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    presidential politics

    What Trump Means

    by | 8 | Jul 6, 2015

    Donald Trump by DonkeyHotey

    Does the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump serve any useful purpose? If your first reaction is to dismiss the question because the idea that such an absurd and repellant figure could be taken seriously, it is worth remembering that American voters have elected others just as unlikely to the White House. Ronald Reagan the movie actor and George W. Bush the old money underachiever whose daddy was president were no less improbable early in their political careers.

    To be sure, Trump’s candidacy might be nothing more than an example of the public attention seeking that afflicts the superrich. Rather like 1%ers pretending to be diplomats by bundling campaign contributions to be appointed ambassador to Romania or pretending to be astronauts by paying to spend a week on the International Space Station. Perhaps, but Trump’s public opinion poll numbers against a shoal of other candidates should give you pause before completely dismissing him. Many likely Republican caucus and primary voters like what he has to say.

    The horrible truth is that in our party presidential nominating system, a crass billionaire bigot with high name recognition stands a decent chance of winning the GOP nomination.

    Still unconvinced? Then ask yourself why so few of the other Republican candidates have dared to criticize Trump directly. One possibility is that they are pulling their punches because many are actually running for the party’s vice-presidential nomination. Why say anything now that they might have to walk back in the future as Number Two on a presidential ticket with Trump the Terrible? Take a moment to picture Mike Huckabee or John Kasich subjected to the sort of the “job interview” humiliation inflicted on The Apprentice in a vice presidential selection process. (Yes, revenge fantasies can be entertaining.)

    The rest of the Republican candidates have another reason to avoid criticizing Trump. His candidacy normalizes what would otherwise be recognized as morally abhorrent. Just as the inanities of East Texas Congressman Louis Gohmert makes U.S. House Speaker John Boehner the rest of House GOP seem a little less extreme, so too the hate filled nonsense of Donald Trump makes front runner Jeb B. and the rest of the GOP presidential candidate field seem less extreme. The monsters of conservative derp break down our collective resistance to ideas we would reject if we were not being distracted to the point of transfixion. Like raising the retirement age for social security or ‘boots on the ground’ in Syria. Trump distracts.

    Mainstream news organizations seem no more capable or willing to put a stop to this nonsense than the Republican Establishment. The problem is that these self-appointed guardians of public probity need exactly what Trump delivers: content empty of everything except that which holds fleeting attention. The drift from serious news coverage to news as entertainment, to newsertainment, has been underway for decades. Trump the magnate-entertainer-politician is irresistible to entities that are themselves neither entirely fish nor fowl.

    Rather than think of Trump’s candidacy as an exception to some standard, we may need to view him as first of a cohort of conservative politicians so wealthy that they do not even need to feign a capacity for modesty or shame. The favor he does us all is to put a face on the death of our democracy.

    ###
    • Image: Donald Trump by DonkeyHotey via flickr and used under a Creative Commons license. This painting of Donald Trump was adapted from Creative Commons licensed images from Gage Skidmore's flickr photostream.
    John Hickman

    John Hickman

    John Hickman is Professor of Political Science in the Department of Government and International Studies at Berry College in Rome, Georgia, where he teaches courses on war crimes, comparative politics, and research methods. He holds both a PH.D. in political science from the University of Iowa and a J.D. from Washington University, St. Louis. Hickman is the author of the 2013 Florida University Press book Selling Guantanamo.

     

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    • Eileen Dight

      With your permission I will post this on Facebook, with admiration.

    • Joseph Campbell

      Shouldn’t a university poli-sci professor tasked with the shaping of young minds at least make an attempt at being objective? Donald Trump is an agitator and shrewd media manipulator. People are attracted to him because he is always up to something. Love him or hate him, he is interesting. Why does that bother you so much?

      • Eileen

        While I can see Trump’s value as agitator and shrewd manipulator, would you want him to speak for you in matters of US foreign policy?

        • Joseph Campbell

          No, I wouldn’t. But last I checked, no one elected him to any public office. He speaks for himself, far as I can tell.

