Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Trump: Just a Romney With Skills?

Four years ago, if you'll remember, we had a candidate named Mitt Romney. I don't blame you if you've forgotten, because he was a very, very forgettable candidate. The only reason I bring him up is because he had one distinguishing feature: his total insincerity. It was clear that Romney would say anything to get elected; he was a shapeshifter from a sci-fi movie, willing and able to take any form to advance his own purposes.
Trump and Romney 
(Stan Honda/Getty Images, taken from The Daily Beast) 

But the difference between him and the shapeshifter in the sci-fi flick is that the one in the movie was actually convincing, and Romney was completely transparent. He was a shapeshifter whose real form was obvious: he was a simple political hack, an opportunist, an empty suit speaking empty words. So no one ever bought his new disguise as a "severely conservative" ideologue. He's now faded into history, a mere footnote for a high school textbook.

Why do I mention all of this? Because I want to make a proposition. It's not a proposition that I'm sure of, but it's one that seems increasingly likely to me. It's that Donald Trump is a Romney who can pull it off. I've written about how he's running essentially as a fascist, but increasingly, I doubt his fascism is anything but skin-deep. I'm beginning to think he's nothing more than a skilled con man who's found his mark and is exploiting them like a master of his field. His recent comment, that he could shoot someone and his supporters wouldn't mind, only seems to boost that idea.

Let's think about this. We all know that Trump has held all sorts of political positions throughout the years. He used to support single-payer healthcare, and legal abortion. At one point he advocated a wealth tax. But back in the day he was a supporter of Reagan. This sort of thing can usually only mean a person doesn't have a clear political ideology, that they're likely to get sucked into new ideas and new people, as those gain popularity.

But now he's adopted as his own a far-right platform he could have taken right from the website of some two-bit European fascist party, with a few minor adjustments. And it's been a huge hit with the rabid masses that make up the Republican base. That shouldn't surprise anyone; it was clear from the Tea Party movement that the base was moving toward increased racism, Islamophobia, and xenophobia. And just as that happens, Trump adopts a new ideology, one that's fervently anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and willing to raise questions about the country's black population. It's a bit much for a coincidence.

The motive, too, is obvious enough. We all know Trump is a narcissist. It was clear enough that his other flirtations with running for the presidency were little more than yet another way for him to stroke his ego. Why should this one be any different? Perhaps the only real difference is that he picked a demographic and figured out how to truly manipulate them.

A Trump presidency, it seems increasingly likely to me, would look less like a fascist takeover of the government and more like it would have looked if we'd elected Ross Perot in the '90's--adopting policies with support that cuts across party lines, attempting to project an image of strength, while doing little to help marginalized groups in society. It would be an ugly sight, but, if I'm right, it wouldn't involve shipping 11 million illegal immigrants out of the country, building a giant wall and trying to make Mexico pay for it, or banning Muslims from entering the country. That isn't to say that the thought of a Trump victory shouldn't be terrifying. It would be like handing a flamethrower to a kid who likes to play with matches. But the neo-Nazis and other nasties that have increasingly cropped up wouldn't really get their wishes.

But with all that being said, I could be wrong. Maybe Trump is a true convert--a modern day St. Paul, who substituted the ideas of Jesus with those of Mussolini and the Ku Klux Klan. If that's the case, his election could well mark the official death of even the illusion of the rule of law and democracy in the United States. In any case, while it's a curious question just how a Trump presidency would look, it's not a question that I want to see answered firsthand.

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