Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Predicting Character: Trump As Humbug

I got to be honest: how the hell can anyone predict the Presidential Character of a complete charlatan and con artist?

Whatever disdain I have for the likes of Jeb Bush and Scott Walker, I at least recognize that these are guys who at some level take politics and governing seriously.  I don't trust them with office, and I see them as being as deceitful and self-serving as your average thief, but still they are not total clowns.

Donald Trump, on the other hand, is clearly not someone who takes politics or governing with any level of seriousness.  To him, it's all a means to shill his brand name, to keep his ego on display.  When we're talking about the clown car that the Republicans are putting together, the first name everyone pictures in a rainbow wig and red nose is the Trumpster, showing off in the center ring as always.

Because that's all Donald Trump has ever been: a salesman whose only product is Trump(TM).

There are so many things bad to say about Trump, most of which you can find on this Balloon Juice thread.  But let's delve a little deeper by bringing in Charles Pierce from Esquire to comment:

He is the inevitable result of 40 years of political conjuring, mainly by Republicans, but abetted by far too many Democrats as well. He is the inevitable product of anyone who ever argued that our political institutions should be run "like a business." (Like whose businesses? Like Trump's? Like Carly Fiorina's Hewlett Packard?) He is the inevitable product of anyone who ever argued why the government can't balance its books "the way any American family would." He is the inevitable result of the deregulated economy that was deregulated out of a well-cultivated wonder and awe directed at the various masters of the universe. Sooner or later, all of this misbegotten magical thinking was going to burp up a clown like Donald Trump.

Simon Maloy at Salon gets a little more specific:

But I’ve made the case previously that if Trump wants to play this game, then we should treat his platform and policy positions as we would any other candidate for the presidency. One problem with this approach, as made clear by Trump’s announcement remarks, is that he’s largely incapable of expressing coherent ideas when it comes to policy. He seems to believe that it is the policy of the Mexican government to send all its drug dealers, criminals, and “rapists” over the border into the United States. He’s in undisguised awe of China’s economic central planning but also claims to be a small-government conservative. On Obamacare, he said this, which… I have no idea what this is: “You have to be hit by a tractor, literally, a tractor, to use it, because the deductibles are so high, it’s virtually useless.”
So yes, Trump is a lunatic braggart who parades his insecurities around in a vain attempt to slake his unquenchable thirst for attention, but that’s not anything we didn’t know... 
...But by taking the next step, Trump officially made himself eligible for inclusion in the GOP primary debates. The party and Fox News have said that, given the sheer volume of candidates this cycle, participation in the first scheduled primary debate in August will be determined by polling strength, with the top ten candidates making it to the big stage. Right now, Trump is in the top ten – he’s actually polling higher than Rick Perry and isn’t too far behind Chris Christie. That means Priebus and honchos at Fox News are faced with the dilemma of having a cloddish reality TV star stand on the same debate stage with the GOP’s top-flight candidates...

Trump is essentially in the same category as the likes of Fiorina and Carson: an outright political amateur who's never held elected office.  His only point of contention on his resume is that he's been a business CEO, but that's it.  We've had business-background Presidents before - Hoover, Bush the Lesser - and candidates with similar business pedigree - Romney, Willkie - but each of them at least had experience with government either elected to lesser offices or serving as Secretary in Presidential Cabinets (Willkie had the less experience of them all, but was active in opposition to FDR's New Deal policies in a serious, legally experienced way).  And yet, because of his name recognition among the Fox Not-News viewers - who have seen Trump be an Obama-basher the last 6 years - Trump is going to be on the serious stage debating with the adults while more honestly qualified figures like Gov. Kasich and even Rick Perry (whom this blogger views as almost as low-intelligent as Trump) are sitting outside the arena kicking dirt.

Trump's Character - as we use Professor Barber's model of World-View - is repeatedly viewed by others as "clownish" and for good reason.  His attempts at discussing policies and matters rarely rise to the level of expert, revealing a person unable to perceive much of the complex nature of anything outside of working a television stage.  When discussing immigration, Trump jumps straight into stereotype and insult: what he said about Mexicans during his announcement was cringe-worthy.  To refer to Paul Waldman over at The Week:

The elements of Trump's style — from his jingoism to his willingness to present all kinds of weird ideas as facts to his obsession with right-wing shibboleths (remember how much time he spent trying to convince everyone that President Obama was born in Kenya?) to his relentless oversimplification of complex issues — are all what you get when you take a typical Republican politician and make him a little dumber and more extreme — but just a little. Take, for instance, this passage from his announcement Tuesday, where he elucidates his ideas about foreign policy and national security:
"I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will have Mexico pay for that wall, mark my words. Nobody would be tougher on ISIS than Donald Trump. I will find within our military, I will find the General Patton, or I will find General MacArthur. I will find the right guy. I will find the guy that's going to take that military and make it really work. Nobody, nobody will be pushing us around. I will stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons, and we won't be using a man like Secretary Kerry that has absolutely no concept of negotiation, who's making a horrible and laughable deal, who's just being tapped along as they make weapons right now, and then goes into a bicycle race at 72 years old and falls and breaks his leg. I won't be doing that..."

