Donald Trump will not be the next president of the United States. He’s too gaffe-prone, obnoxious and bereft of constructive ideas for that.
Yet the billionaire developer and beauty-pageant owner leads the race for the Republican presidential nomination. As such, Trump has dominated the U.S. political conversation in recent months.
And there’s something tragic about that.
In the Canadian federal election set for Oct. 19, the issues will be poverty, job creation, underwhelming R&D prowess, abysmal aboriginal living conditions, our neglected potential to become a leader in sustainable-energy technologies, and the erosion of education and health-care standards.
By contrast, the U.S. political discussion is about killing “socialist” Obamacare (actually a right-wing idea hatched in the Nixon era); the fake crisis of illegal immigration from Latin America (Trump has described Mexican émigrés as drug-runners and rapists); vexing talk of “family values,” as defined by adherence to the ideology of Christian extremists; and whether Barack Obama was born on U.S. soil (that so-called “birther” non-issue is one that Trump has done more than anyone to keep alive).
These are serious times, and Canadian voters are acting accordingly. One hopes Americans eventually will, too.
But for now, precious time is being wasted in America in not putting electoral candidates on the hot seat over plummeting U.S. education standards (the U.S. ranks 30th in student test scores, and Canada an unacceptably low 13th). Or an infrastructure crisis of 80,000 “structurally deficient” U.S. bridges, and decaying Civil War-era schools and hospitals. Or the intrusions on Americans’ privacy rights by the George W. Bush and Obama administrations. Or how the epidemic of U.S. mass shootings demands a rethink of gun control. “These tragedies are now happening about every two weeks,” a frustrated Obama said recently.
Trump’s candidacy is, of course, a fraud.
In each of the past four U.S. election cycles, Trump, 69, has loudly contemplated a presidential bid, using Trump-friendly TV and radio “interviewers” as an audience for absurd Trumpisms. (“I would have won the race against Obama,” Trump said of the 2012 contest. “He would have been easy.”) And each time, Trump has abruptly quit before having to endure demands that he cough up at least one viable solution to the hundreds of faults he finds with the country that made him rich.
Trump is not even a conservative, at least as the conservative U.S. mainstream recognizes itself. He has belonged to no fewer than four parties, and backed the successful U.S. Senate campaign of Hillary Clinton (an obvious disability if he faces off against her in next year’s general election). In quitting the GOP in 1999, Trump explained: “I really believe the Republicans are just too crazy right.” Even mountebanks like Newt Gingrich acknowledge that the GOP has since been taken hostage by outright nutters.
In his 2000 book, The America We Deserve, Trump proposed U.S. adoption of Canada’s health care system, which many GOPers equate with communism. “We should not hear so many stories of families ruined by healthcare expenses,” he wrote. In 2004, Trump said, “I probably identify more as a Democrat. It just seems that the economy does better under the Democrats than the Republicans.” That last part is true, dating from Franklin Roosevelt.
In quitting a long, unofficial campaign for New York governor in May 2011, Trump explained, “Business is my greatest passion and I am not ready to leave the private sector.”
But that business passion has yielded, at best, mixed results. Those who recall the failed Trump Shuttle airline and the defunct New Jersey Generals of the defunct United States Football League know that Trump is not to be confused with Warren Buffett or Bill Gates.
Trump’s overleveraged real estate holdings put him on the brink of personal bankruptcy in 1991. The biggest of Trump’s business bets, the $1 billion (U.S.) Trump Taj Mahal Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City — home of America’s first casino strip club — filed for bankruptcy protection last year.
Trump’s business activities expose him as a hypocrite. Trump vows to be “the greatest jobs president that God ever created” by repatriating jobs from abroad. Yet since 2000, Trump’s companies have sought to import at least 1,100 foreign workers on temporary visas as dirt-cheap labour for his resort casinos. Most of the visas have been granted. That number includes close to 250 visas for offshore “fashion models,” there being, this space is surprised to learn, an apparent shortage of American-born beautiful women.
Trump’s status as a successful tycoon, wildly exaggerated though it is, accounts for his current popularity with Republicans.
Trump appeals to the long-held belief that businesspeople make superior political leaders, a curious notion mocked by the historical record.
George W. Bush was America’s first MBA president. (Harvard, no less.) We saw how that worked out. Torontonians took a chance for mayor on a discount retailer, Mel Lastman of Bad Boy Furniture, and got a maladroit, ineffectual mayoralty.
Trump makes most of his money by licensing his name to developers of buildings he doesn’t own. The allure of the Trump name can end in tears, as for many aggrieved investors in downtown Toronto’s Trump International Hotel & Tower.
Trump says boosting his name recognition is unrelated to his electoral non-campaigns, but the opposite is true. In his own financial disclosures, Trump attributes 80 per cent of his estimated net worth of $4.1 billion (U.S.) to assets derived from licensing his name to developers and vendors of Trump-branded apparel and other merchandise. Which is to say that Donald John Trump values his name at $3.3 billion (U.S.).
Trump is a poseur who will quit the crowded GOP presidential race (with its 14 candidates) well before the end of the year. But in the meantime, serious issues will be crowded out of town-hall debate by outbursts like Trump’s recent redefinition of war heroes as those who avoid being taken prisoner. U.S. Senator John McCain, tortured by the Viet Cong for several years, doesn’t qualify. “I like people who weren’t captured,” Trump said, prompting the prestigious Des Moines Register’s call for Trump’s immediate departure from the race.
Doug Heye, former deputy chief of staff for then-GOP House Majority leader Eric Cantor, recently described Trump as the baby who commands attention from his constant tantrums.
“What if everyone treated Mr. Trump as the thing he is not: a serious-minded candidate for president of the United States?” Heye wrote. “It would quickly become clear that the emperor has no clothes.”
The success of latest Trump branding exercise disguised as a passion for public service reflects poorly on an electorate easily distracted by buffoonery, and of an American celebrity culture that zealously abets it.