aNewDomain commentary – I get it now. I finally understand the fervor and frenzy around celeb Presidential Candidate Donald Trump. His candidacy rests on improving our national self-image and possibly not much else.
It came to me at this week’s Donald Trump rally — queued up by Sarah Palin, Trump’s latest convert. Up close, the Trump I saw played the cantankerous National Rich Uncle — think Uncle Tex from the Flintstones. All image and all mood — with little need for bothersome details.
He’s positioning himself as the second coming of Ronald Reagan — imagery, mood and symbolism — a style that worked well for him here in Tulsa, OK, a conservative Middle America bastion.
And, like it or not, no candidate playing by old election playbook rules is going to easily defeat him. Here’s why.
Trump speaks as if he’s unscripted, unedited and undiluted.
Trump is a politician, no question. But he’s upended the mold politicians have so carefully crafted over the past 30 years. His few policy positions could fit on a postcard. He’s fast and loose with the facts, all kinds of facts. He told the crowd in Tulsa, for example, that it numbered 15,000, when in fact the actual number was significantly lower. Trump’s number was 4,000 above the arena’s capacity. But who’s watching, and isn’t it just too nitpicky to point this out?
Trump is all about image and mood.
In this, he is prescient — and he overshadows his competitors by a mile.
Trump seems to have recognized that national politics has become locked in a rigid, rule-laden mandarin discourse that has impaired the national psyche. He seems to believe that the language and manners of diplomacy are never a good fit for a nation that views itself as free speaking, free thinking and free wheeling.
Trump’s alternative discourse excites people who’ve long felt locked out by stultifying politics — and the political correctness that comes with it.
Trump’s prescription for America isn’t sophisticated, but it’s easy to swallow.
Trump and Palin emphasized their anger at the present state of affairs in the U.S. “People are sick and tired and fed up, and yes, we’re angry,” bellowed Trump to wild cheers.
I have been baffled by much of the anger. It’s as if it’s 2008 again, and the world financial system is crumbling along with millions of pensions while we’re bogged down in two endless wars.
By most traditional measures, the country is actually doing quite well.
But Trump reckons that we have an image problem. And his supporters, who now number nearly half of the registered Republicans, wildly agree.
His detailed policy agenda basically comes down to fixing the national state of mind. It’s not about positions and policies. Trump is the only presidential candidate who understands that in this election the public wants fervor.
“We don’t win anymore,” he plainly told the crowd in Tulsa. “We don’t win militarily. We don’t win on trade.” In this, Trump acknowledges the frustrations of a huge swath of middle Americans, middle Americans both in income and location. (That the U.S. is actually the preeminent world power is irrelevant.)
Trump’s carefully crafted persona – it is part Gordon Gekko, part Archie Bunker, part Ronald Reagan and part Howard Beale — has arrived to lead us back to greatness. Or so he wants you to think.
“I’ve made a lot of money. I’ve been greedy. Now I want to be greedy for you. I want to be greedy for the U.S.,” promises Trump.
And the crowd went wild.
How Pres. Trump would govern.
I’ve been baffled for months about what President Trump might be like. What would his policies be? How would he enact them? I simply couldn’t tell because he doesn’t spell them out — that’s not his thing.
Even the “positions” tab on donaldjtrump.com is a new entry, and there are precious few answers there.
If it was possible for America to be even more governed by corporate interests, then that’s probably what the Trump administration would be like.
Trump has already enlisted billionaire Carl Icann, and he claims to have many more business leaders lined up to serve in his administration.
I haven’t normally thought of populist movements being led by the wealthiest Americans, but then again, most populist movements fail. Trump’s takeover of the federal government by corporate leaders would be interesting to see … and perhaps we will see it.
Do his fans here in Tulsa care anything about Trump’s lack of specifics as to how he would govern? Outside the Mabee Center at Oral Roberts University, where thousands of us waited in a single-file line for two hours, I sought answers.
Trump’s persona is so powerful that it was able to draw 9,000 Oklahomans at midday on a Wednesday on a freezing, blustery day just to hear him speak for 30 minutes.
“Everything is so PC now that it sucks,” said one guy, who’d taken a day off work for the occasion. Another young man said, “Regular politicians – they don’t know how to do anything but persuade people.” This man told me he’d driven for an hour and a half across the state to see Trump stumping.
Trump’s appealing to the angry.
“We have a movement. And yes, we’re angry,” said Trump to an approving crowd that included everything from pensioners on oxygen bottles to bikers to high school students who bussed in for the occasion.
In his 30 minutes on stage, Trump spoke mainly to the national image, centering his comments around how he believes we see ourselves and how he believes others see us. In so doing, he described how the entirety of our present national leadership (both parties) is idiotic, and how the rest of the world no longer respects the U.S.
In a rare moment of detail, Trump talked about how he’d execute AWOL Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl — parachuting him into ISIS-held Syria just prior to a major bombing raid by U.S. warplanes. He wiggled his fingers to show a parachute descending. This is how Pres. Trump would deal with “the dirty rotten traitor.” The crowd roared its approval at the idea.
The audience agreed with Trump and Palin that the Obama administration wasn’t doing anything about ISIS. A year’s worth of bombs, raids and drone attacks don’t project the same imagery as a U.S. flag flying over Mosul. Many in the crowd had probably bought the “Bomb the Shit out of ISIS” pins being sold outside the arena. ISIS is apparently high on the list of worries in Oklahoma.
