As I write this, Donald Trump has swept the New Hampshire primary with ten delegates. Undeniably, his campaign has generated massive traction. At first, when I heard about Donald Trump running for president after his roast on Comedy Central in 2011, I laughed and dismissed it as a fluke, almost as phony as the toupee on his head.
But as with many things in life that happen almost spontaneously, the journey of Donald Trump from a towering mogul and TV celebrity to a legitimate front-runner in the GOP race has completely taken me by surprise. To be frank, in one sense, I cannot comprehend how the message of someone who spews the same nonsensical, recycled garbage at an elementary literacy level could resonate with so many people.
But in another sense, it makes complete sense. You see, the brilliance of Trump’s campaign has been very simple: let Trump be Trump.
It is all too easy as a rational person to tear apart the aphorisms that consistently predicate on the premise that our country is completely broke and the half-baked proposals of protecting the border; let alone his inability to completely finish a thought. Some have even gone so far to question the source of his massive success, pointing to the fact that he inherited his wealth from his father, or that he filed bankruptcy four times.
And these criticisms may be all well and good, but they are all encapsulated within one ingenious web that Trump has woven himself thread by thread. What makes the man so polarizing? He is willing to speak whatever is on his mind. Forget about the intense fixation of politicians on synthesizing the best soundbytes. The man says whatever pops up in his mind at whatever given moment. Yes, sometimes he says misogynistic things. But that is the point. Whereas many people in the public eye hire exorbitant publicists to protect their fickle images, Trump is willing to fight back the very system that threatens to eradicate his persona: the media. Yes, he repeats the same lines over and over. But at the end of the day, how many politicians have the gall or courage (depending on how you look at it) to do what he does? I can name two off the top of my head, and they are both leading their respective races. The fact remains: Trump is simply being Trump.
But then this begs the question: who the hell is this Trump? I mean, it is easy to get emotionally swept up in either direction, on one end worshiping the character who promises to annihilate ISIS and police the world, hearkening back to Teddy Roosevelt’s Big Stick Policy, and on the other questioning the intelligence of both the man himself and his massive constituency—but these detract from a closer look at the source of all the madness.
For some context, let’s take a look at his older interviews.
Watching this video, it becomes evident that the Trump in this video is distinctly different from the Trump we see in rallies today in that he is poised, eloquent, even humble. He uses words like “equilibrium” and “innate intelligence,” clear departures from his current vernacular.
So what the fuck happened?
Nothing: The man simply became more of who he was destined to become.
To fully understand the evolution of Trump is to understand the celebrity culture of America on a broader level. We are inundated with images and stories of child celebrities who grow up and become major fuck-ups, and actors and rock stars who overdose on heroin or cocaine; all of these the darker reflections of life in the public eye. But these are only the tip of an iceberg of a cult of personality that erects a powerful image to everything we admire.
In the purest sense, a celebrity is the face of a movement that affects change on a massive scale, the ignition of a combustion that departs from the mundane and paves the way for a completely new way of feeling. There is a sense of reinvigoration that comes from witnessing a person erect himself in front of massive audiences, a kind of visceral hope that tugs on one heart and makes one forget about the daily struggles of being average. It is almost as though by witnessing greatness one becomes part of the legacy itself.
When people dismiss the potency of Trump as a front-runner, they ignore this element of Trump, his way of drawing people in with his ability to appear like an iconoclast and everyman when in reality he is part of the elite.
Let me perfectly clear: I do not support Trump. I think he’s a fool. But the object of my derision is not the person himself. It is the persona. The man behind the mask is a mastermind. He is effectively tugging on the primal instinct of the masses by being an amplified version of himself. Everything he once was is now vulgarized and sensationalized. His body language is more pronounced, his diction is more pointed, his words are simpler. He reinforces his simple claims that we’re fucked with stupid but emotionally charged monosyllabic words. By polarizing people so powerfully he separates himself from other presidential candidates who rely on their legitimacy as candidates on the basis of ethos or logos.
His message is purely dependent upon his pathos.
But Trump has taken it to another level. There have been plenty of GOP candidates who have said things for shock value. But what makes Trump so appealing more than anything in that in his language there is a recurring theme of white butthurtedness that is pounded into the heads of his supporters. How does he reinforce it? Simple diction.
What do they all have in common?
They are foreigners. Keep them the fuck out. Seal our borders. Make America great again by maintaining white privilege.
But what has astounded me even further is that there is a growing number of Mexican supporters of Trump. My theory is that it is a reflection of a concerted effort of historically disadvantaged people in America to receive a sense of validation by assimilating themselves into dominant, white culture and supporting the face of a movement they admire. They want to be part of the ride.
Trump offers many people the hope of freedom, no matter how unrealistic it may actually be. Regardless of the outcome of the 2016 presidential race, Trump has succeeded in entering the sphere of my consciousness and reminding me that we as humans are not as capable of logical and higher thinking that we suppose ourselves to be. And this scares me inordinately. We only need history to tell us where that goes when we let go of the ability to reason and follow blindly out of pure emotion.
There are millions of fools who flock to a leader who probably doesn’t give two shits about them.