Sunday, February 28, 2016

Trumpification - 21st Century Political Satire

Trumpification: The Greatest Political Satire of the 21st Century

Is “the real Donald Trump” for real?

Or is The Donald pulling off an incredibly brilliant feat of political satire designed to expose the darker side of human nature simmering beneath the Republican Party.

The idea was first posed to me last month by a college freshman majoring in political science and philosophy at CU-Boulder. When I asked what he thought of Trump and the GOP primary, his immediate reaction was, “I think he’s a satirist. I have to believe that he is rattling off all this crazy stuff about immigration just to mess with people.” Granted, many critics would certainly hope so. And, knowing Trump’s ego and flair for the dramatic, it wouldn’t be all that far-fetched. It may even explain why Trump first came out as a birther regarding Obama’s citizenship. If it were truly a political sting, it would explain why someone like Trump would have waded into that messy conspiracy theory in the first place. Trump is “the best builder,” after all. And, with his similar attacks on Ted Cruz’s citizen status, this ruse would be the construction of the grandest façade in a world drowning in political chicanery.

Could it be that Donald Trump is out-Colbert-ing Stephen Colbert and forcing the Grand Old Party to confront the more sinister side of its politics, cultivated by Sean Hannity and Roger Aisles for the past decade? Despite the intriguing possibilities, I hadn’t seriously entertained the idea, even as Trump’s staying power became evident and his poll resilience continued to mystify political pundits. However, in January Denver radio host and writer Ross Kaminsky made his predictions for 2016, and I had to seriously re-consider the possibility that “Donald Trump drops out of the presidential race and says that his whole campaign was a bet with Michael Bloomberg about whether Trump could really fool gullible Republicans into thinking he had suddenly become a conservative. Kaminsky posited the possibility that a man like Trump who trades in “barbs and insults” could actually become the standard bearer for the GOP. Such a bait and switch would be quite a prize for a liberal like Bloomberg. And, with recent news of Bloomberg’s interest in third-party run for the Presidency, the satire conspiracy becomes even richer.

Certainly, the idea of a Trump spoof has not escaped the speculation of many pundits and campaign watchers. The BBC’s Anthony Zurcher has been scrutinizing the news of the Trump phenomenon for months now, and he is considering the possibility that Donald Trump is actually a spy or a plant for the Democrats. It’s not such an outrageous idea, considering the history between Donald Trump and the Clintons. Of particular interest is the investigative work of reporter Noah Rathman who has noticed a potential pattern of times that Trump’s actions have conveniently taken media attention off of Hillary when she was under scrutiny by media and GOP pundits. Truly, the GOP leadership and moderate Republicans across the country have watched, bewildered, as Trump has grabbed control of the headlines, making a mockery of many debates and distracting the press and the other candidates from hitting at Hillary’s record.  With news that Donald Trump spoke at length with Bill Clinton prior to launching his campaign, the idea of a faux campaign seems plausible. More than likely, it was an attempt by the Clinton’s to sabotage the GOP primaries – an action that may actually work against them.

Undoubtedly, Donald Trump has an enormous ego and inflated sense of self-worth. And, becoming president would certainly feed that need. Yet, an even greater accomplishment might be to secure the GOP nomination only to turn around and intentionally derail an entire political party. Even if he fails to succeed through the early primaries and caucuses, he could save face by claiming he never wanted to be President, and he would have done lasting damage to the GOP while once again elevating his own persona. Certainly, the argument that Trump never was a true Republican or conservative was bolstered in last month’s National Review which seeks to expose the Donald Trump farce in a series of commentary on Trump’s lack of conservative credentials. While Trump dismissed the article with his usual snide shrug, he may secretly be chuckling inside about just how right they are. Undoubtedly, Trump is a bit of a rogue candidate for the GOP, as he has proudly held many positions that run counter to Republican and conservative ideals. And, his popularity has consequently exposed uncomfortable splits in a Republican party with significant ideological extremes. Whether he intended to or not, Trump’s statements and popularity have undoubtedly satirized the establishment of the Republican Party.

If Donald Trump – a businessman with no political background or governing credentials – were to become President it would be a historic coup in contemporary American politics. If he were to eventually come out as a satirist, having mocked the Republican Party into an egregious mistake, it might be one of the single greatest feats of political gamesmanship the contemporary world has ever seen. Once Trump passed a seemingly unfathomable line with his assertion that “I could shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” it seemed the last hope for a dignified country that he had to be kidding. For many, Trump as satirist is the only possible answer. He has to be kidding because the alternative – that he really believes what he says and is still so popular – is just too difficult to accept. However, others speculate that he is not actually satirizing the GOP and the political process as much as he is simply pulling off the greatest stunt in political media history. According to a report in Politico, Trump’s campaign is actually a spoof, or a fraud that he dreamed up years ago. The goal was to simply upset the process and prove he could successfully market himself into taking over a political party and even winning the Presidential nomination, if not the White House. To this point, he’s been proved right, as the media has more than happily contributed to the hype, and the GOP establishment has been helpless to stop it.

People on both sides of the political aisles are desperately hoping that Trump’s popularity and apparent staying power in the Republican primaries is merely an aberration that will quickly evaporate once actual votes go to the polls. And, if he truly is playing us all, columnist Andy Ostroy offered ideas about what Trump is really up to. Following his withdrawal from the race, Trump would explain: I pulled off the greatest social experiment in American history. In the end, it wasn't Donald Trump whose behavior was shameful, it was yours.  You've got a lot to work on, America. And you can thank Trump for exposing it." Were Trump to come out with such a statement, it would be a legendary moment in American politics. But considering the extremes to which he’s gone already, it may be more legendary for such a man to actually secure a major party nomination. And, many suspect that should Trump actually begin to fade in the polls, or simply not continue to win primaries or caucuses and fail to secure the nomination, Trump may at that point claim that he never wanted the job in the first place.

So, Trump may very well be kidding. Or he may not. As the country moves on from Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Caroline toward Super Tuesday and beyond, it appears anything can happen, and the pundits have practically given up trying to predict it. And, while it’s doubtful that Donald Trump is intentionally spoofing the GOP in order to defeat it, it was also doubtful that he ever had a chance in the first place. Truly, Donald Trump’s bombastic personality and extreme statements have shocked a nation and have in many ways already made a mockery of the country’s politics and electoral process. Thus, in moving from a controversial but entertaining reality TV show star to a serious candidate, Donald Trump may be a brilliant satirist or a dangerous demagogue.

Either way, America loses. The joke is clearly on us.

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