Scary part of 'Trump phenomenon' is what citizens are willing to overlook
Published 26/07/2015 | 02:30
Billionaire US presidential hopeful's comments are cheap rhetoric and come from a creature formed from an age of unreason, anxiety and anger.
I would not normally pay much attention to a man like Donald Trump. He touches too easily the irrational, shouting-at-the-television part of my nature. The older I get, the more I counsel myself to avoid being wound up unnecessarily. There are things that are worth the anger and worth a fight. Until now, the public fulminations of Mr Trump have never seemed worth the pain. But when a US presidential candidate demeans the experience of men captured in wartime and yet still manages to sustain a lead in the GOP polls, well, as Arthur Miller wrote, "attention must be paid".
It was a week when I longed for a writer with the wit and intelligence of the late Gore Vidal or Norman Mailer to zero in on Trump - shiny, reckless, populist, charismatic, rich, that utterly American salesman of sound bites. He is widely perceived as having "shaken up" American politics and as representing a new force. Trump is the man who threatens to "unleash a political avalanche" etc etc. But he is a symptom and not a cause. He is a creature formed from an age of unreason, anxiety and anger, an age where history and context are confined to the pages of newspapers and magazines read by an elite. What matters is what is said now - on 24-hour news, Twitter, Facebook and all the rest. I watched with wry amusement as Rupert Murdoch tweeted his disapproval of Trump's McCain remarks. Yet it is Murdoch's own Fox News which has provided the most powerful platform for the populist simplifiers of American politics. Night after night, the world is reduced to black and white, to a chorus of apoplexy. Trump's remarks about Mexicans and crime are the logical conclusion of a politics which abjures reasoned argument. His comments about McCain are the cheap rhetoric of reality TV, the savage put-down before the audience votes. Yet his constituency of support is strong. Why? Because enough Americans are angry and confused enough to be willing to overlook a historically and morally wrong-headed attack on a war hero. That is the truly worrying thing about the Trump phenomenon.