Basically, in that part of his speech, Trump dog-whistles every Far Right talking point of the "failures" of an Obama administration as though those incredibly "simple" solutions are there all along.  Putting up a border wall as though that will solve all our immigration issues (and forcing Mexico to pay for it?  Way to start an honest-to-God border war again, boss).  Degrading Kerry's work as State Sec as though diplomacy doesn't work (when in fact Kerry's work has kept our allies focused and our foreign opponents dealing with us).  As though all we need is a fighting General like Patton as if that will fix our military (where the problems are that we're wasting trillions on planes that won't fight and failing to support the troops that do all the dirty work).

All Trump has ever really done is market himself.  He's the host of a television show where all he does is grade other people's abilities to suck up to him for their jobs.  He shills books about himself more than develop any actual innovation in business or finance.  His trick in land development has been to attach his name to various construction developments as though it adds cachet, and then avoids putting any actual money into those developments that then fall apart leaving hundreds of people on the hook for useless unfinished condo towers.

We're talking about a "successful" businessman who's been to bankruptcy court roughly four, no wait five times.  (Businessman Jeb Bush by comparison has been involved in only one bankruptcy of note, and while it's a doozy - Lehman Brothers - he didn't seem to be a primary catalyst or player in that collapse)  This is a guy who lives recklessly on junk bonds and inflated values, looking to be put in charge of the American economy and the federal budget.

Of his personal habits - the series of bad marriages and divorces that rivals Gingrich, exaggerations that slide easy into big lies, the flaunting of an extravagant lifestyle - they all point to a man self-serving and elitist far beyond any level of narcissism any political figure ever displayed in American politics.  Nixon and LBJ were never this bad, Kennedy and FDR and John Adams were never this bad, Harding and Grant and Buchanan and Tyler were never this bad.  I can't think of anybody else who were either egotistical enough to qualify as a narcissist or bad enough to be a disaster, which is what Trump is going to be if he ever reaches the White House.

Every other political figure - even our Passive-Negative Presidents who never honestly pursued the job as a means to resolve their ambitions - had within themselves a vision of America: as it was, as it could be.  It could have been a vision for themselves and their own (Active-Negatives), it could have been a vision for every American they wanted to serve (Active-Positives and Passive-Positives).  This is arguably the first time a serious "candidate" - there's still an "if" because Trump hasn't really filed to run yet - is showing up with even a slim chance to win a nomination who doesn't have a vision, just talking points and a brand name.

The conventional wisdom is that Trump is really only doing this to keep his name in lights, to shill for his TV show and his defaulting empire.  If he doesn't make a serious go of this, and enough people buy his snake oil, we are in serious trouble.  Because it means the legit candidates - and I'm kicking myself for even calling them that - like Walker and Bush and Rubio aren't winning over the rabid GOP voting base...

That said, to give Donald Trump his evaluation - and here I pity David Graham at The Atlantic because it's his paying gig to do this - it's gotta go like this:

Donald Trump - Shill, New York
Positives: He gives Jon Stewart a legitimate excuse to un-retire from The Daily Show.
Negatives: What part of "con artist" are you overlooking?  Trump has no legislative or elective or executive experience in politics.  His business expertise has been to file for bankruptcy every 5-8 years.  For all his posturing, has few real political allies to back him up.  He's openly hostile to immigration as an issue, has a "bomb 'em all" mentality that makes even Jeb Bush and Lindsey Graham seem cautious and diplomatic, and promises everything while delivering nothing.
Chances: Impossible.  While he's arguably able to fund his own campaign well into 2016, if he becomes even a minor threat to either of the marquee leaders for the nomination it's a given the party proper will nuke Trump from orbit before his brand can damage THEIR brand (well, damage it further than what Mitt did in 2012).  And given Trump's lack of self-restraint and wisdom, he's bound to pull a bonehead move that could turn away even the die-hard wingnuts who are - God Help Us - backing him.
Character Chart: Trump fulfills a few of the traits that defines Active-Negative.  He deploys power (wealth in particular) as a means of self-realization, he shows pessimism with regards to policy issues, is obsessed with success (measuring himself as "the richest of us all"), and has Compulsive habits.  However, he is one of the most extreme A-Ns ever to show up on the grid: he shows disdain for anything that cannot serve his own needs and does not even consider the effects his actions has on others.  Where other A-Ns at least showed interest in politics and policies, Trump shows neither.  He just wants his ego stroked.  In that regards, he can't fit Barber's Character Chart because Trump has no real character worth charting.

Final link: this is seriously NOT SAFE FOR WORK, so please do NOT click on this link, but Rude Pundit's takedown of Trump is the nastiest yet most brilliant takedown of any political target I have read in years.

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