He gets it — popular culture’s addiction to speed and snark, its absence of an attention span, its carelessness about facts, its belligerence toward all authority except the almighty “I”. Mr. Trump’s use of first person plural, his “we” uttered again and again, invites the listener inside his persona and therefore into a space reserved only for winners like himself and all who agree with him. The “losers” dwell in spaces reserved for Mexicans, Muslims, African-Americans, critics, protesters, most other Republican candidates, John McCain and too many others who have appeared as the devil in his performances since he announced his candidacy.
He gets it — that the pursuit of and accumulation of wealth is the great American dream and a secret that ordinary paycheck-to-paycheck mortals cannot get hold of. Mr. Trump acknowledges that he does know the secret, that he is smarter, cagier, a tougher negotiator, a genius who will surround himself with other geniuses, the one who cannot be bought because he is the one who does the buying. His money gives him an immediate cachet in an America where it has been sanctified as never before in our history.
He gets it — that the rap and the rant have overcome reasoned conversation; that policy and details do not matter because the sting of a good one-liner will overcome all. He understands that ‘stream of consciousness’ rattled off in campaign stops and snappy, text-like, twitter speak will bring him attention, will spark outrage and laughter and gasps and cheers. Mr. Trump does not care about the reaction. He understands that attention alone is the new value. If they watch, you have them. If a line or attack did not work, not to worry. By tomorrow all will be brushed aside in the speed of events, in the new barrage, and there will be time to try this or that as long as it rings a bell, shifts the camera, brings him the eyes of the nation. In the age of the ‘selfie’, Mr. Trump is king.
He gets it — that ISIS is the bogeyman, and that many now believe that Muslims may be the agents of our destruction. He lives upon fear. We must be afraid of Muslims because who can tell what lies in their hearts and behind those faces rapt in freaky worship upon their prayer rugs? He makes no distinctions — the Kurds, who fight ISIS every day? The Jordanians, our allies for fifty years, fierce opponents of ISIS? The Iraqi and Afghani translators who served with the Marines and Army at enormous risk to themselves and their families? Maybe he understands this complexity. If he does, he will not speak of it. Today, complexity is the other bogeyman. Mr. Trump knows that to win he must keep his message simple: “The nation is a hell-hole.# Be afraid. I can save you.”
He gets it — that we have become coarsened in our daily speech, and that the hero-wisecrack of movie-lines carries weight; that increasingly we live our fantasy lives inside movies and video games. Think “Yippie-Ki-Yay MotherFucker”. Think “Do you feel lucky punk?” Employing the culture’s respect for hard-eyed but amusing rebels, and for vulgarity as a sign of authenticity and courage, Mr. Trump proclaims “he will bomb the shit out of ISIS.”^^ He assures us that he is the tough guy among an elite of cowards and the weak. Think of a billionaire Bruce Willis. Think of a 2015 Clint Eastwood cleaning up town after town, state after nation after world.
Mr. Trump caught my attention in July when he called Senator John McCain “a loser” and emphasized that he was not “a war hero.”++
From 1967 to 1973, Senator McCain was held as a prisoner-of-war by the North Vietnamese. He was beaten and bayoneted and refused medical treatment for his injuries. “His captors soon learned he was the son of a high-ranking officer in the U.S. Navy and repeatedly offered him early release, but McCain refused, not wanting to violate the military code of conduct and knowing that the North Vietnamese would use his release as a powerful piece of propaganda.”* The beatings began in earnest after this refusal: “For the next four days, I was beaten every two or three hours by different guards. My left arm was broken again and my ribs were cracked, he said. The North Vietnamese wanted a confession for crimes committed against the North Vietnamese people.”**
Senator McCain was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Distinguished Flying Cross.
Politically, Senator McCain and I probably could not agree on whether the sky is blue, but no one can impugn his honor and courage. He is the real deal, the one who suffered, the one who sacrificed, the one who did not use his connections to slip away from responsibility and from his duty to other captured American pilots.
Mr. Trump will not change. He will ride his rap, ride our fear and encourage that fear, and by doing so may become his party’s candidate for President of the United States. If this comes to pass, we would be wise to remember how he revealed his authentic heart in his attack on Senator McCain. For Mr. Trump does not get this — that he is representative of the loathsome machismo of rich fat men with soft hands who will always want others to do the suffering and dying that their whoops of toughness ordain as necessary.