Per usual, Trump talked about the wall he wants to build between the U.S. and Mexico. He hinted that he’ll get Mexico to pay for the wall by threatening them with a trade ban. Trump listed a number of U.S. companies opening factories in Mexico, including one that makes his beloved Oreo cookies.
Trump claimed that the U.S. spends more per capita on education than any other country but doesn’t get its money’s worth. In reality, the U.S. doesn’t top the educational spending list — but it’s not crazy to think that we should get more for what’s spent. More importantly, what kind of image does it send when students in Estonia and Macau score better on math tests than American kids?
Mysteriously — and to more roars from the crowd — Trump intends to reduce the costs of public education while improving overall results. I’m sure he’ll fix the image if not the problem.
Even though he’s a rich boy, Trump manages to convince crowds he’s just an Oreo-loving regular guy.
Trump’s followers like to think he’s just like them only richer: Plain speaking. Competent. Sober and Jubilant. Serious and Fun loving. We all “know” him from countless carefully crafted media appearances, culminating in The Apprentice.
There’s a reason they call it “reality” TV, right?
And just like us, Trump manages to convince everyone he, too, is fed up with the failures of modern politics. He sees our pain, and it angers him as much as it angers us.
Now he’s put aside his fortune-making for the greater good. He’s stepped forward to lead. What a sacrifice he’s making!
Now, if this sounds like a movie trailer with a voiceover, it’s not an accident. Some of the men standing and sitting around me openly cried.
As you can see from all this, Trump is way more than just a step ahead of all his rivals.
He is, in fact, probably the most media-savvy presidential candidate since Ronald Reagan. He knows that we all “know” him just as the public “knew” Reagan as the friendly host of Death Valley Days and the hero of countless films.
Trump’s media genius.
At one point, Trump pointed to the press pool gathered in front of his podium and called them (us) “dishonest.”
Unlike other politicians, Trump has realized that he doesn’t need to appease the media. They will do his bidding regardless.
The crowd stared at the reporters with disdain. Nothing the press says about this Trump appearance will possibly matter, because Trump has already rendered it untouchable and beneath consideration.
Trump at the same time ridiculed various self-appointed national pundits. He described political commentator George Will as looking like a stupid clown when he isn’t wearing his famous glasses — and characterized Karl Rove as an out-of -touch maniac who thinks Mitt Romney won the last election.
Trump went on to say how the media’s cameras never showed the crowds at his rallies, so the public didn’t know how many people attended.
“They only turn the cameras when there’s a protestor. Then they show that.”
As if on cue, a few minutes later, a protestor shouted something.
Trump bellowed, “Get him out of here. Security get him out of here.”
The cameras swung around.
“See, look at the cameras. See, they turned,” Trump said triumphantly.
The exchange also conveniently gave everyone a taste of how commanding Pres. Trump would be.
The protestors were right out of central casting, too, and their timing was so perfect it seemed scripted. There were two outbursts at the beginning, providing a great opportunity for Trump to get his anti-media message out. And, as soon as Trump established that his brand, his message and his “movement” were under attack, there were a slew of protester outbursts to punctuate it.
He isn’t out to just beat the other Republicans, anymore.
At the rally I attended, it really seemed as if Trump had moved beyond his Republican opponents. He’s even sort of moved beyond the general election. It’s no longer the central topic, though he still took time to gloat about Hillary Clinton’s email problems. Lest you forget.
He relishes the opportunity to run against Hillary, he told the crowd, and if his opponent turns out to be Bernie Sanders, all the better.
“I’d love to run against that whack job,” proclaimed Trump about the three-term senator.
The crowd cheered wildly.
All in all, though, Trump barely mentioned his Republican opponents, managing to dismiss the entire present political establishment, left and right, as “stupid.”
Explained Trump: “I went to the Wharton School of Business. My uncle was a professor at MIT, and I don’t know any better word for who they are than ‘stupid.'”
Trump singled out Jeb Bush for particular scorn, claiming that Bush has spent $79 million in negative advertisements against him and gotten nowhere.
“He’s an honest guy, but he’s a stiff,” said Trump.
Trump strode to the podium and introduced half-term Alaska governor Sarah Palin, who in a very roundabout manner introduced Trump.
One wonders what Trump’s plans for Palin are, especially since he chose to embrace her by placing both of his hands on her hips.
What is abundantly clear is that, in terms of image, Pres. Trump will follow the blueprint laid down by Reagan.
It will be morning again in America. Or it will be made to seem so. If we feel good about ourselves, everything else will fall in line.
His supporters, it’s now clear to me, will accept almost anything from him — including statements that, made by anyone else, would earn them getting barred from the dinner table.
The cheering crowd here in Oklahoma, for example, was filled with conservative voters who more than likely supported George W. Bush — twice.
Trump told them, in no uncertain terms, that the Iraq War should never have been fought.
“Iran is walking into Iraq because of the war. They’ll walk into Yemen. They’ll walk into Syria. They want Saudi Arabia,” explained Trump, describing a Middle Eastern domino theory.
His audience nodded their heads approvingly. Not a skeptical look in the place. Trump can do no wrong in the eyes of fans like these.
And, as media, we can do no right in pointing any of this out to you.
Get ready, America. The juggernaut has begun.
Reporting from Tulsa, OK, for aNewDomain, I’m Tom Ewing.
Photo credits: Tom Ewing for aNewDomain, all rights reserved