Donald Trump: Back to the Future Part III
There is a long line of rich, successful and well connected men who have put themselves forwards as potential presidents of the world’s greatest democracy. For better or for worse the democratic system has granted the keys to the White House to only a few of them. The ability to succeed in business is held up as a key qualification for anyone running for American high office. “They know how to get things done” is the cry. In this sense, Donald Trump is merely the latest billionaire with big plans on the block.
Sometimes it seems as though America specialises in self-made, famous millionaires, and although that self-made status undeniably chimes with the American dream, is it so wrong to ask whether men who are accustomed to calling all the shots are so well qualified for what is above all else a diplomatic role? Being in charge may be what the presidency looks like from a distance, but if the reality is that the job calls for a delicate diplomatic sensibility, is a commercial autocrat really such a great candidate?
Certainly history suggests otherwise. The list of self-made millionaires who have run for President includes those who have either been so radically unelectable that their campaigns have sunk under their own weight – think Ross Perot – or their sense of personal invulnerability has somehow contrived to see them thrown overboard – think Gary Hart. American politics may put a premium on broad smiles as well as deep pockets, but it has never been an especially kind-hearted or forgiving environment.
And talking of presidential candidates, we were bound to turn to the man of the moment – Donald John Trump Senior. He is undeniably the latest in a long line of those who – not least by dint of their own extravagant talents – has raised himself to prominence.
No one can deny his business acumen, but what are we to make of Trump the politician? No-one really seems to know. But we do know that the man is not widely regarded for his diplomatic skills. He says what he says, he refuses to apologise, and then he carries on cheerily insulting and offending great swathes of voters and national neighbours seemingly with every breath. And yet somehow amongst the rump of American right wing politics Trump’s popularity knows no bounds. No-one on his side of the debate seems prepared to call him to order.
Is this the positive regard of the playground bully? Are Republican king-makers really so terrified of an independent Trump campaign that they dare not put the brakes on his Republican bandwagon with so much as a hint of criticism? Or has the candy-floss irrelevance of reality TV somehow slipped into the space once occupied by responsible politics? Even after the watershed, Trump’s multi-million dollar misogyny and casual racism would be too strong for Channel 5’s Big Brother. But there is no denying that Trump speaks to a significant constituency – and that means votes.
There is a growing meme that depicts Trump as the living embodiment of Biff Tannen, the extravagantly wealthy, casino-owning cliché of a character from Back to the Future Part II (1989) whose ‘success’ in life was not all that it seemed and whose personal politics left much to be desired. Tempting as it may be for casual observers to enjoy the suggestion of parody, Donald John Trump Senior is no such joke. He has made the necessary millions to wield serious political clout and he is currently enjoying the sort of momentum that drives political success.
For better or worse, Trump is a serious contender for the White House – and that really is not everybody’s idea of an American dream.