TRUMP MANIA

An American who has been living in England for many years has written that she is surprised at the attention I have been giving Donald Trump.  No one is more surprised than I, as might be inferred from my initial post on the phenom in late June.   I was part of the chorus that called him a clown.  It turns out he was actually the ringmaster and we were his clowns.

The Apprentice has morphed into The Candidate, now with the smidgen of potential to one day morph again into The President.   Reality TV eventually transformed into surreality TV?

The thought horrifies but fascinates, as if some huge asteroid was hurtling itself towards us.  Why horrified at the thought of a Trump presidency?   Because anyone who basically holds himself up as the answer to all of our major problems (these fool politicians got us into this mess and I alone am rich enough not to be bought and smart enough to fix the problems and “make American great again”) is a snake oil salesman.

But snake oil sales are going good and I don’t see the demand reducing any time soon.

The temptation is to try to analyze Trump as a psycho-sociological phenomenon, but that’s worth a book and the story has just begun.   Still, still there is wide spread disdain for both politicians and politics as usual (Democrat Bernie Sanders being another beneficiary) and with the rise of Trump, politics have become anything but usual.

That’s the point.  The unusual in the form of Trump is a lot more fun and interesting.  In this case  especially for Democrats who love to watch the squabble,  but obviously for many Republicans as well.  It must keep a number of other Republicans awake at night, though.   Unlike literally a few weeks ago, it seems Trump’s getting the party nomination is not totally far fetched.

Jeb Bush is the only other candidate to get much traction in the polls at this point.  But when they juxtapose clips on TV of The Donald in front of a crowd of thousands next to the jeb in front of a few hundred, Trump looks like a star and jeb looks like an undertaker.  And he is the only other Republican candidate to receive even double digit poll support, still only about half of THE DONALD’s.  As is often said, Trump takes all the oxygen out of the room, prompting images of the other candidates gasping for breath and just trying to survive.

The President, hmm….. now that’s a “reality” show I’d watch, frightened as I would be.

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Donald Trump and the Difference between Insanity and Folly

One of my pet peeves is the pseudo wisdom often expressed as:  “The definition of insanity is repeating the same mistakes over and over again and expecting different results.” When I initially heard it a decade or two or three ago, it was attributed to Einstein, which immediately made me suspicious.

Einstein was too smart to think it, let a lone say that.  So, I looked into the matter.  While its exact origin seems debatable, one thing clear is Einstein never said it. (1)

It came to mind this morning when a political commentator used it as part of the explanation for Donald Trump’s popularity.  Politicians make the same old promises and nothing much changes.   So, you want different results, choose a non-politician who has been a very successful businessman.   Then the results may be different.

The Donald, if nothing else, is completely different.  Sometimes by the day.  Who knows what he will say or do next?  Making everyone tune in for the latest.  The other candidates look like somnambulists compared with Trump.

But back to the quote above about repeating the same mistakes. It is hard to pin down a common definition of insanity, but if there is one common denominator it’s dwelling in a world that is unreal to the rest of us (2).    It’s like pornography.  We can’t quite define it, but we know a nut case when we see someone acting incoherently (not including drug or alcohol induced).

Expecting different results while repeating the same mistakes is not insanity but folly, arguably our greatest human common denominator.

One small example.  I have a friend who has gambled on horses for decades and his worse days at the track are usually tied to an undisciplined approach to betting.  He’s careless in handicapping the races (also spelled lazy) and allows his emotions and hopes of getting lucky to prompt unwise decisions, often lathered in beer foam.  He has known this for years, but still often repeats those mistakes and  kicks himself afterwards.  Not for being crazy but for being a fool once again.

A much bigger example.   Our two biggest foreign policy mistakes in my lifetime were going into Vietnam and Iraq.  Both were prompted by arrogance and ignorance, the arrogance of power and an ignorance of who we were dealing with in those nations, both so-called friends and enemies.   The lesson that should have been learned from Vietnam is that our shear military might can not solve problems that are fundamentally political in nature.

