Thursday, August 27, 2015

On the Surprising Sanity of Donald Trump

It started simply enough. Like tens of thousands of others, I watched open-mouthed and slack jawed in amazement as Donald Trump singlehandedly exposed the festering corruption that sits at the sclerotic heart of American politics, during his performance on last week's Republican presidential candidates' debate over on Fox.

That was three weeks ago.

Since then, I - and, no doubt, half a legion of political pundits the world over - have found myself curiously captivated by this most .. cursory of candidates.

What does he stand for? How did he go from headline-based joke to headlining the joke party? *WHY* is he?

Well this piece doesn't purport to contain the answers to any of the above. We're no doubt going to be churning out screeds upon screeds of political analysis for at least the next decade about how all of this came to be - and why he's not just another re-run of the Ross Perot phenomenon.

But what I found, buried within the dusty mounds of internet links and expert opinion which I daily trawl through and then nest in ... were two important truths.

First up, that Trump isn't as stupid as he looks. (Which would, if he were, be a singularly impressive phenomenon in and of itself)

And second, that because of this ... he operates in some ways *outside* the establishment-spectrum of American politics. That's the root of his popularity, in many ways - but it's also a worrying indictment of that establishment in the first place.

People talk about how the Republican Party used to be the Party of Lincoln - then the Party of Nixon (whom let's remember wanted to be an American Disraeli) ... before finally sliding into its almost complete antithesis in terms of human values and common sense as the Party of Bush.

Where Trump fits in is as a corrective tendency - a lever which, whether by accident or design, will serve to break open the Establishment consensus on what's "acceptable" politics. And in doing so, try to bring at least part of this sphere crashing back to closer proximity with what a reasonable swathe of the American people *actually* want.

And contrary to what you might think (particularly upon reading his absolutely ghastly and abominable comments on certain ethnic minorities, to say the least) ... that's not always such a bad thing!

Consider, for starters, his stance on the TPPA. Where President Obama was running around hailing moves toward the deal's completion as a "win" for his administration, Trump thinks the whole thing is a "disaster".

He's right. But unfortunately, he's one of the few leading politicians in the race (and yes, the idea of him as a 'leading' politician is simply terrifying) - particularly on the right wing of politics - to recognize this as a fact.

Meanwhile, Establishment favourites Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton are dyed-in-the-wool free traders. That's not to say that Trump isn't, but at least he can recognize a disastrous free trade deal when he sees one.

To her credit, Clinton has since come out with some gentle skepticism as to the TPPA's hoped-for benefits - but as has been pointed out elsewhere, this simply seems like yet more evidence of her political dynasty's habitual tactic of focus-grouped faux-populism rather than any genuine disavowal of a dastardly deal.

After all, she spent a good chunk of her tenure running the State Department as a pretty avid and vocal proponent of the TPPA in the first place. It's even been cited (together with fast-track authority for negotiation) as one of her achievements.

But it goes further.

When it comes to Healthcare, for instance, Trump is - personally at least - arguably to the left of many modern Democrats.

Sure he opposes Obamacare ... but on a personal level, that appears to have initially been due to his enthusiasm for what the Americans call "Single Payer" healthcare. A benightedly Orwellian term for what you and I here in the Antipodes (or, for that matter, much of the rest of the Developed World) would instead call a "Modern Public Health System". Something which he seems to agree on with Bernie Sanders of all people.

More to the point, unlike pretty much EVERY SINGLE OTHER REPUBLICAN RUNNING FOR PRESIDENT, he's furiously opposed to proposed cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.

His logic's pretty compelling: as he quite rightly points out, it's patently unfair to slash back a service which many millions of Americans have been paying into for decades in full expectancy of its benefits, just on an ideological political whim.

Between his continued advocacy for a healthcare system that actually *works* for the poor - rather than preying upon them and profiteering off them through expensive emergency room visits; and his frank and straight-up statements that yes, yes he did oppose the Iraq War - and for a plethora of strikingly sane reasons ... you could almost be forgiven for forgetting you were viewing a man running as a Republican. Still, much less, the man LEADING the Republican Primaries.

And that, I guess in a nutshell, is why Trump matters.

Because when he's standing there, right next to George W. Bush's brother and in a field of warmongering Hawks, pointing out the Iraq War was a bad idea ... that means something. Not as an empty gesture of protest - but as a striking visual reminder that there IS indeed another way. Same deal when he sticks out like a sore thumb in the Republican field about wanting to PROTECT rather than UNDERMINE or ABOLISH key government programs like Medicare.

All of that, together, serves to break apart and undermine the Establishment doctrines you might have heard of under a similar guise such as "TINA". There Is No Alternative. There's ALWAYS an alternative - often espoused by the person crazy enough to see things a little differently (Hello!). And often fiercely pushed back and resisted against by people who have the most to gain from adhering to the dominant thinking about an issue.

Exposing live on national television the way Establishment politics *actually* works (i.e. the money-for-influence conveyor-belt system) certainly helps with that, into the bargain. Particularly when his opponents are so breathtakingly stupid as to petition Trump for donations (presumably in exchange for influence) *right in the middle of the segment in which Trump discusses how donations buy politicians*.

People are freaking out wildly about what Trump might mean for US politics. And considering his quite frankly appalling comments on a few issues - perhaps quite rightly so.

But much to my frank surprise and amazement, it's also possible that he'll restore sanity to certain parts of the American politisphere.

And for that, if nothing else, I'll look seriously at him as a politician - rather than relegating him to the merely "entertainment" section of my mind.

Oh, it's also possible that either through a Trump victory irreversibly splitting and therefore destroying the modern Republican party - or instead via the route of Trump sabotaging the eventual Republican nominee's 2016 campaign by running as an Independent Ross Perot style - he might inadvertently contribute to the Democrats being in a far stronger position within American politics in the future ;)

And for that, at least, I think he ought to be outright celebrated :D

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