Donald Trump has run an unconventional campaign to gain the presidential nomination of the Republican Party. Initially, he was laughed off as not a viable candidate. Lately, his skills as a politician have received far more favorable reviews. Some have even called him masterful, brilliant, a political genius and more. Yet, there is nothing brilliant in Trump’s tactics. He is simply lucky.
It is impossible to imagine previous presidential elections, such as the 1960 presidential election, and envision Trump gathering either the Democratic or Republican nominations from John Kennedy or Richard Nixon. Trump’s demeanor and outlandish statements would shove him to the side as a candidate no more serious than satiric perennial candidate Vermin Supreme. It is difficult to imagine Trump doing well in any election prior to the Obama Presidency.
What has changed over the last 8-12 years is that the nonpartisan media has fallen to the wayside. The partisan media, bloated with ideological hacks, fires out any message it wants to armies of unquestioning believers. Memes roll through the Internet as facts upon themselves, even though hardly anyone checks for their truthfulness. Political adversaries need to know only one thing: that the other side is evil. Essentially, the referees, the old mainstream media, is now less powerful than the ideologies that they try to balance. The nonpartisan media is dying. In its place, is a partisan media unhampered by facts, or even issues. Campaigns have become little more than carnivals of gossip and freak shows of unbalanced politicians.
In addition, the Internet and television have created a culture of reality shows where reality is blurred with fiction. It was only natural that the next jump from reality show culture was to reality show politics. No longer are politics of substance important. Policy is not debated deeply. Issues are not analyzed. American politics of the twenty-first century are not the republic that the Founding Father’s imagined.
When Jefferson spoke and wrote, he expressed himself on an advanced collegiate level. Eventually, the grammar and vocabulary of Presidents drifted down to an eighth to twelfth grade level from Lincoln to Reagan. Since then, both the grammar and vocabulary of Presidents has fallen even further. It hit a low point with George W. Bush, who had the grammar of a fifth grader, but the vocabulary of a tenth grader. That doesn’t mean there aren’t national figures who express themselves in an educated manner. Barack Obama, Bernie Sanders and Marco Rubio have all demonstrated an excellent command of vocabulary and grammar.
Yet, there is one candidate who has hit an all-time low. You guessed it: Donald Trump. Trump’s vocabulary places him at seventh grade. His grammar comes in near Bush’s at fifth grade. Other tests have found him speaking at a fourth or even third grade level. If this is the sign of genius, let us not imagine what idiocy must mean.
In these times, the media, voter and political system have dumbed down the rules so that an extraordinary candidate is viewed as less than a simpleton. Sound bites and spinning are more important than coherent philosophies and principled positions.
Paradoxically, the media is more sophisticated than ever before. Voters are more educated and knowledgeable of the world. The political system has opened itself to worlds of people who once where never allowed to vote. It isn’t so much the fault of any of these factors as it is that culture has changed because of technology. Politics is just another stimulus: a phone call, text, cell phone photo, appointment reminder or email that gathers our attention for a few moments and then is displaced by another distraction.
There isn’t time to think and ponder. Reflection is a relic from a bygone era. We are left with successful candidates who sound as if they are barely out of primary school. A Lincoln-Douglas debate would bore voters off the television. It’s now thirty second or one minute responses on how nuclear war is going to be avoided with North Korea or the pluses and minuses of a massive trade agreement. It is not possible to tackle issues of this magnitude with responses measured by the seconds. One can only appear to know something if he or she is skilled in the art of the soundbite — as is Donald Trump. It is a crazy way to judge competence.
Trump is fortunate to come at a time when brief images or words mean more than a serious debate. If he had been serious about his presidential campaign, he would have not waited until May to start a serious fundraising effort. He would have hired competent and experienced managers from the onset. He wouldn’t have kept putting his foot in his mouth, although the continuous bumbling appears to have inured many people to it.
Trump probably did this campaign to stroke his immense ego and get some free publicity for his businesses. He was fortunate to run against sixteen other major Republican candidates. The field was so large that it was broken into two parts for debates. Without a clear frontrunner, the loud braggartry of Trump was all that was heard. He simply used the same techniques that got him media attention for years and heralded his show “The Apprentice.” Sadly, it worked.
Once again, he is fortunate that he is running against the second most unpopular presidential candidate in modern history: Hillary Clinton. Unfortunately for Trump, he is the most unpopular.
Trump’s skill as a showman, allows him to fit the mold today’s media has cast and voters have swallowed. Jon Stewart or Leonardo DiCaprio could fit the mold too. America wants an entertainer-president. Also, to Trump’s benefit was his billionaire status. Since Ross Perot, some Americans envision that a member of the super-rich will save America. Add in the divisive media where the middle is drowned between the angry shouts of the far right and left political extremes, and crazy starts to appear the norm.
None of this is healthy for a democracy. It must be hoped that something will force the pendulum to swing from hate and untruthfulness to some degree of tolerance and skepticism. Trump’s candidacy may do that. It has created a situation where things will either get better or get worse. They are not likely to stay the same. A Trump win or loss will change politics. Perhaps a narrow loss will only prolong the current political turbulence. Any other result will either change the nation or the Republican Party. Hopefully, it will change something in the media as well.
For Trump, his unlikely rise makes him appear a political natural. In reality, he is more like a gambler who goes on a two-hour crap’s roll. Everything gives the impression of skill. It seems that nothing can stop him, until it does. Trump’s illogical bumbling was only covered by lucky breaks handed to him by his opponents. No candidate has ever been as lucky as Trump, but luck does not go on forever. For Trump, he only needs the crap’s roll to last until November. If he stays lucky until Election Day, then we can only hope that he stays lucky through his Presidency. Any other result would be disastrous.