But we didn’t learn because we still remained arrogant in our might and largely ignorant of what a quagmire we might be getting into.   One of the most distressing things I’ve ever read about American foreign policy came from Richard Holbrooke, a respected albeit controversial diplomat for decades.  He said something like this:   Those responsible for forging American foreign policy know surprisingly little about the nations for whom they are forging that policy.   Not exactly his words, but the gist.

In other words, the elephant of our military is guided through the china shop of international relations by handlers half-blind at best, but still arrogant.

Our inherent human tendency to repeat mistakes is not because of insanity but because of human foibles like greed, delusions, false hopes, arrogance and what have you.   Shakespeare summed it up:  “What fools these mortals be.”  He never said what loonies these mortals be.

By the way, a mistake people have repeated throughout history is to place faith in a demagogue who persuades us he alone can save the day by playing on our emotions and prejudices rather than our rationale side.   Demagogues don’t have a great track record historically, but that doesn’t keep people from following the next persuasive  demagogue who comes down the pike.

Does anyone come to mind?

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(1)  When I researched the topic years ago, it seemed Ruby Mae Brown got “the credit” for those words from a novel of her’s published around 1983. Googling the matter recently, both Wikipedia and Cara Santa Maria in HuffPo asserted that Narcotics Anonymous (NA) gets the credit.  However, blogger Tyson Moore argues that NA may have gotten the idea from Brown before she published her book and a respondent to her piece says NA actually got it from AA, so more research seems necessary for those who really care to pin it down.

For me, I’ve had enough as the statement sounds good but is just plain wrong.

(2)  The increased political polarization over the past few decades has added a caveat to our common sense idea of reality.   Politically, we have lost a common sense of reality.   Political spin has created separate realities, one viewed from the right and one from the left.  That’s why those on the left and those on the right cannot have a meaningful conversation about politics.  A dialogue is impossible without shared common assumptions about reality.

Egads! I Can’t Get Donald Trump out of my Mind

I feel stricken.  I don’t want to write about Donald Trump, but I can’t get him out of my mind, mostly because I watch too much cable TV, and they won’t let me.   His ubiquitous video clips won’t let me.

I am afflicted with Donaldism.   I want it all to end but until it does I can’t stop watching.  I want to to see him take a big fall, but every time he seems to stumble, he’s like the Terminator, he just keeps going.   “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever…”   What did you say he just said?  Well, he meant nose he now says.  Who could think anything differently?  And who said what about what about that and the other thing?  Where is he now?  Where might he go next?  What might he say?

I may need to go back to therapy.

I think of Donald Trump like a wildfire in California fueled by the deep discontent of many voters like the withered bushes and trees in this state.   And each tisk tisk he receives from the Republican political establishment (and liberal press) prompts his peeps to double down.  Spit more oil in their eyes Donald.

After the dust has settled somewhat from Thursday’s debates (the preliminary bout won hands down by Carly Fiorina and the main event starring the Donald), the NBC News/Survey Monkey Poll (no, I’m not kidding about the monkey part) shows Fiorina as having won the “debate” according to 22% of likely Republican voters with Trump finishing 2nd with 18% (while his overall support for the presidency held firm at around 23%).

But here is the kicker:  While many thought he did well, even more thought he did worst of all.  He topped the who-lost-the-debate category with 29%.  Love is in the eye of the beholder.

So the Donald remains this huge sliver in the Republican party, the size of a railroad spike.  And like a sliver well dug in it’s hard to think about  anything else until you get it out.

And that could take a long time.

So, I’ll need to see that therapist again.

The First GOP Debate a.k.a. The Donald Show

As certain as I am that the Donald Trump campaign balloon will pop at some point, I’m revising my thinking as to how he’ll perform tonight.   Forget what I said in my last post about him turning the evening into some form of The Apprentice.  He doesn’t need to make the debate all about him, it already is.

He has already established himself as the clear cut leading Republican candidate in the polls, so he does not need to be as outrageous as usual. He simply has to get through the night without the other candidates successfully tearing him down and I think the other candidates on stage will be wary of doing that, lest they seem like they are ganging up on him and dismissing the anger and frustration of a large proportion of the Republican base.   The Donald’s peeps.

