In politics, as in life, love can be fickle.
The sometimes mysterious, sometimes quixotic nature of love has been on display since Donald Trump announced his candidacy for U.S. president and subsequently careened from one abominable antic to another.
With each abomination, Trump has confirmed what was plain long before the mogul contested the Republican nomination: he’s a schoolyard bully in a suit and tie with a churlish emotional and intellectual temperament to match.
This, of course, hasn’t prevented close to 40 per cent of Americans, if polls are a reliable measure, from expressing their near rhapsodic affection for, and loyalty to, the Manhattan madman. Indeed, Trump’s habit of taking the term “bully pulpit” literally may be a key reason that he continues to enjoy such stubborn appeal.
In any event, divining what precisely has caused his followers to fall so deeply in love with him has been the subject of considerable conjecture. One popular hypothesis is that the dilettante — who was born with a silver spoon in his big mouth and possibly elsewhere — has somehow morphed into the Pied Piper for mostly white, working class, disenfranchised, disaffected, uneducated men.
While this now familiar narrative has certainly been parroted by the faux journalists who populate the faux cable news networks, it has been challenged by others who rightly point out that today’s U.S. “working class” skews more towards ethnically diverse females.
Still, polling shows that millions of white, middle-aged men are attracted to Trump’s noxious brew of nativism and xenophobia. But this was equally true of Trump’s Republican predecessors, who have, for generations, appealed to the same group, with largely the same inherently toxic brand of white identity politics — a polite code for racism.
(For graphic, disturbing evidence of this, try to endure this brief sampling of epithets hurled by Trump’s white and devout supporters at Hillary Clinton, Blacks, and Hispanics.)
Race and crime: the trump card
Although they’re loath to admit it, Bush, both father and son, and Mitt Romney have much in common with Trump. They’re also wealthy, white men who courted other wealthy and many decidedly not so wealthy white men as a base to try to build a winning coalition. Their efforts to secure that traditionally crucial support often mirrored Trump’s blatantly (and veiled) racist entreaties.
Remember, it was George Bush Sr. and his repellant campaign manager, Lee Atwater, who, in 1988, produced an infamous political ad featuring Willie Horton, a Black man convicted of murder who was temporarily released as part of a weekend furlough program in Massachusetts.
Whatever its electoral impact, the sinister intent of the ad was clear: to synthesize race and crime as a means to tar a political opponent — in this case, the Democratic presidential nominee, Michael Dukakis — as soft on both.
These days, the suddenly enlightened Bush clan, and in particular, failed presidential candidate Jeb Bush, has publicly disavowed Trump as morally unfit to serve as president. Well, the Bushes’ piety and amnesia are not only instructive, but mightily convenient. Peel away the feigned moral superiority from a Bush and, arguably, you’ll find a Trump.
For his part, Romney pitted the “takers” (47 percent of Americans) against the “makers.” Unlike Trump, who doesn’t camouflage his racism in code or behind closed doors, Romney made his racially charged plea to what he believed to be a private audience of other successful, largely white-bred makers.
Despite his inept attempts to qualify his telling remarks after they were made public, Romney’s slimy motivation echoed Bush and Trump… to affix blame for America’s ills on other people who don’t look like any of the individuals he was talking to in that ballroom.
The Republican aristocracy that was once, perhaps tepidly, in love with the Bushes and Romney has turned on Trump, insisting that the Grand Old Party has suddenly been transformed into the “stupid party,” led by a stupid man who takes comfort in his manifest stupidity.
Their revisionism is adorable. Geopolitically, George Bush Jr. makes Trump look like a Mensa member. Admittedly, Trump probably couldn’t find the Middle East on a map of the Middle East, but Bush Jr. was, regrettably, able to pick out Iraq and then invade it.
Bush Jr. broke Iraq, and, as we and history know, he and his successor haven’t been able to fix it 13 years since his disastrous decision. Since leaving office, Bush has retreated to his Texas ranch to paint and clear brush. Meanwhile, the loss, pain and suffering of Iraqis are as perpetual as the illegal war that was visited upon them by another stupid man who also takes comfort in his manifest stupidity.
Recall, as well, the flurry of gooey starbursts from the Republican cognoscenti when Senator John McCain plucked Sarah Palin from the obscure political backwater of Alaska and made the “thrilla from Wasilla” his running mate.
McCain’s selfish, myopic choice to elevate a pretty imbecile like Palin to salvage his flailing presidential aspirations was not only a desperate act by a desperate politician, but once again enshrined the anti-intellectual doctrine that has been a defining characteristic of the so-called modern Republican party for a long while.
The lineage of Trump’s ascendency and success is apparent to anyone with a memory and a conscience. Bush begat McCain, who begat Palin, who begat Romney, who, in turn, begat Trump. In this context, it’s not surprising that McCain and Palin have endorsed the increasingly erratic and incoherent Trump.
With every passing 24-hour news cycle, the Manhattan madman sinks deeper into a paranoid pit of lunacy. It would be a grievous error, however, to think that because a few establishment Republicans belatedly recognize that Trump is a con artist, millions of other Republicans will follow their lead and fall out of love with him too.
Blind love can be intoxicating, even dangerous. Trump is counting on it to propel him into the White House. The casino owner may yet win that cynical bet.