“I think my strongest asset, may be by far, is my temperament. I have a winning temperament. I know how to win.” – Donald Trump
By J.S. Porter
The first debate.
He drinks a lot of water, he makes faces, he interrupts, he sniffles, he snipes, he wanders off topic, falls into incoherence and non-sequiturs—what’s Rosie O’Donnell got to do with anything? — But comes back to his mantra: I will make America great again. I. (Was the first person pronoun ever used more frequently in a presidential debate?) I, not we or us. I. I’m rich. I’m a winner. (I’m insecure?) That’s what we witnessed in the first debate seen by over 80 million people, a fast-talking salesman trying to affirm his existence; that’s he’s here, and he matters. She doesn’t touch a drop of water, she’s calm, on-message, disciplined, she’s prepared, she’s done her homework, she’s ready to be president. He talks about stamina; she shows it. He talks about a fitting temperament; she shows one.
A big man seems small. A strongman seems weak. A CNN snap poll gave Clinton a win of 62% to 27%.
How has a colourful showman, a former reality TV star, with no political experience, come so far in the presidential race?
- He uses simple language, with one big-word exception “And the reason I say that is not in a braggadocious way.” He uses language a fourth-grader would understand, language you’d hear in a bar or at a baseball game—or the World Wrestling Federation. KISS. Keep it simple, stupid! He has a built-in microphone; he’s loud, at his rallies, a little quieter at the debate.Hillary knows with H.L. Mencken that “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong.” But Trump knows something more important: for every complex problem, there is an answer that is clear, simple and wrong that can be sold to the American public if repeated enough times.
- He has a gift for simplifying complex things. ISIL? Bomb the hell out of it (wherever it is) and take away the oil. And don’t let Muslims into the country. Job losses and stagnation in wages? Build a big wall across the Mexican border and make Mexico pay for it. Re-negotiate the trade deals to favour the US. Make Europe pay for NATO, etc. Crime? Hire more police officers, build bigger prisons.Life is not nearly as complicated as the former Republican defense chief Donald Rumsfeld claimed – “There are known knowns: there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don’t know we don’t know.” This Donald knows what he knows and doesn’t care to know what he doesn’t know.
- He repeats himself, over and over. He’s rich; he’s made a lot of money, rich, made a lot of money – did I mention that he’s rich? What he did for himself he can do for the country. He’s a winner; he can make the country win too. A simple message. No complications. No gray. Everything black and white. You win, or you lose, you’re a winner, or you’re a loser. He made $694 million last year. Didn’t I say he was rich? He’s a winner.
- He never apologizes, never admits error. He knows ISIL better than the generals. Knows more about government than people who have served in it for years and it’s not worth knowing about anyway. He has the biggest, the greatest, the best, the most of whatever it is you’re talking about. So what if he didn’t pay any taxes last year or in the last ten years? He’s smart. Taxes are BS anyway.
- He knows how to brand. Remember Marco Rubio, the Republican Party poster boy. He’s Little Marco. You can’t take him seriously. Jeb Bush? He’s low energy. How can you run for president with low energy? Hillary? She’s crooked. Crooked Hillary. Donald is smart, and he’s a winner. What else do you need to know? He knows how to make money.
CLINTON: Donald was one of the people who rooted for the housing crisis. He said, back in 2006, “Gee, I hope it does collapse because then I can go in and buy some and make some money.” Well, it did collapse.
TRUMP: That’s called business, by the way.
- He’s entertaining. Do you want to listen to a policy wonk? Go see Hillary. He’s never boring. Never bores. Say outrageous things. Be outrageous. Do what you want to do. Say what you want to say. Don’t worry about people’s feelings. Political correctness—social correctness— is just one more shackle on your freedom. This is America. We carry our guns with pride.
HOLT: The birth certificate was produced in 2011. You’ve continued to tell the story and question the president’s legitimacy in 2012, ’13, ’14, ’15…
HOLT: …. as recently as January. So the question is, what changed your mind?
TRUMP: Well, nobody was pressing it, nobody was caring much about it.
- He stands out. He makes big, tall towers. Inner life? You don’t need one. Build, make, do. Not like the usual politician who’s all talk. You don’t need self-doubt, self-questioning. Look at Obama. He read too many books, got confused. Obama could probably recite lines from “The Paranoid Style in American Politics,” an essay by American historian Richard J. Hofstadter first published in Harper’s Magazine in November 1964. So could Hillary Clinton:
“[T]he idea of the paranoid style as a force in politics would have little contemporary relevance or historical value if it were applied only to men with profoundly disturbed minds. It is the use of paranoid modes of expression by more or less normal people that makes the phenomenon significant.”
They may know the article, but the Donald knows how to use it.He’s sensitive to the paranoid, to the marginalized, to conspiracy theorists, to the misunderstood, the criticized and maligned, the looked-down upon, the made-fun-of. He’s needy too. He knows the needs of the needy. The system is rigged. The press is against him. The intellectuals are against him. The establishment is against him. Just like the little guy. Didn’t Obama make fun of him personally at the 2011 annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in Washington? (In those painful minutes of humiliation, did he resolve to run against the Democratic nominee in the next election?) He knows what it is to fight the odds, even if his daddy gave him millions of dollars to start-up.
- Trump identifies with the working man. He’s the guy they want to be – someone who can say and do whatever he likes, without consequences. He wears a baseball cap; he eats hot dogs. He seems to be real. And that realness allows him to get away with things you wouldn’t think it possible for someone to get away with – insults a gold star military family who happened to be Muslim, insults John McCain, a genuine war hero, insults women who don’t meet his standard of being the perfect female, invites a foreign power (Russia) to hack into the government’s computer system, incites violence twice against the opposition candidate (Hillary), speaks more highly of the Russian dictator Putin than the American President Obama, implies that those of us who pay taxes are dumb. Dominate the news cycle no matter how you do it. Be the one spoken of, written about, in the spotlight.
Hillary may know a lot of things, but the Donald knows one big thing: He’s one big-city riot, one big-city terrorist strike in the homeland, away from the Presidency, whether or not he was outdebated, outthought and outmaneuvered by a smart, experienced woman with the surname Clinton.
*In preparing for this article, I found George Saunders articles in The New Yorker, July 11 & 18, 2016 issue and Roger Cohen’s article in The New York Times, September 9, 2016, very useful. I miss Jon Stewart in The Daily Show (surely the best satirist in the USA) and Stephen Colbert’s persona of a right-wing nutbar.