“It’s gonna be great, it’s gonna be tremendous. You’re gonna love it”.
You need only have the faintest tickling of an interest in this year’s US election to confidently cry out the identity of the man behind quotes like this. And while you might then decry everything about this identity, and the platform that has raised his tiny fingers high enough to claw at the double glazed glass ceiling barring racist, sexist bigots from leading the foremost Western power, many millions disagree with you.
I normally try to remain as balanced as possible when it comes to politically motivated pieces, but this is different. Donald J. Trump, a man who dodged federal income tax for decades, dismisses boasts of pussy-grabbing as “locker room talk”, and stokes Islamophobic fires with what he thinks is a bountiful stockpile of hateful coal, is within a whisker of the Presidency. How did we get to this point?
On some levels, I am astounded that Trump can survive such a damning scandal as Pussygate with only a couple per cent drop in the polls, and 40% of the electorate still predicted to vote for him. But he dials perfectly into the electorate’s anger at a system characterised by the skewing of rewards to the rich – 90% of income gains since the financial crisis have gone to the top 1% – and by clumsy foreign and domestic policy, leaving ripe opportunity to drum up racial and religious tensions. Such is the desperation for change that it’s difficult as human beings not to turn our heads to baseless promises that all will be great again.
These emotive assurances are so enticing that a great many are willing to turn a blind eye to the rational evidence before our eyes – and Trump knows this. He’s even publicly stated that ‘I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters”. So is it really a surprise that he weathered Pussygate far better than commentators hoped?
As Mark Blyth says – “You have a liar on one side, and a bullshit artist on the other. Which one gives you more possibilities?” Trump is tremendous at offering tempting, sweeping possibilities, and it doesn’t matter if they are ultimately vacuous. Trump’s response in last night’s final presidential debate, to nonpartisan assessments that national debt would rise significantly under his plan, is a perfect case in point:
“I say they’re wrong because I’m going to create tremendous jobs. And we’re bringing GDP from really 1 percent, which is what it is now. And if she got in it would be less than zero. But we’re bringing it from 1 percent up to 4 percent. I think you can go higher, to 5 or 6 percent. We have a tremendous machine. We will have created a tremendous economic machine.”
“We will create an economic machine the likes of which we haven’t seen in many decades. And people, Chris, will again go back to work. And they’ll make a lot of money. And we’ll have companies that will grow and expand and start from new.”
Trump’s words are not only demagogic, but they also bestow upon him demigod status among his followers. A key aspect of religious faith in a higher power is that it is unfalsifiable, and this is a quality shared by the vast majority of his claims, including the quotes above. Perhaps learning from David Cameron’s astounding ability to renege on election promises and emerge unscathed, Trump takes it one step further. Through his deliberately vague and emotive brand of politics, he averts the critical gaze of millions of eyes. Even after his audibly crystallised moral failings, Trump retains the overwhelming support of American Christians merely because he is pro-life and favours a conservative Supreme Court.
My worry is that this behaviour is going to have consequences far beyond the man himself. To maintain the worship of his followers in the wake of his recent scandals, Trump has resorted to attacks on the fabric of democracy itself. Calling the multiple post-Pussygate allegations of sexual assault “a conspiracy against… the American people” and claiming the election is rigged, Trump’s offensive culminated in the unprecedented announcement to millions in yesterday’s presidential debate that he might not accept the election result if he loses.
There is no scenario in which this claim can be negated, as any evidence can be dismissed as part of the conspiracy. He has ignited a distrust in democracy that may not be quelled even by the next election, and has amplified the voice of a sizeable racist contingent of the American electorate (and for the record, I’m not saying that all Trump supporters are racist) that could significantly destabilise the course of American democracy and international relations.
Even if, as all polls predict, Trump loses on November 8, we need to be vigilant in the following months and years – especially if he questions the validity of the result. How can this newly mobilised portion of the electorate, fed a platform of bigotry, fear, and empty promises that never got the chance to be fulfilled, be placated? Divisions are much easier to create than to repair. Perhaps a truly progressive movement can rise from the ashes of Sanders’ dishonourably extinguished campaign, and galvanise a more positive future for the nationalistic populism currently gripping world politics. If not, then we may increasingly feel the wrong kind of burn. The conclusion of an election usually represents a settling of the political dust, but thanks to Trump, now more than ever, America’s future is in uncertain hands.