It was a joke, we were assured, that wouldn’t become a credible threat. When asked about Donald Trump’s chances of winning the Republican Party nomination to run as its candidate for President, most of us laughed. Hard.
But now we wake up to the unfunny reality. After success in Indiana, following victory in a nest of states and a landslide on ‘super-duper Tuesday’, Trump forced his closest competitor Ted Cruz from the race. Following a spate of impolitic insults, the pair are now trading insincere expressions of solidarity, and Trump’s rivals in the Democratic Party are waiting nervously for the next stages in the contest.
How the picture has changed. Having stopped dismissing him as a joke, the left now seriously believes that Trump, like Bush before him, is credibly threatening to be a menace and embarrassment on the world stage. The canniest commentators all along have pointed to Bush’s legacy of ignorant, failed policies, telling us to stop laughing and get serious about opposing Trump’s attempt to capture office.
The reasons his campaign has appalled and united its critics are clear. First, Trump’s insistence on a picture of America as a place where different peoples can’t peacefully coexist is a dangerous myth breeding fear, division and hate, undermining community cohesion. As a demagogue, Trump plays to popular prejudice instead of appealing to reason and facts. This form of populism is a dangerous element in democracies and begins a phenomenon akin to mass mania, precipitating the rise of the hard-right amidst the spectacle and hysteria.
Second, old comments (which were purged from Twitter) dismissing the electorate as idiots reveal in Trump a vindictive individual who hates and mocks those he is purporting to be qualified to represent.
And then there are the rallies.
One of the most disturbing things about the rallies – aside from Trump’s chauvinistic comments, the braying violence and those creepy children singing about freedom who look like they’re from a fascist version of Glee – is that they are a chance for opportunists to peddle t-shirts making misogynistic jokes about Monica Lewinsky and fellatio to families.
All of this invites questions about how it is that a political system (supposedly so sophisticated we have to invade places to give it away) succumbed to such a crude campaign, and how it is that a supposedly evolved species is on course to end up with Donald Trump of all people as one of its ambassadors. On the plus side, if he is elected and aliens attack, they will get him first.
We lived in hope there would be some threshold on Trump’s popularity, but his electoral success suggests he is winning more and more people over. We have to live with the fact that there seem to be plenty of people who think or are at least prepared to entertain the derogatory statements he makes. Only an insistence on a positive vision of America based on solidarity and peace from the Democratic Party has the power to negate the growing momentum of a destructive campaign, which exacerbates rather than weakens the barriers between the nation’s constituent communities.
The growing success of Trump’s campaign is confronted by the sustained power of Sanders’ campaign: its hold over the populous and energized student movement, its union of youth-led idealism with Sanders’ sagacity, its unshaken conviction in a society which asks itself in the interests of whom it is organized, the campaign arguing passionately that society should be organized at odds with the self-serving corporate will to assist the poor and oppressed in reaching a standard of living which actualizes their freedom. Going forward, it is a concrete symbol of hope for all people of goodwill that the Democratic Party is undergoing a revolution from within, defending and driving forward the struggle of ordinary people to reclaim society from those who would use their power to exploit the people for their own sinister agendas, and of whom Donald Trump is a prime example.