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The star of English comedian John Oliver (sorry for him, America) has been rising fast this past week, largely (or entirely) due to the viral success of his ‘Make Donald Drumpf Again’ routine, a 20 minute rant that has since been shared over 50 million times on facebook and viewed over 4 million times on YouTube.
The piece has been praised as “timely”, “politically explosive”, and “devastating”. Observers (mainly on the centre left) claim Oliver has ‘destroyed’ Trump’s credibility, if not his entire candidacy in one fell swoop. Is this true? No.
The majority of Oliver’s points in this clip are embellishments of points already made elsewhere, often with greater force and skill. Not one of them is valid. Few of them even have a cogency able to survive the deduction of humour. Let’s go through a few of them.
Oliver repeatedly notes that Donald Trump is unpredictable and has changed his political positions over time. This was likely intended to make Trump supporters question their favoured candidate’s authenticity. Like previous attempts to wound Trump’s reputation, this failed miserably. As Mr Trump himself has noted, Ronald Reagan – the untouchable giant of recent Republican history – shifted position on many important topics prior to settling on his widely adored Presidential agenda. So have many other great political figures. Though this defence is simple, it is also devastating. Why the hell can’t a man change his mind? Do figures on the left hold everyone to this rigorous account? If a right-winger goes to the left later in life, would they be so suspicious of his or her integrity? Of course not. The matter should thus be closed.
Another charge Oliver advanced in the Drumpf routine involves Trump’s claim that we should kill (or threaten to kill) the families of terrorists in order to make them play ball. Trump’s rationale on this matter (almost always excluded from the quote in reports) is that terrorists care about little outside of their own private universe. They are obviously, demonstrably willing to sacrifice the lives of random Muslims for their eschatological cause. They are also obviously, demonstrably willing to sacrifice their own lives, which they view as intolerable spiritual encumbrances obstructing entry into a garden of olives and virgins. It is rational – whatever else it is – for Trump to float the idea that these brutes may care about their families, if about anything at all.
I don’t believe for a moment that Mr Trump would order US airmen to bomb the houses of innocent people. It is more likely that his comments were meant as an argument for intensive bombing – which might result in the deaths of innocents. This is a crucial distinction; one the media should be more careful to add when they raise the issue.
Oliver’s argument that Trump is a bad businessman is both untrue and completely irrelevant. Trump is obviously a very successful man, worth – even according to the estimates of his enemies – over 8 billion dollars. Though the son of a wealthy businessman, Trump was supplied with a comparatively tiny loan by his father which he has since multiplied consistently with no outside help. Turning a small amount of money into a huge amount is no small art. If you don’t believe me, try turning $1000 into $80,000. If it was easy, everyone would have a tower.
As I say, Trump’s financial history is not only fake but irrelevant. Trump is not running as a businessman. He is running as a patriot. Even if Trump Steaks or Trump University did fall flat, why would this have anything to say about the billionaire’s competence as a leader? It could even be said to recommend him further. The world economy is like a violent sea. Its current tosses big and small ships alike. Every vessel, however expertly designed, is at risk. What matters most is not the occasional random, unforeseeable shock of fortune, but the staying afloat. Trump has absorbed great turbulence over his life and still managed to survive and flourish beyond it. Experience like that cannot be bought.
The only original conceit of the Drumpf routine is Oliver’s genuinely penetrating insight that ‘Trump’ rhymes in the unconscious mind with ‘luxury’, ‘quality’, ‘exclusive’ and other aspirational nouns and adjectives. Ordinary folk, Oliver explained, instinctively associated names with the qualities their bearers are famous for. Tiger Woods, for a different example, brings to mind victory, health, Black achievement and sporting excellence. You are substantially more likely to buy a product with the name Tiger Woods emblazoned on it than one emblazoned with the name of Vanilla Ice or George Zimmerman. Similarly, in politics – a choice of product like any other – we are naturally drawn to individuals based on positive associations. Trump is wealth. Trump is success, luxury and New York. Trump is a five star hotel on the top floor of the capitalist universe. People find this very difficult to refuse.
But does this observation make choosing Trump for President any less rational? No, it doesn’t. Trump is not only admired for subliminal reasons, but for fully rational, real-world advantages. He is (as he is absolutely right to remind us) the only self-funded candidate. This matters a great deal, much more than Trump’s detractors are willing to admit. Marco Rubio, his articulate speaking aside, is a bought and paid-for puppet of the Republican establishment. His manifesto is ghost-written by wealthy donors who are completely unaccountable to – and disinterested in – the general public. The American people are no longer willing to accept this callous type of flyover politics; the politics of ‘we know what is good for you because we have degrees and you don’t’.
If Oliver’s routine was a serious attempt to cripple Trump and take him out of the game then it has surely failed. Trump’s polling figures are as high as ever. Not one of the tycoon’s rivals appears able to mount a consequential challenge. Super Tuesday was a splendorous triumph for The Donald. He won states in the north and in the south, perplexing analysts who had long called these for Rubio and Cruz respectively.
Although (surprisingly) Oliver didn’t dwell on it too heavily, we must also address here the idea that Trump is somehow a ‘racist’ or a ‘White Nationalist’. Of all the slurs directed at him, this is by far the most frequent and potentially effective. Where is the evidence?
Some might immediately point to the comments the candidate made about Muslims – namely, his lightening-rod suggestion that the US bar foreign Muslims for a temporary period on security grounds. This proposal has been wildly criticised by all and sundry, but is it racist? No, obviously not. As the world should be tired of hearing by now, Islam is not a race. Muslims are not a biological family. To propose their exclusion is no more racist than proposing the exclusion of Mormons. There are White Muslims, Arab Muslims, Persian Muslims, Turkic Muslims, Chinese Muslims, Indonesian and Malaysian and African Muslims. Under Trump’s policy, all will be subject to the same measure, whereas Christian Arabs, Atheist Turks or Buddhist Malaysians will not be. Bottom line – race is irrelevant.
Trump’s attitudes to Mexicans and Blacks are also far from troubling. As regards the former, the billionaire has famously called for the deportation of 11 million illegal migrants. While sensational to an unreliable and skittish media, this isn’t even a policy shift. It is the enforcement of an existing law. It should be no more controversial than to propose the enforcement of parking legislation. Trump is not opposed to Mexican Americans legally resident in the United States. To the contrary, he has repeatedly praised the ‘spirit’ of the Mexican people and highlighted his determination to improve living standards and job opportunities for the Latin and Hispanic community.
Trump’s anti-immigration posture is for the benefit of all working Americans, with no distinction made of race, religion or class. It is a policy that should be welcomed by the Right and Left alike. Illegal immigration devalues the native labour force and undercuts the wages and expectations of American workers. It isn’t fair. It isn’t right. It cannot be tolerated.
Donald Trump is an opportunity that will not come again. He is a one-off: unscripted, un-bought, willing to fight for real-world advantages and speak up against real-world injustice, strong enough to resist the fury of a whipped up media class, patriotic enough to risk a personal fortune to enter politics – this is far from the ordinary. Should he be rejected, something amazing will have been squandered; something historic will have been rejected, and for no greater reason than a queasy fear of the novel and the real.
Trump’s manifesto is the red pill, the uncomfortable jerk that awakens the comfortably numb out of their demon-haunted repose. Trump will redefine American politics, smash the cross-party liberal consensus and reintroduce essential ideas into a pacified and muddled American consciousness. The ‘conservatives’ who are bulking at the prospect of his presidency never were conservatives to begin with. The liars are being separated from the truth. The cards are being laid on the table.
Will you stand with him?