The Republican man-child Donald Trump is stranger than dystopian political science fiction. He goes on bizarre rants claiming that “criminal aliens” are wreaking havoc in the United States. He says he’ll built a giant nativist wall on the nation’s southern border “and make Mexico pay for it.”
He says that global warming is hoax perpetrated by Chinese to harm U.S. manufacturing. He offers to pay the legal bills of white man who sucker-punched a Black protester at a Trump rally. His response to the remarkable Black Lives Matter movement and uprising? “We need law and order.”
He mocks a disabled reporter. He brags about his genitalia. He insults the looks of a fellow Republican presidential candidate and those of other candidates’ wives. He suggests that women are responsible for sexual harassment in the workplace.
He says the world might be a better place if Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia developed nuclear weapons. He boasts that he’d “shoot” Iranian ships if they ever again interdict “our beautiful destroyers with their little boats.”
He behaves like an obnoxious teenager during his first “presidential” “debate” with Hillary Clinton – a contest for which he openly failed to prepare. He refuses to release his tax returns. When Clinton suggests that his non-payment of federal taxes over many years cost the nation money that could have been used for education and welfare, he says it shows that he’s “smart.” When Clinton noted his long record of cheating workers, he interjects to say “it was business.”
He goes on a Twitter tirade against a former beauty queen – a Miss Universe he once labelled “Miss Piggy.” This wild online tantrum begins at 5 a.m.
He brutally mimics a Chinese accent when he denounces China’s trade practices. He mocks Clinton for being woozy from pneumonia.
Trump, New York Times columnist Charles Blow recently noted, “shouldn’t be ushered into the White House; he should be laughed into hiding.”
He probably won’t win. Still, at least 50 million U.S. citizens will actually mark ballots for this this vicious and moronic man-child.
How did this happen?
American Democracy Is a Shitshow
The leading culprits include a Republican Party that has been trying for decades to hide its arch-plutocratic agenda behind the foul and ever more fascist-like fake populism of masculinist white nationalism; a dismal, dollar-drenched Democratic Party that has discredited liberalism and helped depress progressive constituencies by abandoning the cause of social justice in service to U.S. transnational capital; a “liberal” professional class that has ceased to even remotely serve the working class majority against the rich; a right-wing noise machine (led by Republican talk radio, Breitbart, and FOX News) that pervades the airwaves with racist, sexist, and nationalist distortion; a wooden and understandably mistrusted Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton, who epitomizes the elitist corruption and corporate takeover of the Democratic Party.
The television celebrity turned presidential candidate Donald Trump is also, and fundamentally, a commercial media creation. In U.S. movies, television sitcoms, television dramas, television reality-shows, commercials, and video games, the ideal-type U.S. citizen is an idiot in the classic Athenian sense: a person who cares about little more than his or her own well-being, consumption, wealth, and status, with no concern for others and the common good. The dominant mass U.S. media’s version of Athenian idiocy “can imagine,” as Henry Giroux has written, “public issues only as private concerns.” It works to “erase the social from the language of public life so as to reduce” questions of racial and socioeconomic disparity to “private issues of … individual character and cultural depravity. Consistent with neoliberal-capitalist doctrine holding that “all problems are private rather than social in nature,” it portrays the only barriers to equality and meaningful democratic participation as “a lack of principled self-help and moral responsibility” on the part of the downtrodden. Government efforts to address and ameliorate underlying of race, class, gender, ethnicity, nationality and the like are portrayed as futile, counterproductive, naïve, and dangerous.
Only a narrow and reactionary sort of public concern and engagement receives favor in this media culture. It takes the form of a cruel, often even sadistically violent response to unworthy Others seen as failing to properly obey prevalent authoritarian and neoliberal codes. U.S. corporate media celebrates and advances the portions of government that dole out punishment for the poor and attacks those perceived as nefariously resisting the corporate and imperial order at home and abroad. Police officers, prosecutors, military personnel, and vigilantes are heroes in this media. Defense attorneys, civil libertarians, environmentalists, racial justice activists, union leaders, antiwar protesters and the like are villains, Intellectuals are highly suspect and commonly mocked in this media thanks to their (alleged) tendency to side with those on the wrong side of the nation’s reigning hierarchies.
Meanwhile, this authoritarian media glorifies individual wealth accumulation and power while elevating narcissistic self-display of riches, beauty, and real or alleged athletic and sexual prowess. It shames the disproportionately nonwhite and urban poor, the weak, the intellectuals, and the disabled as “losers.”
Trump is also an epitome of the fading line between politics and entertainment that Neil Postman tried to warn us about in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death. With his adolescent taste for personal insult, “The Donald” embodies a media and politics culture that privileges looks, personality, and personal feuds over serious policy matters. His Twitter obsession both reflects and advances the onset of online corporate “social” media, where the line between private insult and public political discourse is unclear.
Trump has received a wildly undeserved windfall of free media attention from a U.S. “news” media that has obsessed over his every Tweet, grimace, and absurd statement but was barely able to cover the actually populist Bernie Sanders’ historic rallies on behalf of economic justice and democracy.
Meanwhile, an ever more corporate-neoliberal U.S. educational system has abandoned its mission of preparing the populace with the basic historical and civilizational knowledge and skills required for independent and critical thinking. No surprise there: the nation’s corporate masters want obedient order-takers, not free-thinking citizens. “Educators” comply. This great pedagogical collapse leaves much of the populace with no cultural filter through which to check and discard the horrific messages of the corporate media. It’s called “taking the risk out of democracy” (Alex Carey).
The double whammy of infantilizing commercial media and fading public education helps turn untold millions of Americans into idiots in the more conventional sense. These tragically dumbed down people are too stupid and often willfully ignorant to grasp basic things like the Greenhouse Effect or the names of the world’s continents. A proud and open moron like Trump helps such Americans feel better about themselves. He shares their dark resentment for those who know about things like why some Black Americans have rioted recently and why the Arctic ice cover is melting.
U.S. media and educational elites roll their eyes in disgust at the vicious and embarrassing Trump phenomenon. They should take an honest look at the epic idiocy-manufacturing roles their own institutions play. They should take responsibility for a world in which a despicable idiot like Donald Trump can make a serious bid for the number one job atop the planet’s only superpower. It’s a world the U.S. corporate media and corporatized educational systems have helped make to no small degree.
Paul Street’s latest book is They Rule: The 1% v. Democracy (Routledge-Paradigm, 2014).