Trump Takes on the World

By John Feffer | (Foreign Policy in Focus) | – –

It was 1972. The flamboyant rock star Alice Cooper, not quite a household name at that point in England, was booked to play London’s Wembley Stadium. Shortly before the concert date, only a couple hundred of the 7,000 available tickets had been sold.

Facing an epic failure, the redoubtable rock music promoter Shep Gordon emblazoned the side of a truck with a huge picture of Alice Cooper, naked except for a boa constrictor covering his genitals. As recounted in the recent documentary Supermensch, Gorden then instructed the driver of the truck to break down in the middle of Piccadilly Circus. Traffic was backed up for blocks. The press turned out to see what was going on. And so did the photographers.

The portrait of the unclad Cooper outraged British sensibility. The next day, newspapers were full of headlines and commentary about how degenerate American music was corrupting English culture.

Cooper immediately sold out his Wembley show.

Shep Gordon realized early on an important feature of celebrity culture. It’s long been true that all PR is good PR. But you also need to know your target audience. If parents denounce the demonic Alice Cooper, their children will surely rush out to buy tickets.

Donald Trump, the tone-deaf politician who acts as if he were a rock star, also knows his target audience.

Trump knows that if he sends mainstream politicians and establishment pundits and talking heads on TV into fits of pique, his target audience will only tighten their embrace of the rogue billionaire. The more that George Will and Megyn Kelly insinuate that the Donald is a political mayfly, destined for the briefest electoral lifespan, the more a certain segment of the voting population will rally around the self-proclaimed outsider as their preferred choice to lead the country.

After the first candidate debate, opinion polls among registered Republicans put Trump in a commanding lead over second-place Jeb Bush, 24 percent to 13 percent. Trump is also on top in Iowa and New Hampshire, the first two primary states.

What attracts voters to Donald Trump may well be his celebrity status and his genius at stoking the passions of his target demographic. What might well get them ultimately to cast a vote for the noxious tycoon, however, will be his stated policies and particularly his vision of the world. It’s worth, therefore, taking a look at Donald Trump’s foreign policy, even if the exercise seems somewhat ludicrous, like analyzing Kim Kardashian’s take on macroeconomics or Eminem’s analysis of abstract expressionism.

After all, even if Donald Trump does obey the general rule of mouthy outsiders and flame out, his take on the world may well insinuate its way into the platforms of his fellow Republican candidates for president. Indeed, on some issues, the Donald has already made his mark.

Mouth Not Memo

It’s tempting to see Donald Trump through the eyes of Key and Peele, the comic duo just wrapping up their final season on Comedy Central. In perhaps their most famous sketch, the preternaturally calm President Obama gives a speech alongside his anger translator. The president can’t give voice to his real feelings of rage — against the stupidity of his political opposition, the inanity of American racism — but his anger translator can vent freely.

Similarly, Donald Trump has emerged as the anger translator for the entire Republican cadre of presidential hopefuls. They’re concerned about gaffes and polls and focus groups. Trump seemingly couldn’t care less. He has eschewed memos — too bureaucratic-sounding — in favor of his mouth, which is connected directly to his gut rather than his brain.

As such, Trump has vented his anger at the “drug dealers, criminals, rapists” that Mexico is supposedly sending into the United States (if anything, increased immigration has decreased crime rates because immigrants are less likely than the native born to commit crimes). He’s slammed China for out-competing America economically (which hasn’t stopped him from concluding his own business deals with the country). He has railed against U.S. allies like Germany (for not leading more on the Ukraine conflict), South Korea (for not bearing more costs of U.S. military operations in Asia), and Saudi Arabia (for not giving America more of a quid pro quo for all the petrodollars it makes).

“Trump’s foreign policy agenda is a distillation of other GOP candidates’ platforms, but without a filter or appreciation for nuance,” concludes Alex Christensen. “His foreign policy as president would unpredictably put relations with U.S. allies on ice and be unlikely to produce détente with others.”

