Things on the campaign trail are getting ugly (as well as grossly expensive). Is this all really unavoidable?
I have a confession to make. Well, it’s the beginning of Lent, so that’s appropriate maybe, though this isn’t one for the box: which is why I make it not to a priest but to any of my readers who are still out there after my long absence.
My confession is to do with politics, about which one is entitled to one’s views, though not necessarily to be all that proud of the feelings they engender. Politics breeds contempt: and one shouldn’t, we are told, ever despise other human beings, since God loves them all as much as he loves you or me. And then one contemplates the person and utterances of Donald J Trump.
My feelings about Trump, I find, are shared by many of those I most respect. The National Review, for which I wrote a few times in the days of its founder, William F Buckley Jr, and which is still an excellent organ of opinion – this means I usually agree with most of its content – has just devoted an entire issue to explaining why it would be a disaster for the American conservative cause if he were to become the Republican candidate for the presidency.
One contributor, George Will, most distinguished of political commentators, recently questioned the wisdom of Mitt Romney appearing at a fundraising event with Trump at his side. “I do not understand the cost-benefit here,” he said on the ABC programme This Week. “The cost of appearing with this bloviating ignoramus is obvious, it seems to me. Donald Trump is redundant evidence that if your net worth is high enough, your IQ can be very low, and you can still intrude into American politics.”
Trump doesn’t like being criticised, and he always hits back, often on Twitter. “George Will may be the dumbest (and most overrated) political commentator of all time,” he tweeted. “If the Republicans listen to him, they will lose.” George Will was commenting on newspaper headlines provoked by Trump saying in an interview that he still does not believe Obama was born in the US — even after the White House released a long-form birth certificate last year showing the president was, indeed, born in Hawaii.
For Trump to continue with this ludicrous accusation in the face of the irrefutable evidence is yet another example of his wilful, exhibitionist redneck ignorance, and it is one of many reasons which brings me back, again and again, to an unavoidable question. Why, why, why is he so adulated by so many? If I were American, I would be a Republican: and in this primary season I observe that there is an unusually wide choice of impressive Republican candidates to choose from. So why are all those Republican voters putting Trump so far ahead of the field?
The usual answer is that Republican voters are angry with the Washington political establishment for so wetly failing to stand up to President Obama despite the mid-term landslide which put them so decisively in charge of both houses of the Congress – and Trump is an obviously and rebelliously non-establishment figure. But as Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, has pointed out, governors are not part of the Washington establishment – they are not congressmen or senators, and many have a record of solid experience of actually making a practical difference to people’s lives rather than just making speeches about it. Christie himself exemplifies this: and yet he is now among those who have been forced to retire from the race by the blustering ignoramus Trump.
It could be, though, that Christie destroyed himself, by demolishing the likeable – though, as it proved, vulnerable – Senator Marco Rubio in the televised debate which a few days before had preceded the primary vote.
Another candidate who has now fallen out is the splendid Carly Fiorina, former CEO of Hewlett Packard, who I would love now to see as the eventual nominee’s vice-presidential candidate – so long as the nominee isn’t Trump (a ticket of Jeb Bush and Carly Fiorina, for instance, would surely beat Hillary Clinton in a landslide).
At this moment, who knows what will happen. Trump now looks unbeatable: but so, at this stage, Ozymandias-like, have many before him, now entirely forgotten.
I have always been fascinated by the gross extravagance and the exotic strangeness of American presidential elections. This time, though, things are getting rough and they are getting nasty. After Trump annihilated his opposition with a huge lead in the New Hampshire primary, the tabloid New York Daily News produced the most grotesque front page I think I have ever seen: an image of Trump plastered over with clown make-up and the headline over most of the page “DAWN OF THE BRAIN DEAD”, and the subheading “Clown comes back to life [after Trump lost the Iowa caucuses the headline had been “Dead clown walking”] with NH win as mindless zombies turn out in droves”.
“Clueless New Hampshire voters handed billionaire bore Donald Trump a ‘yuge’ victory in the first-in-the nation primary Tuesday, providing the mad mogul with a new round of ammo a week after a disappointing second-place finish in Iowa,” the cover story inside begins.
Now, whatever one thinks about such as Trump, there are limits – and that goes way beyond them. The story behind it is that Mort Zuckerman, the New York Daily News owner, hates Donald Trump with a passion. Trump tweeted contemptuously in response: “Worthless Daily News, which dopey Mort Zuckerman is desperately trying to sell, has no buyer. Liabilities are massive.” He told the Fox News channel that Zuckerman was “jealous as hell”. “They use my name. They do the clown thing every week,” he said. “Maybe it sells, maybe it doesn’t sell. But the paper is going bad.”
Undoubtedly, the paper has indeed gone bad, very bad. Whatever you think about Trump, there can be no excuse for the paper’s contemptuous attitude toward the voters who gave Trump his massive victory.
This brings me to my confession. I utterly deplore the Daily News’s scurrilous coverage of Trump’s campaign. This is not journalism as I understand it: it is the gutter press at its worst.
But if I am honest, I have more than a little sympathy with it. I, too, just cannot understand how any responsible voter can support Trump. I wouldn’t use the word “zombie”, but that’s a matter of personal style rather than any virtuous feelings of respect for those involved. The thought that America – and the world – may end up with either the mendacious and politically disastrous Hillary Clinton or the vulgar ignoramus Trump as President of the United States is unthinkable. But should I feel such anger and such utter contempt for either of them? Maybe this is, after all, something for the confessional…