Even a gaseous, disgraced has-been like Newt Gingrich stumbles on the truth. Earlier this year, per ProPublica, Newt privately told Republicans Trump panders to voters “at the lowest level of any candidate in either party.” If Trump didn’t shift campaign gears, opined Newt, brace for a rout. Most tellingly, the ex-House speaker struggled to imagine how to shift from Trumpery to governing: “How we make the transition from, you know, language for fourth graders to real policy, I don’t know.”
For some pundits, 4th-grade diction may be generous: New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait casts Trump as “several orders of magnitude more clownish and uninformed than the dumbest major-party nominee I’ve ever seen before.” And worst still, “Unlike Bachmann or Cain, Trump has an even weaker grasp on intro-level Republican dogma, instead ranting like a drunk on a barstool (“Bomb the shit out of ISIS!”). In debates . . . he dispensed with the pabulum altogether, relying instead on vague, repetitive bragging and grade-school-level personal insults . . . His appeal operates not at a low intellectual level but at a sub-intellectual level.”
Ouch! Now Trump undercuts 4th graders with intellectual capacity. This week Salon’s Andrew O’Hehir also invokes adult imagery: “By attaching himself to Pence and to the most delusional, crazy-town fringe of the Republican right, Trump has leapt right over the so-called [party] mainstream . . . and reforged the GOP as a nightmare coalition of the very worst kinds of Americans. I’m not letting the supposedly normal, grown-up Republicans off the hook — they are the next worst kinds of Americans.”
One supposed grownup, Jeb Bush, hardly felt off the hook this week: “Trump’s abrasive, Know Nothing-like nativist rhetoric has blocked out sober discourse about how to tackle America’s big challenges.” Despite endless onslaughts, not many Republicans allege that Sec’y Clinton blocks “sober discourse.”
The Wizard of Id
Today, the Trump GOP Magic Show erupts, promising Ms. Trump as opening keynote speaker, notably buttressed by intellectual giants from Duck Dynasty, second-level actors, an array of Trump family — and a paucity of savvy, realistic Republican leaders. Behold the core of this election: NOT left vs. right (top candidates crisscross that line), not old vs. young, not strictly white vs. non-white or Christian vs ? Not ultimately simply blue vs. red states, as odd variations look to occur. Nope, third parties aside, the GOP Convention confirms this election comes down to a battle of our national child energy vs. our adult temperament — politically, between the gullible taken in by a con artist’s reality-denying, grammar-school reductionism vs. mature voters accepting a distrusted, hawkish but manifestly rational adult.
Thus, Trump will continue doing everything not to discuss issues or policy in depth — and Hillary will do everything to say: “what about experience and skill sets, let alone nuance, complexity or trade-offs that drive art of governance, diplomacy and warfare?” Trump treats voters as needy, under-educated children driven by tribal fears and “sub-intellectual” emotions; Hillary, at least when campaigning or not beholden to entrenched powers, testifies that reason, logic and evidence, even history, matter.
Sell Change! Who Needs How?
Clearly, Trump wants politics run as a hardcore business in which voters are misinformed consumers, making false advertising par for the course. That’s not unlike knee-jerk Republicans who pitch delusions of “free trade” or trickle-down economics, with every problem solved by cutting taxes for the rich. Trump simply infantilizes rightwing memes by removing the facade: who needs ideology, even policy, when reality TV tricks garner sufficient primary voters? Who cares about a candidate’s moral character, expertise, or zero experience: just package enough comfort-food sound bites to corral a wayward coalition against the ill-defined, yet unendurable status quo.
Forget detailing any of the means of change. Beware when a candidate forever treats his absurdly simplistic motto, Make America Great Again, as if agenda, platform and philosophy rolled into one. What does Monday night’s Convention theme, Make America Safe Again, mean — return to which safe decade and safety for white folks, not inner-city minorities? Thus, a slew of defaults to grammar school dream worlds, as if voters learned nothing in high school or college about language, let alone complexity, diversity and minority rights.
This Convention will display who Trump is, dramatizing his celebrity strengths and electoral weaknesses. And like the primary, this Convention will break new ground: the least thoughtfully adult, with the least ideological substance, of any GOP pageant in memory. Why wouldn’t the Donald, thrilled his PR genius got him this far, sponsor a convention that mimics the mushy primary, dispensing “with the pabulum altogether, relying instead on vague, repetitive bragging and grade-school-level personal insults”? Why reverse the core Trump assumption: never change whatever gets you what you want?
Distorting vs. Making up Reality
One hardly need endorse Hillary (count me out) to concede she’s a rational, if legalistic adult who understands science, history and the Constitution (all the easier to skirt). By and large, her dishonesty, inflating her worth or fudging badly, as on emails, is garden-variety political lying. Politico finds rew Hillary “Pants-on-Fire” lies vs. Trump’s incredible record buster list of shameless mendacity. Though Clinton is rightly distrusted for self-serving distortions, Trump is guilty of worse. Like any 4th grader tasked to make-up a fabulous story, Trump invents his own reality, then defensively reinforces it as not only true but better than any others.
That’s why pundits invoke the S word for sociopath, the narcissist rewarded for being in love with his own BS, who then defies contrary evidence as not just false, but malicious outpourings from predatory enemies. Trump’s ghost writer for “The Art of the Deal,” Tony Schwartz, captures what distinguishes Trumpian lies: “Lying is second nature to him,” Schwartz said. “More than anyone else I have ever met, Trump has the ability to convince himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true, or at least ought to be true.” Often, Schwartz said, the lies that Trump told him were about money—“how much he had paid for something, or what a building he owned was worth, or how much one of his casinos was earning when it was actually on its way to bankruptcy.”
Trump: “I Won’t Grow-up”
Magic thinking never leaves our inner, Peter Pan child, eager to fantasize, then unable to separate fact from fiction, all to support fragile, immature egos. What Trump does, barely knowledgeable on national politics, history, and Washington ways, is reinvent himself as the redemptive hero come to save America. Such epic quests spurn nuance: it’s either Trump or disaster, with the fairy-tale simplicity that the fiction he creates must be true because he keeps repeating it, like any Big Lie. Take “I am the candidate of law and order,” as if rivals are for chaos and mayhem. However deluded are rightwing zealots, only extremist Republicans match the great Trumpian reach: his insular world, reinforced by apparent wins, is the only one. Thus, whenever Trump the self-anointed champ becomes Trump the chump, he blames everyone else, insisting bad people despoiled his pristine realm.
Confirmed in spades are the terms of electoral engagement for four months. We await the grand finale, held in suspense whether the 20% of centrist voters in key battleground states will rise above their childlike, Peter Pan mentalities — instead apply reason to judge how presidential are Trump’s “vague, repetitive bragging and grade-school-level personal insults.” Or whether American greatness depends on a man-child at the helm who convinces “himself that whatever he is saying at any given moment is true, or sort of true, or at least ought to be true.” “It’s the future, Mr. Gittes” (from Chinatown) — nothing less than choosing between simplistic, childhood wishful thinking vs. an adult mindset cognizant of complexity, research and thought (and that frame applies fully to the Green and Libertarian parties, too).