Trump’s foreign policy isn’t particularly detailed (he promises full policies in September). Where it is detailed, it’s often incoherent (his proposal to force Mexico to pay for a huge wall in the American southwest has made even conservative commentator Jennifer Rubin apoplectic). And where it’s not incoherent, it’s often contradictory (he hasn’t seemed to work out whether he’s a fan or a foe of Vladimir Putin). In a tribute to Trump’s “flexibility” in The Washington Post, David Fahrenthold counted up seven different versions of the candidate’s approach to the Islamic State.

It’s White People, Stupid

But none of that matters. We don’t watch reality TV to learn things. We’re drawn to the utter spectacle of it all.

And Trump is a spectacle, a very slow-motion car crash that the press and the public rubbernecks to ogle. He’s a renegade white guy, like the Michael Douglas character in the 1993 film Falling Down, who bemoans the multicultural direction America has taken. Trump is politically incorrect, which works intermittently for a comic like Bill Maher but should spell instant doom for a politician.

But political incorrectness can work for a guy like Trump because white men are the core constituency of the Republican Party.

Sure, the party can point to Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina, Bobby Jindal, Marco Rubio, and even Spanish-speaking Jeb Bush as evidence of its newfound commitment to diversity. But don’t be taken in by this façade — Donald Trump hasn’t been. The consummate businessman, he’s run the numbers on the primary. He knows that 95 percent of self-identified Republican primary voters are white.

That’s Trump’s target demographic. That’s Trump’s trump card.

Pissing off women, Latinos, immigrants — that’s the political equivalent of pissing off the parents of Alice Cooper fans. Outrage sells tickets. And outrage will motivate Trump’s core constituency to put up yard signs and flock to the primary polls. It won’t, however, work in the general elections. The last time the white vote played a pivotal role in the presidential elections was 2004.

Of course, it’s been difficult for Trump to play anger translator for a Republican field full of irritable and often downright irate candidates. There’s Mike Huckabee saying that the nuclear deal with Iran is “marching [Israel] to the door of the oven.” There’s Ted Cruz calling undocumented immigrants a “clear and present danger to the health and safety of all Americans.” There’s Rick Santorum, who says that President Obama “rewards everything a country does to oppose and hurt the United States, hurt our economy, hurt our ability to protect ourselves.”

Also, Trump’s anger-fueled idiocy is contagious. His competitors have begun to echo his views, particularly on immigration. As the Post reports:

In Iowa, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker also began to call for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, echoing a longtime Trump demand. Walker said the separation barrier between Israel and the Palestinian territories is proof that the concept could work here.

Walker also seemed to echo Trump by questioning “birthright citizenship,” the constitutional provision that grants citizenship to anyone born in this country. After a reporter asked if birthright citizenship should be ended, Walker said: “I think that’s something we should — yeah, absolutely, going forward.”

Walker wants to reproduce the Arab-Israeli conflict in U.S.-Mexico relations? He wants to change a key provision of the constitution that’s made America a proud nation of immigrants? It’s one thing for Trump to spout nonsense, and quite another for a sitting governor to give those ideas the thinnest veneer of respectability.

Digging Deeper

What makes Trump particularly dangerous are his heterodox views. He’s not a cookie-cutter conservative. Sure, he is (newly) anti-abortion, pro-Wall Street, anti-Obamacare, and pro-family (except those of the undocumented). And he courts the lunatic fringe by refusing to give up on his “birther” beliefs.

But Trump has also staked out some truly populist positions. He’s come out squarely against free trade deals and wants to get American companies to stop outsourcing their manufacturing. He’s supported a wealth tax on the richest individuals to help pay for Social Security (though it’s unclear whether he still supports his earlier proposal). He wants to rebuild American infrastructure. He complained about the undue influence of corporate lobbyists in a recent Meet the Press interview.

Trump is also wary of military interventions. He emphasizes his opposition to the Iraq war. He’s lukewarm about NATO. He doesn’t want to get into a conflict with Russia. He confided to Maureen Dowd that he can make deals with anyone, from Putin to Kim Jong Un.

But he’s not an anti-militarist by nature, as demonstrated by his vacillating position on the Islamic State — which has involved, at various times, bombing, the seizure of oil fields in Iraq, and the introduction of ground troops. Trump can be just as gung ho about intervention as the next Republican if he thinks it’s what the public wants.

