It’s disturbing to reflect on how very easily people can be persuaded. It was the late George Carlin, I think, who reminded us to ‘never underestimate the power of stupid people in large groups’. The meteoric rise of Donald Trump, with his demagoguery, political gospel of bombast, flip-flop and sound bites, “all sound and fury, signifying…” well, not a lot, has propelled him to the forefront of the Presidential race. So, could Trump win? There two stubborn facts: first, that nobody remotely like Trump has won a major-party nomination in the modern era. Second, as is always a problem in analysis of presidential campaigns, poll data is fluid and ambiguous. Many are watching his apparently unstoppable steamroller of a campaign and are quietly appalled, fearful about what it might be like to live in a world where he is one of the most powerful leaders. The interest and hostility toward Trump peaked after his remarks about temporarily banning Muslims’ entry into the USA. A correspondent in Nigeria, a nation of more than 70 million Muslims, says: “Trump was trending on social media and believe me, he was the one man on earth Nigerians hated the most. He still is.” Leaders from France, Egypt, Canada, the United Nations, and Saudi Arabia were among those to publicly criticise Trump, indeed the British Parliament debated whether he should be allowed into the country, where tempers ran high, him being variously described as a ‘dangerous fool’, ‘corrosive’ and ‘poisonous’. At the time, this suggested to me that the British had fallen for all the hot air and hadn’t given much rational thought to exactly how to handle the persistent political gadfly that is Donald John Trump.
In the US, the status acquired by making vast amounts of money is like nowhere else in the world, and the man and his policies, if they exist, are disguised in the garments of the fabulously wealthy, which sits well with American aspirationalism and underlies the ephemeral concept of ‘the American dream’. He has oratorical skills, although rather less developed than Adolf Hitler’s, and he also uses fear as a weapon – Mexicans or Muslims, it really doesn’t matter – in the same way that Hitler used antisemitism to further his political career. The ideological huddling resulting from a doctrine of fear of the unknown created the Nazi party. Hitler argued in Mein Kampf that Europe had become enfeebled by the effeminacy of the Judaeo-Christian ethic and needed a man of iron to restore it and build an empire. The parallels are all too obvious – Trump is, let it be said, no Hitler, but the tribal loyalties which have surfaced to ‘make America great’ have disturbingly familiar echoes. Furthermore, he seems to think that diplomacy is a delicate little tool for appeasement in cases where he perceives brute strength is required. He declined to appear in Fox News’ debate the other night and such was his crowd-pulling appeal that the debate viewing figures were substantially reduced by his absence. But, it may take more than this. The Wall Street Crash of 1929 was the beginning of a worldwide economic disaster and one of the levers that propelled Hitler to power. Pundits are predicting something similar in the not-too-distant future, where another man of iron, prepared to stampede over democratic principles to further a political agenda, has space to rise.
Momentum generated turns into energy released. If Trump generates enough, like a runaway express train, he’ll be hard to stop. However, Bob Hope was once asked why he never ran for the Presidency. He replied that his wife didn’t want to move to a smaller house. Perhaps Mrs Trump might like to make a similar suggestion.
Postscript: OK, I take it all back. Perhaps there might be one or two who ain’t as dumb as a doorknob after all. Organisation trumped enthusiasm at final call. A well-greased machine with enough people on the ground got the job done for Ted Cruz, the darling of the Evangelicals, and both anti-Washington establishment candidates pushed out the rest of the field. Cruz is also in favour of strict controls on migrants which is probably what Trump was trying to say.
New Hampshire and South Carolina next and the race is really on.