In short, Trump does not need to score points on his opponents.  He’s already the big leader.  He just needs to counter punch a bit if they try to land punches on him.   So, the stage is set for Trump to look more presidential than usual which is all he needs to maintain his lead in the polls. What I’ll be curious to see is whether any of the other candidates impress sufficiently to rise in the polls themselves and what they’ll do to distinguish themselves. (1)

The difficulty for them is that anything that sounds like a serious approach to some problem, such as Chris Christie’s proposal for entitlement reform, will prompt glazed over eyes when compared with the Donald’s hubris.  You want entitlement reform?  Elect me president and I’ll show you entitlement reform, just as I built up a real estate empire.   I’ll also fix the border problem as well as put China in its place.  Wait and see.  The Great Wall will become The Great Wall of Trump.

The basic reason I think the Donald’s campaign will fizzle over time is that as much as we all want to fix a number of problems in this country, we have different ideas as to how to fix what and even what needs to be fixed, often polarized ideas.  The herculean challenge for a president these days is not to fix everything, but to get the rest of us (in the form of Congress) to agree upon a path to fix anything.

About a 100 years ago a wise man said something like:  For every complex problem there is a simple solution.  And it’s wrong. (2)   For Donald Trump and those who favor him in the poles, he is the simple solution.  Elect him and he’ll fix what others have been too feckless to fix.

Ah, I wish life were that easy.

But for now, and tonight and the immediate future, Trump mania seems likely to thrive and the solutions to our complex problems will seem that easy to a sizable some.

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(1)  As you know, there are actually two debates tonight, the first for the seven candidates who did not make the top 10 in the polls.  They have the advantage of not worrying about clashing with Trump directly and one or more might say something that gets pumped up by the media later.  Carly Fiorina, the lone woman GOP candidate and good at articulating her ideas, would be my first guess.

(2)   The guy was H. L. Mencken, an influential American thinker of the period.  He actually wrote:  “There is always an easy solution to every human problem–neat, plausible, and wrong.”  But I think my bastardized version suits the Trump situation better.

Donald Trump’s Presidential Bid as Reality TV

O.K.  O.K.  So what if I said ’nuff said’ after calling the Donald a clown six weeks ago.  I’m a bout to say more.  Not about Trump the candidate, but Trump the political phenomenon.  I’m compelled to do this because the media could not resist dwelling on Trump’s always controversial statements which was like throwing gasoline on a fire.

Now Trump mania is raging out of control, and the clown has become the ring master of the Republican debate to be held this Thursday.  Who knows what he might ignite, least of all the Donald. As he recently said, he doesn’t plan on attacking anyone that night, that he’s a counter puncher, so the big question is how much other candidates will pounce on him, and what he’ll say to strike back (which could be just about anything).  Or will the other candidates play rope a dope,  waiting to punch back at him?  Of will they actually just try to stick to big issues, sort of talking past him and boring us all to death?

Probably that won’t happen because the Donald is not to be ignored.  One way or another he will try to make this all about him.   He’s very good at that, so how that plays out is what arouses curiosity.

Lots of style points to be awarded.

Most of the Donald’s specific attacks on others have come in response to their attacks on him.  Take Lindsay Graham and John McCain as examples.   Forget that he began the contentiousness by casting generic barbs at all serving politicians as incompetent, ineffective wafflers, his initial hat thrown into the ring under the rubric Making America Great Again.

These other guys can’t do it, only he can.  If they were nicer to him, like Ted Cruz, he probably wouldn’t have been so nasty to them,  just like there are probably some Mexican immigrants who “aren’t bad people”,….  Trumps attacks were initially general.  The dismissive responses they elicited he takes personally. So, my guess is that Trump will make this Thursday evening into some kind of metamorphosis of The Apprentice, with him firing others at one point or another.

But the Donald is unpredictable enough that maybe he will come out of this debate looking more presidential than when he came into it.   If so, the Republican Party will really be in trouble.

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P. S. – I assume you realize that when I use the term “reality TV”, I do so with a sense of irony, as most reality TV is largely scripted, unlike life.  Politics today have become more and more scripted, but unlike with reality TV , many Americans don’t like the story lines.   Hence the popularity of Trump’s unpredictability.