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So, Donald Trump, the brash celebrity billionaire and star of TV’s ‘The Apprentice’ has dramatically announced a bid for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. Cue hysteria. Cue mob humour. Cue intellectual laziness.
I understand how conventional it is to laugh at Trump; at his braggadocio, his squirrelly hair and material emphasis. He is clearly someone who enjoys the media spotlight and who often speaks with the media in mind. But away from the quirks in his character, it cannot be denied that Trump, via his achievements and lived philosophy, also personifies America at its most unapologetic, creative, tough-minded and independent.
He is a throw-back in that regard; the living relic of an era – fast being lost – in which the United States was the country to imitate if you wanted your own to succeed. It was an era of unipolar domination, whether on the economic, cultural or military plain. It was the era in which most of the skyscrapers you see on the dazzling Manhattan skyline were constructed, when the bridges were built (on budget and on time), and when the US army considered concepts like ‘retreat’ and ‘failure’ to be eccentricities unique to Europe.
I believe this American spirit still survives, in pockets and enclaves, but the condition of America in general is increasingly tenuous. Toxic issues are beginning to develop in the marrow of American life; issues that if left without treatment, could prove lethal to its long-term prospects.
Trump announced his bid for presidency this week with a resounding rally held in his Manhattan skyscraper ‘Trump Tower’. The fallout would last for days. Here are some of the more ‘provocative’ statements emphasised by the press:
On immigration – “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”
On jobs – “Our real unemployment is anywhere from 18 to 20 percent. Don’t believe the 5.6. Don’t believe it… That’s right. A lot of people… can’t get jobs. They can’t get jobs, because there are no jobs, because China has our jobs and Mexico has our jobs. They all have jobs.”
On health-care reform – “We have a disaster called the big lie: Obamacare… Yesterday, it came out that costs are going for people up 29, 39, 49, and even 55 percent, and deductibles are through the roof. You have to be hit by a tractor, literally, a tractor, to use it, because the deductibles are so high, it’s virtually useless. It’s virtually useless. It is a disaster.”
Shortly after these comments were made, left-leaning cable channels set about presenting them as stand-alone bigotries, considerably more extreme and stupid seeming than in their original context. The television network NBC responded quickly by severing all ties with Trump, accompanied by the retail giant Macy’s, hair-product brand Farouk Systems, and the Latino TV networks Univsion, Televisa and Ora TV.
I won’t deny that the comment about Mexican rapists was lazy and ill-advised. There doesn’t seem to be a problem with sexual violence in Mexican communities more serious than in others. But outside of these unfortunate snippets (incidentally, I don’t share the Republican anxiety over subsidised health-care either), I found the speech rather inspiring.
Trump offered his audience an honest, easy to understand diagnosis of real and important maladies. His remarks about the pathetic failings of the Iraqi ‘military’ were dead on the nail. His comments about China’s cynical devaluation of its currency were timely and brave. His stated willingness to protect Israel should comfort the hearts of besieged democrats around the world.
But more than anything, it was Trump’s call for a ‘cheer-leading’ President who can resurrect the attitude of exceptionalism that truly impressed me. As I have written perhaps too many times before, positivity and the “Let’s Win!” spirit is not only useful on the football field or basketball court. It is the same attitude that destroyed the Empire of Japan and liquidised Iraqi divisions in Kuwait. It is the attitude that built the Hoover Dam, and which drives the world economy.
Trump understands this. He understands the psychological basis of American strength, that this strength is not derived from virtue alone, but from arrogance, determination and unilateralism too.
Despite my enthusiasm, I am soberly aware that a Trump administration is as unlikely Caitlyn Jenner birthing triplets. Impossible, of course, but perhaps not wholly undesirable.