Donald Trump is right about one thing. More people are talking about this year’s presidential primaries than any time in history. One could argue this is partly due to the fact that we are dealing with a polarizing populist with a one syllable name. As the primaries continue, the feelings towards Republican candidate Donald Trump are becoming more and more intense on both sides. By now most people either love him or hate him. He’s been called a racist, misogynist, another Hitler, Mussolini, demagogue, fascist, you name it, he’s been called it. Who and what Donald Trump is has become the most talked about issue, not just in American politics, but in the entire country. It’s even transcended American politics, becoming a discussion all over the world where the big question being asked is, “what if he wins?” Of course a lot of this discussion is rooted in fear. Even a lot of the people who like him have at least some trepidation. So the obvious question is whether or not we actually should be afraid of Donald Trump. The short and definitive answer is yes, just not necessarily for the reasons most often discussed.
While most people think the most frightening thing about him is his behavior and demeanor, something certainly a cause for at least some concern, I believe the thing we should be most worried about is far more significant. When people speak about Trump being anti-establishment they are generally referring to his developing battle against the Republican establishment. That in itself might be fine to everyone other than members of the actual Republican establishment. Their fear is based more on their personal status than the future of the country. The thing we as a nation really need to be worried about is far more serious than the damage being done to the GOP and its high-ranking members. What we need to be concerned with is how Donald Trump is trying to change a lot more than the Republican establishment, he is looking to change the entire American establishment. If that doesn’t scare you, it should.
A perfect example of what Trump is doing can be seen in the impact he is having on the media. The actions and words of Donald Trump and members of his campaign together with the polarization his candidacy is causing has often created a situation journalists and members of the press universally try to avoid, and that is those reporting the news becoming the story. The most notable example is Megyn Kelly of FOX. Kelly is a consummate professional very adept at reporting the news while never actually becoming the news. But the following exchange with Donald Trump in a debate last August 6th did just that, not so much because of Trump’s response at the debate, but because of his subsequent behavior and comments towards Kelly since.
Kelly: “You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals.’ Does that sound to you like the temperament of a man we should elect as president?”
Trump: “What I say is what I say. And honestly, Megyn, if you don’t like it, I’m sorry, I’ve been very nice to you, although I could probably maybe not be, based on the way you have treated me. But I wouldn’t do that to you.”
As we all know by now, Trump went back on his word and did indeed do that t0 her. If we want to be fair and say that Kelly was particularly hard on Trump at the debate, we can go one step further and say that Trump’s response was appropriate and fair. But it did not end there. That was just the beginning of a continuing onslaught as he went on to repeatedly refer to her as Crazy Megyn Kelly on Twitter, and calling her names like “sick” or “overrated”. Nothing however was more bizarre than the line, “You could see there was blood coming out of her eyes. Blood coming out of her wherever …”. All of this was punctuated by a call by Trump Campaign Manager Corey Lewandowski to FOX prior to a later debate in which he basically threatened Kelly by saying, she had a ‘rough couple of days after that last debate’ and he ‘would hate to have her go through that again.’
Then of course there’s the Michelle Fields incident. Regardless of whether or not one believes Fields is right or wrong, it was without doubt, Trump’s subsequent handling of the situation that truly made her the story. After Fields accused Trump’s campaign manager of manhandling and injuring her to prevent her from getting close to his boss, rather than deal with it swiftly and tactfully, Trump decided to once again go on the attack. In most instances a campaign would do everything in their power to make something like this go away quietly. But not this time. Donald Trump’s reaction was to go on the attack and accuse Fields of making up the allegations. In doing so Trump made Fields the story. Had he reacted differently and allowed the current established system the opportunity to handle this through the legal system, the worst case scenario would have been that she would be proven correct and it would likely have become much less of a story. The best case for Donald Trump and his campaign would have been that his assertion that this was a fabrication would have been validated, making anything that would happen to her be a result of her actions, not his. If you take Michelle Fields on her word, an apology would have made this go away entirely. What happened instead? Trump went on full attack mode and Fields would wind up having to leave her job and deal with death threats. All this as a result of Trump’s continuing strategy of bucking the establishment.
Losing graciously is not an established tradition of the Republican Party, rather an expected and yes, there’s that word again, established behavior in American politics. After losing in Wisconsin, Trump issued the following statement:
“Donald J. Trump withstood the onslaught of the establishment yet again. Lyin’ Ted Cruz had the Governor of Wisconsin, many conservative talk radio show hosts, and the entire party apparatus behind him. Not only was he propelled by the anti-Trump Super PAC’s spending countless millions of dollars on false advertising against Mr. Trump, but he was coordinating `with his own Super PAC’s (which is illegal) who totally control him. Ted Cruz is worse than a puppet— he is a Trojan horse, being used by the party bosses attempting to steal the nomination from Mr. Trump. We have total confidence that Mr. Trump will go on to win in New York, where he holds a substantial lead in all the polls, and beyond. Mr. Trump is the only candidate who can secure the delegates needed to win the Republican nomination and ultimately defeat Hillary Clinton, or whomever is the Democratic nominee, in order to Make America Great Again.”
In direct contrast, after losing to Bernie Sanders in Wisconsin Hillary Clinton made the following comments:
“Sen. Sanders had a good night last night, and I congratulated him, but if you look at the numbers, I’m still considerably ahead in both the popular vote and most importantly, the delegate count,” Clinton told CNN’s Chris Cuomo. “So I’m feeling very good about where we are.”
This is not to say that the more amicable comments of Clinton automatically make her a better person or better candidate than Trump, rather to show the distinct difference between someone who follows the established process rather than work towards changing and restructuring it according to their own will.
That is where the ultimate danger lies. Of the many people who chuckle at the entertainment value provided by the Trump candidacy, there are those who think he is exactly what the country needs and there are those who believe he may just be an out of control lunatic. Regardless of what you may think, make no mistake. His strategy is extremely well-planned and calculated. To use the old cliche’, Trump is looking to divide and conquer. Many people already see that, but a large percentage of these people believe he is attempting to do it only to the Republican Party. In reality what he is really attempting to do, with a somewhat frightening degree of success till now, is tear down the entire established way of doing things so he can rebuild it according to his will. The one glaring problem with Democracy, is if you convince enough people that your way is the right way, it becomes more and more difficult to fight against it, no matter how damaging it may be. Populism feeds into the fear and anger of the citizenry and Trump is nothing if not a populist. The continued popularity of Trump and increasing popularity of Bernie Sanders is all about populism. There are people out there who don’t even need to know that their political savior has realistic or safe approaches towards what ails them, they merely need to hear someone say they are going to do things differently and save them.
If Donald Trump is successful, a lot of what we know to be the norm will change. As a successful and powerful businessman, Trump is used to doing things his way, not necessarily the expected way. This is why he does nothing truly genuine to discourage violence at his rallies and why he can go as far as to talk about his private parts at a rally. A valid argument can be made that we want a leader with so much confidence in their way that they only want to do things according to their plan. The problem with this is very clear and very simple. The amount of power that scenario potentially gives that leader is extremely dangerous, regardless of whether that leader is Donald Trump or anyone else. The difference with Trump is that he has shown a clear desire and ability to break down many elements of the establishment and has garnished enough support in his populist movement to be very relevant. The one thing no one can be sure of is, should he achieve his desired goal, is whether or not that power will translate into brilliant leadership or devastation and catastrophe. It is human nature to get drunk on power, and the dangers of Trump getting that power make it a risk anyone supporting him should think about long and hard before taking. The problem with populism is that it is often fueled far more by emotion than reasonable thought. A factor Trump may very well be counting on.
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