celebrity clown candidate.  Last Friday, Huffington Post even demoted coverage of his "campaign" to its entertainment section. And, of course, there can be said to be a clownish component to his "campaign." It is easy to dismiss it all as American celebrity culture run riot - someone monopolizing media attention not because he is in any sense a serious candidate (let alone a serious statesman), but simply because he is rich and famous in a society that worships wealth and fame.

All that may be true enough. But there is more to this sad story than just the clown factor. For one thing, while wealth and fame account for his ability to play the role he has chosen to ply, the fact remains that he is playing it on a clown-filled stage. His presence and popularity in his party is a testament to so much of what is so wrong in his party's politics.

His bizarre attack on Senator John McCain seems to have galvanized opposition and emboldened his opponents to attack back (many of whom had hitherto been too afraid to take him on directly for his other outlandish attacks). It says something about his party's politics that this is what it took - not the earlier attacks on immigrants or even the earlier indulging of the "Birther" movement, either of which should have been sufficient to disqualify a candidate from serious consideration by serious people. If now his party and its upcoming debates are to be tainted by their association with this candidacy, is it not a clear case of reaping what that same party has sown in recent years?

On one of the Sunday morning talk shows, somebody noted that Trump got more negative comments at the event in question for the seemingly frivolous way he spoke about going to Communion and about his marriages. If that is so, it certainly deserves a lot more attention. On the one hand, it highlights the candidate's complex history (which, for now, New Yorkers may be much more familiar with than the rest of the country) and how that logically might be expected to impact an ostensibly conservative religious constituency. On the other hand, it highlights how unproblematic the hateful attack on McCain may actually seem for some elements in that strange constituency. 

All of which highlights how destructive that party's approach to politics over the past several decades has ultimately been for political sanity, a civil society, and any long-term prospects for statesmanlike governance.

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