      • Trevor Irvin

        So you’ve taken Mr. Hickman’s class? You haven’t? Ah, … I see, educators aren’t allowed personal opinion. How objective of you. Then again, his article look pretty accurate to me, but of course you have that special insight. Why do others opinions bother you so much?
        T

        • Joseph Campbell

          Who said educators couldn’t have opinions? They should and do. I just prefer some objectivity from a learned man tasked with teaching politics. Here, we have a classic ad hominem attack on Trump without even a token reference to the political issue in question. The implication of course is that anyone who empathizes with the man’s policy ideas is equally “crass” and hateful. This stone throwing mentality damages real political debate and contributes to our highly polarized party system. I guess I’m naive to expect better from a teacher. Nonetheless, Trump’s chances of becoming president are infinitesimal at best, and his muck-raking mentality only works because the Hickman’s of the world keep taking the bait.

    • Chili Dogg

      Mr. Hickman, just so you’ll know, Ronald Reagan was actually a two-term governor of California and involved in politics well before he was elected President. He didn’t go straight from the stage to the Oval Office by any means.

      As for Trump being 2nd in the polls (actually, tied for 2nd at 14 percent with Jeb Bush and Ben Carson in recent Public Policy Polling:http: http://www.publicpolicypolling.com/main/donald-trump/.) A little research shows that Trump is likely near his ceiling, given that he has huge unfavorable ratings among Republican voters. An average of three recent polls shows him with a 57 percent unfavorable rating, which is the new record, beating Pat Buchanan’s 43 percent (http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/why-donald-trump-isnt-a-real-candidate-in-one-chart/). (Buchanan ended up running as an independent.) True, he has done better in the latest polls, which followed his announcement that he is running for President, but his unfavorables are still high. He has a dedicated but small base. As CNN reports: “But like in other polls, voters who don’t support Trump are making it clear that they’re not going to change their minds according to Wednesday’s Quinnipiac survey. Nearly 3 in 10 voters said they would definitely not support Trump.” (http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/01/politics/iowa-poll-donald-trump-scott-walker/) Given his large unfavorable ratings, it’s a real stretch at best to argue that the other GOP candidates are aiming for the #2 spot under Trump. People who run for President generally have the ego to believe that they can win the Presidency. The idea that Trump has “a decent chance of winning the GOP nomination” is hard to take seriously. BTW, it’s easy to find this polling information on the internet.

      The idea that Trump makes the “morally abhorrent” policies of the other Republicans look better is a stretch, too. (It’s easy to see the slant that your students are likely receiving in your classes. I remember getting the same liberal slant from my Poli Sci professor in college.) Your idea of morally abhorrent policies? “…raising the retirement age for social security or ‘boots on the ground’ in Syria”. As for Social Security, you mean raising the age like the Democrats voted for in the 1980’s (along with the Republicans) and will likely have to do again in the future when the funding problems get bad enough, given the increase in life expectancy and funding issues? As for Syria, it was President Obama who warned about crossing the “line in the sand” in Syria (by using chemical weapons) and threatening US military intervention. It was the same Democrat President who increased troops in Afghanistan, who increased drone strikes, bombed additional countries, and sent troops to Iraq to help them in their fight against ISIS. But somehow it’s only Republicans who are for such crazy actions.

      You’re half-right about the media’s treatment of Trump; they do love some entertainment and provocation, which brings in viewers. What you are missing is that many of them don’t mind at all focusing on an extremist to make Republicans look bad and to put the idea in the public’s mind that the GOP candidates are nutty.

      Finally, the article describes Trump as the “first of a cohort of conservative politicians so wealthy that they do not even need to feign a capacity for modesty or shame”. So who are the rest of the “cohort” who aren’t even here yet? Given the number of GOP candidates who don’t fit that description, the prediction seems doubtful. BTW, lots of Democrat politicias are wealthy, too: Pelosi, Clinton, Kennedy, Rockefeller, etc. At the least, Hillary Clinton seems to have no modesty or shame. And she is the presumptive Democrat nominee, not a fringe candidate like Trump. It’s always good to look honestly at one’s own side before criticizing others.

      Note to commentors: I am not a Republican, so please don’t ask me to defend their policies. Thanks in advance.

      • Eileen

        What part of “crass billionaire bigot” do you not agree with?

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