The figure of Donald Trump has always been one of ridiculous excess, overblown arrogance and the kind of antics only the rich can afford. His presidential bid changed none of that, and the idea of the man behind The Apprentice becoming the leader of America was immediately ridiculous, dismissed out of hand. As well it should be, to a certain extent.
Yes, Trump 2016 is a sideshow, a distraction. The run could be a calculated move engineered by the Republican party to make their stone-age candidates appear to have a modicum of progressive thinking and appeal to the younger generation that seems to be losing patience with the party of their forebears.
It may just be designed solely to further strengthen and define the personal brand of Donald Trump, an ego trip intended to further establish himself as an institution in the American political and entertainment landscape, a billionaire-financed ego trip that could sink the GOP’s hopes if the real-estate mogul bails on the party for a third-party run.
But regardless of why Trump is running, what is certain is that he’s doing much better than anyone expected. Trump still leads the Republican pack by about 10 percentage points on average in the polls. In the beginning of Trump’s current reign over the polls back in July, the item seemed like a joke, a solitary blip on the radar screen. After all, these were early polls, and in the overall perspective, meant next to nothing. But a full month later, Trump still commands a solid lead over the rest of the GOP in polling.
What does the Month of Trump tell us about the modern political climate? For one thing, it appears a wider swath than we thought of Republican voters are more than comfortable with openly eschewing modern notions of tolerance and equality when it comes to immigrants and women. Trump didn’t significantly lose progress after implying all Mexican immigrants were rapists and attacking Fox anchor Megyn Kelly with a misogynistic taunt, both of which the man has staunchly refused to back down from.
While the polls lead doesn’t mean Trump will win the nomination, let alone the presidency itself, the revelation may serve to illustrate why the Republican party is so hopelessly out of touch with young voters and women. Trump represents the Republican id, an id Fox news and the Republican brass are trying desperately to tame. But to a certain extent, the values of Trump are the same as those for the other candidates in his party, just expressed with less tact.
But the extremism of Trump’s comments shines light on a darker problem. On Wednesday, a Hispanic homeless man, sleeping near a train station, was savagely beaten by two men in Boston. First urinating on the man and then proceeding to beat him with fists and a pole, the two men dropped Trump’s name as a motivation for their acts of brutality. “Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported”, the Sun-Times reports one of the assailants as saying to the police.
Of course, one could easily dismiss the attackers as isolated bigots, extremists compared to Trump. But the incredible thing about the story is that rather than distance himself from the men urinating on and beating a sleeping homeless man, Trump had no real indictment for them. In fact, he only explained the attack by citing the “passion” of his supporters. “I will say that people who are following me are very passionate” the Sun-Times goes on to quote. “They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate.”
The passion Trump has ignited in his supporters is the true danger of Trump’s sideshow. While casual prejudice may be just a game to him, just a tactic to increase his TV ratings and sell more products, the support he’s drummed up takes it very seriously. And while Trump may have no chance of winning the presidency, his candidacy alone has already caused damage to individuals as well as political parties.
So by all means, continue to think of Trump 2016 as ridiculous, a sideshow, a marketing ploy. But don’t underestimate the impact this campaign will have. 20% of Republican voters see nothing wrong with Trump. And at least a couple have taken his rhetoric to it’s natural end, attacking with fists and pipes rather than with words.