On the 7th December, 2015, Donald Trump, a contender for the Republican Party presidential nomination, said: “Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
Trump’s latest statement is right about one thing: there is an urgency to figuring out what is going on in America. By playing into the hands of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, however, the overwhelming majority of his speech yesterday reeked of little more than misrepresentation (the polls he used were found to be largely inaccurate), fear-mongering, and antagonistic power play. Above all, his policy of preventing all Muslims from entering the USA would be counterproductive to his counter-terror “programme”—by fuelling the radicalisation and alienation of domestic Muslims, by legitimising domestic terrorists, and by breaking down inter-communal collaboration spearheaded by the Obama administration in cracking down on domestic terror.
Donald Trump does not thrive on logic. The more illogical Trump is, the more his supporters love him—as the Maverick, the Outsider, the new Other to the old Other (of immigrants, refugees, and certain religious and ethnic minorities). To refute Trump in a rationalist paradigm is futile, because the supporters he appeals to do not care about logic—if anything, they despise logic and characterise it as a liberal tool.
The Republican presidential front-runner does not thrive on consistent policies and clear-cut ideology. Save from xenophobia and a generalised disregard for those who are not cis- and heterosexual white Americans, he has no definitive political stance. He is both a statist (as his calls for stricter government regulation of citizenship and heavier police militarisation demonstrate) and a laissez-faire libertarian (he plans to lower corporate tax to zero and personal income tax to, at the most, fifteen per cent). He promises to “strengthen the US military and [deploy] it appropriately in the East and South China Seas”, and vows to fight the Islamic State by “[taking] out their families […] When they say they don’t care about their lives, you have to take out their families” and “bomb the shit out of ’em”. And yet he brags of warning Bush about destabilisation in the Middle East prior to the Iraq War in 2003: “‘You’re going to destabilise the Middle East,’ and that’s what happened.”
Trump is leading in polls because of his substanceless campaign. For Trump’s supporters, his policies are of secondary importance—are negligible, even—compared with his grandiose aura. His vague and contradictory policies are not a setback that he copes with; instead, he cleverly sells himself as “flexible” and “pragmatic”. Above all, he sells himself as the package – as an identity, as a leader, as an ethos. To vote for Trump does not require one to agree with his vague policies, but a simple acceptance of his populist, ‘Strong Man’ narrative. His ability to establish a leading hegemony in the personality cult arena has enabled him to lock down desperate establishment rivals, such as the drooping Bush no. 3.
His fans do not care if his words are merely performative; they do not care if his policies are impractical, unrealistic, or idealistic; what they do care about—and what Trump gloriously brings—is the hyper-masculine “total knowledge of a passion which rises erect and alone”, the atmosphere and essence of an anti-establishment rebellion. So, his supporters embrace his racism, xenophobia, folly and authoritarianism as his willing defiance of ‘Political Correctness’. He does not care if he is violating the rights or identities or feelings of minorities, females, people with different sexual orientations, and so on. His supporters love him for his vitriol and antagonism. They adore them for his ‘high energy’ and worship his potty mouth.
In the Trumpian paradigm, vices become virtues; virtues become vices. That’s why no Republicans will ever be able to stop him from “winning” in his own game—not that they need to, considering that Rubio will probably win the nomination in the end.
The four-times bankrupt business mogul has subverted the USA’s electoral norms by offering himself as the Outsider to the political game. His radical, punchline speeches have become signifiers in a new field of discourse—or rather, a stream of discourse previously found only among fringe elements of the hard right wing. Donald Trump wants a ban on all Muslims entering the USA. That’s what makes him a winner—a completely fucked-up moral compass.
Image by DonkeyHotey