Donald Trump is truly the man of the hour. We constantly see him wildly gesticulating on our television screens and his name is on everybody’s lips. Despite the frequent mocking of his presidential aspirations, Trump has not only managed to stand apart in a crowded GOP primary field, but has become the undisputed frontrunner – by a rather comfortable margin.
While many people’s first instinct may be to laugh at the many entertaining moments of Trump’s campaign, his continued success is affirmation of a dangerous trend in American politics.
It cannot be denied that Trump is incredibly entertaining. His energetic mannerisms, brash and uncouth New York attitude and sense of humor are magnetic and great fun to watch. Yet these qualities are more those of the television personality, celebrity or comedian, rather than the President of the United States.
But perhaps that is part of the fun of watching this campaign. Many see Trump’s presence in a presidential race as a perfect example of high comedy. Were we a better country, perhaps it would be. We could laugh if few to no people actually regarded Trump’s campaign seriously and the American people disdainfully pushed him aside for more appropriate candidates.
Instead of unanimous derision and mockery, Trump has consistently received support from one-quarter of the Republican Party, and his numbers are on the rise. This is a man who has criticized Senator John McCain for his capture and detainment as a prisoner of war by the North Vietnamese while serving in the United States Navy. This is a man who has gotten into numerous public and petty feuds with television personalities like Rosie O’Donnell. This is a man who has outrageously slandered all illegal Mexican immigrants as rapists and criminals.
Does one-quarter of the GOP really think this behavior is fitting for a future President of the United States? Whatever charm and appeal the man may have, the laundry list of statements similar to those above should disqualify him from any position of public trust.
Yet it is not only his offensive and disrespectful behavior that is cause for concern. The man has demonstrated little to no competence on issues of public importance. Being wealthy and successful in real estate and television does not imply an intelligent understanding of the nuances and difficulties of implementing policy.
Trump has given numerous campaign speeches and yet he has not yet said anything terribly substantive or thoughtful regarding any matter of political importance. He chiefly talks about himself: his wealth and success and the incompetence of politicians. He claims he will make America great again. An intelligent viewer may be tempted to ask how he will do so, but should not expect a specific answer to be forthcoming.
Sadly, this may just be the general strategy among politicians of being deliberately vague in order to appeal to the largest group possible and win election taken to its logical conclusion. Political campaigns are more often filled with hollow rhetorical flourishes and buzzwords that make their audiences feel warm inside rather than thoughtful policy arguments. Campaigns are more about passionate feelings than sober thought.
Perhaps the reason Trump is doing so well is that Americans are increasingly responding more positively to demagoguery. Many Americans do not appear to be interested in the actual questions of public policy, but would rather have a candidate who will make them feel good about themselves and their country while discussing political questions only superficially. Trump has taken this to a particularly absurd extreme.
The only issue he spends any significant amount of time on is immigration – in fact, as of this writing that is the only issue listed in the “positions” section of his website – and there his solution is to build a wall along the Rio Grande and mass deport millions of people.
He does not discuss the feasibility or costs of this solution and offers no reforms to our laws of naturalization, essential to any serious talk of immigration reform. Yet many Americans of all political stripes do not want to hear that discussion at all, but instead want to be assured by a charismatic personality that he or she understands their concerns and will make things good.
This growing attitude toward popular leaders is deeply troubling to any who cherish democratic government, and that is why Trump is so dangerous.
Brian McCarty is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.