As Trump slouches towards Washington, no one is making jokes about him anymore
Published 08/12/2015 | 02:30
In times of war people want strength, Donald Trump told audiences last weekend, capitalising on the barely-concealed national hysteria about Isil next door which has gripped many Americans.
The polls seem to bear Trump and his tough talk out. After Paris, the latest CNN poll showed Trump's lead over his Republican rivals for the presidential nomination spurting to 20 points, with fewer than two months to the first votes in Iowa. Who knows what the recent massacre in San Bernardino will do to his poll numbers?
Trump is WB Yeats's "rough beast" slouching towards Bethlehem to be born. Working class white Americans cannot get enough of him. His crowds are massive. He uses the most insulting and racist terms, yet they follow him like Moses into the desert.
A senior figure in the Clinton camp told me last week that even they are starting to get worried.
"Trump is skating along on top of all the hysteria and the overblown rhetoric," the source said. "We all thought it would fade away but there is no sign of that happening."
The source was deeply worried that a further Isil incident in America could harden the position of right wingers even more and lead to a bull stampede to Trump by the Grand Old Party (GOP) and independent voters.
In that respect, Isil and its long shadow in America is the best thing to happen to Trump. America has vivid memories and fears since 9/11. Suddenly a similar adversary, an enemy within, has raised its head.
Trump has no actual policy other than bomb, blast and bellow at America's enemies. I doubt he could find Isil territory on a map.
But as my Clinton friend said, if America is going with its emotions this time as opposed to its head, and if voters decide they want the closest thing to a leader on a white horse, a new kind of fascist for the ages - Trump - could be born.
The history of America, where has quite often been a flirtation with fascism, is clear in this regard. An Irish American priest, Father Charles Coughlin, spread virulent anti-Semitic propaganda on his highly-popular radio show during the 1930s that played an important part in keeping America out of the war.
Senator Joe McCarthy paralysed America with his reds under the bed conspiracy for several years in the 1950s. Governor George Wallace declared: "Segregation then, segregation now, segregation forever," and ran a very impressive race, winning five southern states and 45 electoral votes.
Wallace said, when asked what he needed to win: "We have all the nuts in the country, we could get some decent people" - a sentiment that may not be far from Trump's ultimate idea. The national mood is surly and no one will be safe if it continues.
The battle over gun control is an obvious example. Last week only one Republican voted to disallow people on the no-fly terrorist list getting guns without a background check.
On the face of it, keeping guns out of their hands seems so obvious it shouldn't even be an issue. If you are a suspected terrorist and you can't fly, you also shouldn't be allowed to buy a gun.
But the all-powerful National Rifle Association (NRA) disagrees and Republicans have tamely followed its lead.
When Republican candidate John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, stated it was obvious that those on the no-fly list shouldn't have access to guns, he was strongly attacked by fellow candidates as being soft on guns.
Thirty six people a day are killed by guns in America. That's over 10,000 a year - a town the size of Wicklow town. Yet Americans seem paralysed and unable to do anything about it.
The NRA promotes the fantasy that if people were armed, lives would be saved, as if a revolver could take on an AK47, instead of being like using a peashooter against a cannon.
Into this sick mentality strode Trump. He's turned the presidential race on the GOP side so far into a procession as he takes the hardest line of all on guns, immigrants (they're pretty much rapists and criminals), refugees (they're terrorists) and so on.
Trump's traction has forced the other candidates to also pitch to the right, so we're seeing political moderates like Jeb Bush suddenly acting like Attila the Hun when it comes to refugees (we should only take in Christians) and gun control.
It is true that Trump has a real base for his dissatisfaction. The working class are living paycheque to paycheque, have not seen their standards rise in decades and watch as Wall Street fat cats earn ludicrous salaries that make a mockery of a free and fair society.
Trump is beholden to no one, having his own wealth, which endears him to followers who are sick of the paid access game played by lobbyists in America.
Despite appearances to the contrary, Trump supporters have not lost their minds. They see him as a prophet extolling their virtues and understanding their concerns.
The irony of having a billionaire as working class hero is lost on most Americans who long for certainty and leadership.
President Obama has not helped in that regard, appearing to have taken the Isil threat too lightly. Obama is professorial, unemotional and analytical, which is great when it comes to solving issues like budget problems.
But on hot button issues of real emotion such as Isil he can seem wooden and too programmed, though his speech to the nation on Sunday night addressed some of that issue.
Nonetheless, the vacuum in leadership has developed and Trump and others are at the door as America faces its latest gap of danger.
Whether one of them can crack the White House Is another matter, but no one is making Donald Trump jokes any more.