Donald Trump is in the news again this morning. He’s thrown another toy out of his playpen. Not Megyn Kelly. This time he’s calling for women who have abortions to be punished. Or something.
In an interview with someone called Chris Matthews on MSNBC, the Donald uttered a construction about punishment and abortion that even he had to go back on. What he meant, he said some time later, is that doctors performing abortions should be punished.
Well, that’s cleared that up, then. Donald Trump wasn’t just airing his stupidity or desperately bidding for our attention. He wasn’t just pandering to the basest prejudices of the ignorant and benighted. Or acting (badly) the high school class clown role that is part of his shtick. Except that class clowns are usually smart.
It’s great to have closure. Everybody says so. Got to have closure. If only we could market closure. But just one nagging question. What does Donald Trump mean?
The Donald himself is an enigma- not only to himself, but to all the rest of us. How else to account for the millions of words analysing, diagnosing The Trump Phenomenon? It’s become a growth industry; the only game in town. Therapists, especially, love him for his pathology.
Clinical psychologist Ben Michaelis raves about Trump. To him, the Donald is a walking textbook definition of narcissistic personality disorder. “He’s like a dream come true.” Or a nightmare.
“He’s so classic that I’m archiving video clips of him to use in workshops because there’s no better example of his characteristics,” he says. The Donald is going to save doctors a lot of money in resource materials. Other politicians just talk about making a contribution to public life.
It is fascinating just reading about one more thing that makes Trump newsworthy if not noteworthy – or even a little bit epic: Trump the living pathology specimen. Oliver Sacks fans eat your heart out. There’s a musical or a mini-series or both just in the title.
But in Australia NPD is so yesterday. In our political arena, narcissistic personality disorder just qualifies a person for office. Or to run the Prime Minister’s office.
Michaelis would have a field day in Australia. Our last Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, vowed to shirtfront Vladimir Putin. He ate a raw brown onion on camera while his Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin ran his office for him largely by telling his colleagues how insignificant and unworthy they were and humiliating them in public. How she always had to get the job done.
Now Abbott jets around the world taking selfies with world leaders and eating the real Prime Minister’s foreign policy lunch by making a string of macho announcements. How we need to get tough with the Chinese. Terrorists. How the next election will really be all about his agenda. How other governments should deal with refugees.
No-one knows why but all signs point to NPD and an excess of available testosterone. Or relevance deprivation syndrome. None of which our current PM Malcolm Turnbull suffers from but he’s a classic NPD for sure. No idea of policy or platform but a series of whistle stops and thought bubbles offered up for the rest of us to gratefully admire or he gets testy. Or retracts.
Some unkind idle onlookers call the Donald stupid. The same has been said about our NPD. But being dumb does not disqualify you from high office. Look at Ronald Reagan. He looked the part. Ron was the talent the conservatives wanted in the role. He signed everything the neo-neo cons put before him. And Nancy did everything for him in the latter years of his second term. Almost went to the bathroom for him. And look how well that turned out.
In the course of two terms the US went from leading global creditor nation to leading debtor nation. Reagan helped create vast armies of poor and dispossessed; an embittered alienated underclass that just love Trump. We have one forming nicely here, too. But we blame the poor for being a drain on government expenditure. Say one thing about the Donald. He loves the poor. They love him back.
They love it when the Donald gets tough with the world. How he’s going to war with China. How he’ll make America great again. In Australia our PM simply pours billions into submarines and fighter planes with the same insane objective. Such a vote winner.
Critics of the Donald say he is a bit slow and strange but don’t they remember Gerald Ford? Lyndon Baines Johnson said that Ford was so dumb he couldn’t walk and fart at the same time. Johnson could and took pleasure in forcing his guests no matter how important to continue conversations with him while he relieved himself. That’s not strange that’s colourful.
Don’t be so harsh on the Donald. He is an asset to public life. He reminds us of the intersection of politics and show business that is our modern age. Or should that be a car wreck? He is a living reminder of how the media circus long ago became the centre of everything as a wise Canadian named Marshal McLuhan once or twice pointed out.
If the media is the massage, however, spectacle is the new substance. The Donald is a beacon to alert us to that. He’s also a type of prophylactic. If you don’t vote, look what can happen to your public life. He’s doing wonders to bust the bejesus out of political apathy. And my how he’s working wonders with the art of political debate.
One debate on news unfortunately around meal time had the Donald making reassuring noise about the size of his member. From its TV presentation, US presidential political debate is a warning to all of us. It resembles a bad segment from a Big Brother reality TV show in which none of the contestants can come up with anything interesting and witty or relevant to anything but each one desperately wants to win the prize by staying in the house the longest even if it comes down to a gross-out.
Some say the Donald shows how the art of the debate has been debased into mudslinging and the exchange of preposterous, unfounded assertions. Most of what Trump trumpets is like this. How he’s going to build a wall to stop illegals coming up from Mexico. How he’s going to slap tariffs on manufacturers who move north of the border to avoid US tax. None of this he can do. No president can do. Bear with the theatre of the absurd.
A few fusspots fear that the Donald simply doesn’t make sense but to his listeners he does. Like all populist demagogues he says what people want to hear or what they think he says they want to hear. His utterances are a new benchmark in incoherence – one academic dignified them by comparing them to the stream of consciousness in literature but for Trump it really is closer to a stream of unconsciousness – a key semiotic marker of the decline of public discourse.
Others say the Donald is a fake. He pretends to be an amazing self-made business tycoon but the fact is he’s had a barrel of financial disasters and a history of sharp practice after he had the bad luck to inherit wealth. You’ll narrow the field too much if you apply this standard to your leading public figures. Here we’d have to disqualify our own Prime Minister.
Scholars argue that the Donald is a creation of the Republican party. Others claim he and Sanders are creatures of the times. One thing is certain, Trump cannot be simply explained away. As in Australia, and in other western societies suffering even more the economic consequences of the GFC and the neo-con fantasies of wealth from toxic sub-prime loans which contributed to it, the Trump phenomenon, the Donald’s populist insurgency is one to be heeded most carefully. In the end he holds a mirror up to ourselves and our political times.