Jeremy Appel and Malcolm Campbell
The spread of technology coupled with the rise of the spectacle have brought us into the age of celebrity. Those most worshipped and lauded in our societies aren’t the greatest contributors, but the loudest ones. The focus on star power has reduced politics to a reality show. The people fighting to become the leader of the world’s most powerful nation debate endowments of a personal nature and resort to petty name-calling. It is this chaotic environment that has helped shape Donald Trump and his campaign to become the 45th President of the United States.
When his campaign began most pundits and analysts wrote him off. He had run for president before but never had a strong start and was never seriously considered as a candidate. With 17 candidates in the Republican field it was essential that Trump take every advantage early in the campaign.
David Uberti, staff writer for the Columbia Journalism Review, believes Trump’s personality gave him a huge advantage in the beginning. “He was the easiest person to cover, he was a sure thing in terms of getting ratings and clicks and what not,” he says. “That attention, especially in the early stages, helped Trump by preventing a lot of his competition from introducing themselves to the public.”
Trump acknowledged this at a campaign rally in Dallas in September 2015. “It’s a simple formula in entertainment,” Trump said to the crowd. “If you get good ratings, and these aren’t good, these are monster, then you’re going to be on all the time, even if you have nothing to say.”
He has lived by this in the time since, saying things he later has contradicted or recanted.
Don Abelson, director of the Canada-U.S. Institute think tank and a political scientist at Western University in London, Ont., says it’s hard to determine whether Trump really believes much of what he says, or if he is saying it for the attention. His past statements and actions have led many to question his intentions as a conservative candidate.
“This is a person who supported many Democratic tickets in the past, gave huge sums of money to the Democratic Party and to Democratic candidates. Is he really a legitimate Republican candidate? I don’t think so,” he says. “He’s trying to placate the Republican base because he needs the delegates to move forward.”
The media has played a vital role in Trump’s meteoric rise. Uberti believes Trump has benefitted from free media coverage like no candidate before. “Allowing Trump to phone in to their programs, which is pretty unprecedented in TV news, not only allows him to do more of these interviews easier, but it also gives him the advantage in terms of the back and forth banter.”
In addition to calling into TV shows for interviews, broadcasters also routinely play uncut live feeds of Trump events live, something Uberti says is becoming a hotly debated topic south of the border.
Uberti hesitates to generalize news coverage, especially with how “fragmented” the media landscape has become. He did commend some outlets – namely the New York Times and Washington Post – for their coverage of and investigation into Trump’s shady business dealings, like the unmitigated disaster of Trump University. “Newspapers, print focused media, I think it’s safe to say that those types of outlets have done a pretty good job,” he says.
Dan Carter, author of The Politics of Rage, a book concerning the political era of George Wallace, says Trump has taken advantage of the media in the most proficient way.
“Trump is a master entertainer,” he says.
“He’s had years to hone his skills, and he plays (the media) like a virtuoso.”
Carter drew a parallel between how the media viewed Wallace, the segregationist governor of Alabama who splintered off from the Democratic Party in the 1960s, and how they view Trump. He reminisced that a journalist covering Wallace’s campaign had once said, “I disliked everything he did, but he was good copy.” This quote encapsulates the media’s enabling relationship with Trump and other candidates of his ilk.
“Reporters may be outraged by Trump, but feel like they’re drawn to him like a moth to a flame,” Carter says.
The extensive coverage is benefitting Trump right now but Abelson says it could all backfire. “The media have certainly helped fuel the Trump campaign, but on the other hand it could end up being his Achilles heel too,” he says. “It can go both ways.”
Even with the media coverage, who are the people supporting Trump and why? “He has pitched himself as an iconoclastic figure,” says Abelson. He “certainly resonated with a group of Americans that have felt, over the last couple of years, increasingly marginalized, increasingly disillusioned and frustrated with gridlock in Washington, and bailouts on Wall Street.”
Trump has also been hard at work creating groups to be blamed for the problems of the day. This isn’t something new, but Trump takes this outside the realm of modern political discourse. “Once he had national aspirations, (Wallace) did not engage in explicit race baiting,” says Carter. “He developed a series of code words and coded language to talk about ‘Welfare cheats,’ and ‘Inner-city thugs’ when everybody knew what he was saying.”
Carter says Trump goes beyond this. “When he talks about most Mexicans are rapists or criminals, that is a departure in modern politics. And his remarks on Muslims … it’s the same situation in which you’re using a selected group as a scape goat.” While there have been men like Trump in the past such as Wallace, they rarely reached the explicitly racist, sexist views of The Donald.
Political outsiders have risen before. Trump is the most successful and most outrageous. “Ross Perot in 1992, but Perot didn’t come across as that offensive,” he says. “Conservative? Yes. Bigoted? No.”
It is difficult to tell what Trump truly believes and what he says to create ongoing conflict. Some supporters are willfully ignorant of the contradictions in his platforms, wooed by his gargantuan character, while others can’t take anything he says seriously.
“What does he really believe?” ponders Abelson. “Listen, he’s terribly narcissistic, he truly believes that he is the only one that can solve America’s problems. Does he really care about the details? No. Does he have a firm grasp on domestic and foreign policy? Far from it, but people have bought into the rhetoric of his campaign.”
Sh*t Trump Says
After winning the Nevada caucuses, Trump, who was educated at the prestigious Wharton School of Business, professed his appreciation for the “poorly educated.”
“I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”
Trump got under the GOP establishment’s skin by calling John McCain a “loser.” Pressed on the comment, he denied John McCain is a war hero, saying “I like people who don’t get captured.”
The Donald compared then-rival Dr. Ben Carson’s “pathological temper” to that of a “child molester.” After dropping out of the race, Carson endorsed Trump.
Trump called Fox News reporter Megyn Kelly a “lightweight” after she criticized his record of misogynist remarks, but he went even further by suggesting her challenging him was due to her menstrual cycle.
Rand Paul laments the level of discourse in the Republican debate, explicitly attacking Trump’s tendency “to attack people on their appearance,” to which The Donald replies: “I never attacked him on his looks and, believe me, there’s plenty of subject matter there.”
Some adjectives Trump uses to describe Rosie O’Donnell: ‘disgusting,’ ‘slob,’ ‘loser,’ ‘talks like a truck driver.’ He then threatens to launch a frivolous lawsuit, a Trump hallmark. “Probably, I’ll sue her, just because it would be fun.”
Almost certainly the first time a presidential candidate has talked about the size of his penis during a debate. “I can guarantee you, there’s no problem there.”
Trump kicked off his controversial campaign by calling Mexicans “rapists” and “drug dealers,” suggesting the Mexican government deliberately sends them across the border to weaken America.