Have a guess at who said the following:
“I love getting even. I get screwed all the time. I go after people, and, you know what, people do not play around with me as much as they do with others. They know that if they do, they are in for a big fight. Always get even.”
Yes, of course it was the man who could be the next President of the US, Donald Trump, in ‘Think Big’ one of his many best-selling tomes. It reveals the psychology of the man: he believes the world is out to get him, that people are inherently aggressive and that the key is to be always ready to fight.
The Trump campaign is a lot like the build-up to an MMA fight. It’s an outrageous drama where insults are hurled, threats are issued and the candidate struts around with a “C’mon have a go, if you think you’re hard enough” swagger. His opponent becomes the target, not the adversary; the foil, not the contestant; and, in an orgy of publicity-seeking, anything goes. Trump is news and news is Trump – and that matters.
In terms of the limits to the slurs, there are none. Hillary is now “Crooked Hillary” to go with “Lying Ted Cruz” and Hillary’s left-wing supporter Elizabeth Warren is dismissed as “Pocahontas” – after she tried to claim that she was a bit Indian. Actually, I quite like this one, as nothing so riles the Trump constituency as the right-on, left elite pretending to be down with the truly poor and marginalised.
The point is, Trump could win. His campaign hits the one-year mark this week and it is real. This is a bruiser who instinctively understands the theatre of politics, he knows the election is showbusiness and he understands a person’s visceral fears and burning aspirations. He would be difficult to beat for a popular Democrat – he may be impossible to defeat if the candidate against him is Hillary Clinton.
Remember, this is the man who saw off Jeb Bush – for many, a shoo-in Republican nominee. Bush tried to play the old country club game of proper politics on stage and nasty manoeuvres out back, but Trump wouldn’t play by the rules. He ridiculed the Republican grandee as being simply the next in line from a blue-blooded political dynasty – and he won.
He won because he is saying what others won’t say and if he can destroy Bush (a decent, mild-mannered, reasonably popular guy) and take down the rest of the Republican chosen with his brand of populism, vulgarity and in-your-face insults, what might he do to the already-tarnished Hillary Clinton? Trump has momentum. He has shown an uncanny knack of tapping into the American national mood and every day he is gaining converts to his crusade, which is a type of uniquely American class-war. In contrast, Hillary is losing ground. She is emblematic of everything that Trump targets: over-educated, highly political, far too close to Wall Street and, more egregiously, she is a political insider.
In most races, these would be attributes, but for Trump these insider traits are yet more evidence of cosiness at the top, jobs for the boys – and they can easily be turned into ammunition to fire at Hillary.
Trump has managed to paint himself as the Outsider, despite being a regularly bankrupt frat kid with a rich daddy. None of that seems to matter now. What we have is a contest between two very different world views.
Trump’s view is “kill or be killed”. It divides the world into friends and enemies. Compromise is seen as weakness and revenge is a legitimate part of the toolbox of diplomacy. This type of ‘you versus me’ stuff works amazingly well on reality TV and in the real estate deals that made Trump all those years ago; it is also the stuff that wins elections. Ultimately, elections these days are reality TV with slightly more at stake.
Don’t rule him out. Think the unthinkable.
So what might a Trump presidency look like?
Economically, Trump is being advised by some old-fashioned Reaganite supply-siders, Arthur Laffer being a case in point. These people believe in tax cuts to stimulate the economy and are hoping for a repeat of the Reagan 1980s. The implications of this for the US would be bigger fiscal deficits, because when you cut taxes you actually lose revenue. This would drive up the dollar further, make interest rate hikes more likely and see the US suck in more imports, from both China and Mexico – two countries that Trump rails against. However, part of Trump’s nationalist, ‘America First’ agenda also pertains to US corporations investing abroad. Trump has said that he will not tolerate American companies heading offshore in order to avoid American tax. If the usually measured Obama referred to such companies as “corporate deserters”, God knows what Trump will call them. This is of particular concern to Ireland.
Up to now we have played a nuanced game, appealing to globalisation and the free movement of global capital. Successive American presidents on the right and the left up to now have always being supporters of globalisation. They have subscribed to the motto of President Coolidge in the 1920s: “the business of America is business“.
Could Trump – the deal-maker, the capitalist and the tax-avoider – be the president to challenge that notion?
Could he abandon the Republican Party’s proximity to big business and truly become a friend of the little guy? Or will he drop his populism and revert to being a friend of his friends in big business?
This is the big question for Ireland.
Either way, we should be making preparations for President Trump. Historically, official Ireland has always leant Democrat, with good reason. However, this should not blind us to the electoral phenomenon that is Donald Trump. If he keeps going like this, he could win in November.
It’s Hillary’s to lose and Donald’s to win. Therein lies the beginning of Hillary’s problems.