I have to give credit for the title of this post. It came from a comment made by my friend and fellow blogger, Neal Silvester. Now, Neal’s a lot more conservative than I am, and we don’t agree on a lot of political issues, but I think his description of Trump hit the nail on the head. (Insert obvious pun about Trump being a tool. Ba-dum-KISH.)
And he’s not my only conservative friend who sees Trump this way. As Michael Terence Worley wrote, “Trump’s comments are scary. His rhetoric violates the gospel principle of charity, and he has signaled he is open to policies that violate religious freedom. Worse still, precisely because he is an actor—acting as a ‘not-Obama’—we can have no clue what he will do in office.” Even the Church-owned Deseret News ran a staff editorial denouncing Trump’s stance on religious freedom.
This brings up my biggest question about Trump: It’s obvious that Trump’s a troll, but who is he trolling?
The answer is probably “everyone,” but I believe that’s he’s especially trolling Republicans. I’ll let Mr. Worley explain the reason for Trump’s embarrassingly enduring popularity:
To the low-to-medium-information voter, Donald Trump is everything President Obama is not.
Trump is white; Obama is black.
Trump is outspoken; Obama is scrupulously politically correct.
Trump portrays himself as a war hawk; Obama has spoken as a dove.
Trump claims to oppose Obamacare; Obama championed it.
Trump is Christian and anti-Muslim; Obama, while Christian, is erroneously considered a Muslim by some.
Trump says illegal immigration is causing rape and murder; Obama has striven to provide amnesty for many illegal immigrants.
There are more comparisons, but these suffice.
Let me add to this list that Trump speaks in hyperbole while Obama relies on nuance. In Trump’s worldview, things are black and white; through Obama’s eyes, the world is complicated. Trump is eliciting emotional, knee-jerk reactions; Obama appeals more to intellect.
The scary part about it is that Trump doesn’t even have to say things that are true in order to get the reaction he wants. According to Politifact, the Pulitzer Prize-winning fact checking site, 75% of Donald Trump’s checked statements are “Mostly False” or worse. (The only candidate I could find with a worse lie rate is Ben Carson, who’s at 84%, albeit with a smaller sample size.) Now, Politifact tends to check outlandish-sounding claims before mundane ones, but this should still give a reasonable person pause. But for Trump’s supporters, it doesn’t. Why?
Because the first thing Trump is trolling is the Republican narrative that all news has a “liberal bias”—except Fox, of course, which is “Fair and Balanced.” This implies that any news source that doesn’t agree with the Republican Party’s views is inherently untrustworthy. And without viewers’ trust, the media can no longer perform its essential watchdog role when it comes to Trump. He can say literally anything, no matter how offensive, belittling, or unconstitutional (like how we should intentionally kill terrorists’ families), and his supporters will eat it up.
And this is the pattern I see in everything Trump does—he is trolling and taking advantage of the exact political environment that the Republican Party itself has created over the last two decades.
To convince the American people that big government couldn’t work, the Republican Party intentionally made sure that Congress didn’t work, instituting a self-fulfilling prophecy. (You can read in detail how this was done in Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein’s sobering book, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism, or read a very cogent summary here. Trump is now trolling this concept by making his utter lack of political experience one of his main selling points. (Dr. Carson is a factor in this race at all for the same reason.)
To convince the American public that Obama’s pragmatic, objectively centrist policies (like Obamacare) would hurt the nation instead of helping it, Republicans concocted a cult of hate toward Obamacare in particular and President Obama in general, from the disproved conspiracy theory that Obama wasn’t born in the U.S. to the persistent rumors that he’s Muslim. As we saw above, Trump is trolling that hate by setting himself up as the anit-Obama, both personally and on every issue. Or, as this person tweeted:
This has all culminated (to me, at least) in a New York Times article entitled, “Wary of Donald Trump, G.O.P. Leaders Are Caught in a Standoff.” Read the article. It describes how “Many leading Republican officials, strategists and donors now say they fear that Mr. Trump’s nomination would lead to an electoral wipeout, a sweeping defeat” because of how Trump repulses women, minorities, and moderates of all stripes, but yet these same Republican leaders feel powerless to come out and criticize Trump in any way. Almost no Republican leader has called Trump out on his crap, despite the very real probability that, in the words of the Ohio Republican Party Chairman, “If [Trump] carries this message into the general election in Ohio, we’ll hand this election to Hillary Clinton.”
Maybe that’s what Trump wants.
The Republican Party has kicking out moderates for as long as I’ve been paying attention to politics. Not in a literal way, but in several ideological ones. Scientists who accept the scientific consensus on climate change are no longer welcome. Lawmakers with a history of working across the aisle are booted out in Tea Party primaries, replaced by the people who have ground work in Congress to a halt. Grover Norquist’s pledge to never raise taxes under any circumstances has become a party shibboleth.
But Trump passes all these shibboleths. He truly embodies everything the Republican Party has radicalized itself into becoming.
My moderate Republican friends, WAKE UP! This is not the party of Ronald Reagan anymore. Reagan was pragmatic enough to reverse some of his tax cuts when, contrary to promises, they did not end up paying for themselves. We’ve learned since that they never do, but today’s Republican Party refuses to acknowledge that and many other lessons we’ve learned from modern history. They’ve doubled down on ideas that have been proven false through experience, responding to contrary evidence with derision and mockery, and this has resulted in the candidacy of Donald J. Trump. Senator Lindsey Graham (R—SC) is right when he says, “If you care about the future of the Republican Party, and you want to have a viable Republican Party, you better start moving . . . If they [Republican leaders] don’t push back, they’ll have nobody to blame but themselves.”
I see it as a fulfillment of the Book of Mormon warning found in Mosiah 7:30: “If my people shall sow filthiness they shall reap the chaff thereof in the whirlwind; and the effect thereof is poison.” The Republican Party has sown filthiness in its ideology, in its invective communication, and in its utter refusal to adapt to a changing world. Trump, Carson, Cruz, and others are the chaff it is reaping. And their effect is most certainly poisonous to the real conservative cause.
But as I said before, that may be what Trump wants. He used to be a Democrat. He used to be friends with the Clintons. He could be a very deep sleeper agent who’s spent years crafting his persona, waiting for just the right moment to use the Republicans’ bad decisions against them. It’s pretty unlikely, but it is possible, and it’s only been made possible by the G.O.P.’s own strategies.
Or Trump could just be a narcissist trying to increase his personal fame (and probably wealth) by trolling the entire population of the United States with his outlandishness. I’m honestly not sure which possibility is worse.