Trump’s politics of division
The U.S. presidential election is less than three weeks away – an extra-long time in politics where what seems impossible sometimes becomes possible through the surprise and sudden intervention of a totally unexpected but welcome development which dramatically alters the landscape.
It is highly unlikely, though, given the severe battering which his image has taken in the last few weeks, that Republican nominee, Donald J. Trump, will be the beneficiary of such good fortune. Indeed, it will take nothing less than a miracle, of the deus ex machina type, to reverse the plummeting fortunes of the billionaire businessman at this near eleventh hour.
In sharp contrast with the supreme confidence which he previously exuded, Trump, in the last two weeks of campaigning, has been exhibiting the behaviour of a defeated man. His surprisingly subdued demeanour on Wednesday night, during the final debate with Democratic challenger, Hilary Rodham Clinton, spoke volumes about the mental anguish he obviously is going through.
The thought of losing, especially a coveted prize like the U.S. presidency, is always never easy. Instead of coming out with guns blazing, as he has done almost from the get-go of an overwhelmingly negative campaign in which he has aggressively gone after real and perceived opponents, as well as Muslims and immigrants among others, Trump looked Wednesday night like a wounded man who was going through the motions but no longer had the will to fight.
It is obvious that the fall-out from his various demeaning comments about women is taking a heavy toll, especially the lewd video in which he boasted about grabbing women by the P-word. His declining poll numbers say it all. He has apologized but the offensive remark has opened up a Pandora’s Box with a number of women coming forward with claims of inappropriate advances over the years by the Republican candidate.
Trump, whose humongous ego, it seems, has blinded him to the folly of his campaign errors, only added more fuel to the fire Wednesday night by referring to Clinton as “a nasty woman”. The remark, immediately seized upon by the news media, reinforced the negative perception that he has no respect for women. To win an election, whether in the USA, Barbados or Timbuktu, securing the female vote is critical. Only a male chauvinist would ignore this fundamental fact of contemporary electoral politics.
The strongest indication, however, that Trump already is psychologically a defeated man, came about a week ago when, out of the blue, he started claiming that the election was rigged in Clinton’s favour. What a preposterous claim! How on earth could that be possible when most Americans have not yet even cast their ballots?
Unfortunately, Trump’s political base comprises people who will fall for such irrational statements because they are generally ignorant on key issues, narrow-minded, incapable of applying critical thinking to figure things out for themselves, and are looking for a messiah to rescue them from their fears and insecurities which Trump’s political narrative directly speaks to.
It is always foreboding when a candidate adopts a defeatist attitude especially in the home-stretch of a campaign. Winning an election begins in the mind of a candidate and then finds outward expression, ideally, through words and actions carefully choreographed to convey an unmistakable impression of winning in order to generate a bandwagon effect on the ground.
Trump’s rigged election claim seems calculated to set the stage so that when he is consigned to the dump on November 8, he will scream: “I told you so!” Reinforcing this position, he refused Wednesday night to commit to following established practice where the loser of the presidential election gracefully concedes once it is clear that it is all over.
At any rate, Trump deserves to lose. The nastiness and belligerence of his campaign quite often overstepped the boundaries of decency and civility. His rhetoric and tactics often appeared as if they were inspired by a Nazi political manual. As Goebbels, the notorious Nazi propaganda chief advised, “In propaganda as in love, anything is permissible which is successful”.
A political campaign is inherently competitive and divisive. However, the tragedy is that in the aftermath of this campaign, America will be more deeply divided due in large measure to Trump’s demagoguery. I could not see myself working for him as a campaign adviser, not for all the money in the world, because he seems to be the kind of candidate who is determined to have his way, regardless of the advice he is given.
Trump’s best-selling 2004 book, How to Get Rich, provides valuable insights into his personality. Contrary to what is widely believed, Trump did not suddenly decide to go after the White House a year or so ago. He has had presidential ambitions since 2000. As he admitted in the book, “I thought about running for president as a third party candidate. . . . . I formed an exploratory committee and met with Reform Party leaders but in the end, I realized I was enjoying my business too much to run for office.”
His refusal to offer to shake Clinton’s hand on Wednesday night, which would have earned him a few points, may be explained by the following statement in the same book. “I believe in no handshake. It is a terrible practice. . . . . It’s a medical fact that this is how germs are spread.” He then makes a statement, which the American news media apparently failed to pick up, that raises questions as to why he sought the Republication nomination in the first place.
“….in politics, you have to watch your words. I am too blunt to be a politician. Then, there’s my long held aversion to shaking hands. … Had I entered the race, I wouldn’t have been very popular,” he said. “A lot of successful businesspeople think they can apply their management skills to politics, but I’ve noticed that only a select few, like Michael Bloomberg and Jon Corzine succeed. Most others lack the temperament for it.”
These words, ironically, represent a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy for the fiasco which Trump’s campaign has become. Politics and business, as he rightly admitted, are completely different animals. You win in politics, not by having your own way as anyone can do in business, but by enlisting support and cooperation across a broad range of constituencies to build a winning coalition.
The tragedy of Trump is that he came offering to make America great again. Such, however, can only come through promoting unity within diversity. Instead, he has polarized America more through a scaremongering politics of division. This dangerous divide and conquer strategy has emphasized setting people against each other in the apparent hope that with the distractions, he somehow might be able to slip through and become the next occupant of the White House.
This strategy, which won over President Barack Obama’s half-brother, Malik, has clearly backfired. Despite the obvious slur on his brother, Malik told the New York Post, after accepting Trump’s invitation to be his guest at Wednesday night’s debate, that “Trump can make America great again.” The innuendo, tinged with racism, is that America lost its greatness during the Obama years.
As the first female president in American history, the task of making America great again will ironically fall to Hilary Clinton. Besides improving the economy, building on Obama’s outstanding achievements, she will have to draw heavily on her wealth of political experience, acting as a true stateswoman, to heal the rifts and bring America together again. From all indications, she is qualified for the task.
(Reudon Eversley is a political strategist, strategic communication specialist and longstanding journalist. Email firstname.lastname@example.org)