Whether you like Donald Trump or not, one thing about him is undeniable: he has managed to upset the American political apple cart like no one else in recent memory.
It seems as if he has built his campaign for the US presidency on the basis of a vade mecum on “how to lose an American election.” First, he threw his hat into the ring without years of preparation, something no presidential candidate worth his salt would do without. His initial Republican rivals had all been working on their “project” for years; some had even tested the waters in previous presidential bids. Trump, however, joined the race at the last moment, almost as if on a whim. In the initial stages of the race he didn’t even have a proper campaign manager let alone an army of image-makers, rapid-response attack dogs and pathfinders who identify and woo potential allies.
Needless to say, Trump had not even bothered to procure the “seed money” that every American candidate needs, initially depending on a loan he himself gave the campaign.
Something else he didn’t bother about was policies or at least an outline of policies that every candidate needs to sound serious. That meant that he didn’t have any policy advisers either. Not for him any of those Ph. D holding bespectacled gurus from Harvard and Yale who offer a candidate gift-wrapped policy options on every subject under the sun. Policies? Trump would make them on the hoof.
An American candidate also needs something called gravitas, which means being utterly boring up to a point. To ensure gravitas, the candidate needs a haute-couture suit in sober shades of grey or blue with matching handcrafted silk ties. On that score, too, Trump couldn’t cast himself as a typical candidate. Although a billionaire, as he claims, or at least a millionaire as his accounts indicate, when it came to dressing up the best he could do was Brook Brothers.
Worse still, Trump ignored all classical models of a candidate’s behavior by making a point of provoking everyone with his demeanor and limited vocabulary best suited to a sailor rather than a putative “Father of the Nation”.
He also made a point of sticking a needle into several big media balloons who think that, because they are on television, they merit adulation as if they lived on Mount Olympus. The spectacle of Trump cutting TV divas and “personalities” down to size was delicious. And, all of that was before his erstwhile friends started selling old videos, showing him making a fool of himself, to pro-Democrat media.
Not surprisingly, maybe because they failed to gauge Trump, the US media wrote the real estate developer’s political obituary on a number of occasions. Each time, the consensus was that this time around he had really killed his campaign. But each time, like a mouse in Tom and Jerry, he bounced back to pursue his shenanigans with greater vigor.
In what might be the penultimate sequence in this strange saga, Trump has been all but divested of his position as the Republican nominee with the party establishment publicly renouncing him.
In other words, Trump heads for the November 8 poling day as an independent candidate, his own man, and in no way beholden to any party structure. And, that is an unprecedented situation in American presidential elections.
The surprise in all this is that the Democrat nominee, Hillary Clinton, has been unable to simply walk on her flawed Republican rival like a queen on a doormat. Not a single opinion poll has given Clinton anything close to 50 per cent of the votes, indicating that even if she ends up winning, as many pundits expect, she would be little more than the lesser of the two evils.
With less than a month to polling day, the American elector has a stark choice between the Democrat candidate representing the traditional ruling elite and its well-established norms and practices, and Donald Trump, casting himself as leader of an ill-defined but tempting insurgency.
In that context the demand by so many Republican candidates that Trump should “resign” as nominee and allow the party to field another standard-bearer is both naïve and potentially dangerous.
Democracy, as we have often noted, only sets the procedure and does not guarantee the result. An election is useful because it provides an instant “selfie” of the state of an electorate’s opinion. To ask Trump to bow out before the election is an attempt at photo-shopping that “selfie” even before it is taken. In the old days of the Soviet Union, Stalin used the trick to airbrush opponents out of “historic” photos and films.
Almost everyone would agree on at least two points regarding this election. The first is that Trump reflects the hopes and fears of a substantial segment of American society today. Mrs. Clinton has mocked such people as “deplorables.” President Barack Obama, campaigning for Clinton, has branded them the “7/11” crowd after a chain of utility stores frequented by the less well-to-do Americans.
In the hope of driving Trump out of the race, Democrats are also spreading rumors that Trump is in fact a Russian “tope” and that Vladimir Putin has mobilized his revived KGB to destroy the Clinton candidacy with the help of the WikiLeaks and, later, by hacking polling machines in the US to alter the results in favor of Trump.
The second point is that no one quite knows how strong or weak that “deplorable 7/11” constituency is. However, it is important to find out. The only way to find out is to allow Trump, who, rightly or wrongly, has emerged as the champion of the “deplorable 7/11” crowds to remain in the race as a candidate.
If Trump wins we would know that the US today contains a majority of angry people who feel unhappy, if not in a rebellious mood, for a variety of reasons that need to be identified and addressed. If he loses we would know that the US has a minority of dissatisfied citizens whose different, at times contradictory, demands can no longer be ignored by the ruling establishment of which Mrs. Clinton is the champion in this election. Trump is playing a useful role by puncturing the mushy consensus of decades that swept America’s many deep divisions under the carpet.
You hate Trump? OK. Rub his noise in the dust on election day.