Alert to public desires, Trump is all persona and no substance, and all we can do is marvel at the chutzpah of his playacting. It’s amazing that a billionaire CEO can palm himself off as a friend of the working class. It’s amazing that a consummate insider can pretend to be an authentic political outsider. It’s amazing that a guy who never fought in a war can bad-mouth former POW John McCain and not suffer any remorse or repercussions.

Put crudely, Donald Trump is the closest thing the United States currently has to an authentic European-style fascist. He’s stirred together not-so-veiled racism, crude economic populism, and male bravado into a powerful snake oil. Throw in a bit of recycled Reaganism — “make America great again!” — and you get a garbled version of good old American triumphalism. Say that last bit 10 times fast, and it comes out: Trumpism.

Given the demographics of the Republican Party these days, this Trumpism can triumph in the primaries. It can push the Republican Party to further extremes of lunacy. But unless people of conscience sit on their hands in November 2016, it won’t put Trump in the White House.

John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus.

Via Foreign Policy in Focus


Related video added by Juan Cole:

Wochit News: “Donald Trump Talks Policy: Iran Deal ‘Will Lead to Nuclear Holocaust'”

5 Responses

  1. Trump may not win the republican nomination, but all of his stunts and the counter-stunts that the others cook up to try to take away the limelight form Trump could make any republican unelectable.

    Currently only about 30% of American self identify as republican, mostly concentrated in the south and Midwest and areas of low population density. Whites are less than half the population overall, but again are mostly concentrated in only some areas of the USA.

    By writing off most non-whites, most female humans and most of the younger voters, republicans have a huge demographic hill to climb. If the democrats can get the people that dislike the republicans to actually vote, there is little chance that there will be a republican president.

    BUT . . . the democrats have a hard time getting people to actually vote, meaning the republican minority often wins.

    In November 2016, I suspect that it will be Clinton versus Walker, but a lot can happen between now and then.

  2. Donald Trump is being thrust into our Presidential primary forefront to distract from anything remotely important or meaningful.

    Corporate-controlled media is in business to sell us stuff and promote malinformation on behalf of the oligarchy. Trump is the current “shiny thing over there” and nothing more.

  3. If you drive across this country, from sea to shining sea, you’ll witness a lot of new poverty.

    From CA farmers whose fields have turned to dust and Wyoming ranchers who’ve had to butcher their starving cattle and oil workers in North Dakota who’ve been laid off by the thousands to high-paying refinery and construction jobs getting replaced with minimum wage service jobs in Louisiana and across the South and work vanishing in every arena from publishing distribution to dairy production in Central New York, there is profound economic misery.

    Trump = A Vision (Mirage?) of Prosperity. Some Americans look at Trump and think, “He knows how to make money. That’s what we need.”

    Most of the presidential candidates live in comfortable bubbles and aren’t experiencing the horror of turning on the tap and getting clots of mud or seeing the big company in town (the one that supported the community for the past 50+ years) closing its doors.

    Whoever becomes president will need to offer a vision of how the people are going to get bread. If Trump is able to convince people that he can do that, he could have a shot at the presidency.

    Trump’s celebrity is the glitter of fool’s gold. But his business record and bank account have the shine of flecks of real gold. That magnetism could make voters overlook all the other hideous shortcomings.

    Never underestimate the power of hunger.

  4. Professor Cole,

    I think you miss the point. Trump receives much of the criticism, but the rest of the GOP candidates including Rand Paul and the Democrat’s Hillary Clinton WILL definitely engage in more war with Iran. No doubt.

    In addition, the trade deals including the Trans Pacific Partnership will go through with ALL of the Above.

    Trump and Bernie Sanders for that matter, are playing to more than just white voters. They are playing to the middle class. All of the OTHER candidates will continue the above neoliberal policies, no doubt.

    And Americans are desperate enough to consider Trump because there is little alternative. Like it or not, Bernie will not get the Demo nomination, and further, he is destined to show support for a war mongering Clinton, or her bullpen relief pitcher, Joe Biden.

    Welcome to America, and keep your hard hat on. God help the ruling elite in this country if supporters of Trump and Biden discover they have much more in common that you are willing to admit. The 1% would cower in fear.

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