I know, I know, if you’re like me – and I can hardly imagine anyone who isn’t by now – you have heard more than enough of the unreal, virtual reality show called the U.S. Presidential Election.
By this time, after a year of, spending way too much morbid-fascination time watching and listening to its star, “billionaire, real-estate mogul” Donald Trump, dominate the news-media headlines, I keep telling myself, “enough already,” take a break, turn it off, somebody make it go away, please.
And he’s got the nerve to say now more than ever, that the news media has got it out for him, that it’s biased, de facto political organization, that it’s corrupt and dishonest. He has even said its Constitutional freedom to ask questions, report the news, and comment on matters of public interest should be curtailed by tougher libel and slander laws. That from a man who has said there’s “no such thing as bad publicity.”
He thrives on attention. He got tons of it right away when he announced his candidacy to become the Republican nominee for President last year by describing undocumented Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “murderers,” and vowing to “build a wall” along the Mexican-U.S. border. He thus instantly became the most controversial candidate and has remained so ever since, feeding the controversy on a regular basis with many more outrageous comments, and keeping himself at the top of news cycle.
If, as Trump says, the media is a big part of the “rigged system” he now complains so constantly and bitterly about, maybe it was initially rigged by him. Did he imagine he could continue to control it?
Unfortunately perhaps, the news media knows a news-maker when they see one. Every media outlet from the New York Times and the Washington Post, to CNN and Fox News in the U.S., in Canada, and around the world knows billions of people are reading or watching to hear about his latest outrageous statement or comment; and the more outrageous, apparently, the better; As a presidential candidate he is a Donald Trump- news media creation.
When the publicity is especially bad, when it surely would have spelled the end by now of his surprisingly successful run at high-office politics until recently, he has proven himself to be a master at switching the blame to others. That too keeps him in the news because that too raises questions about his fitness for arguably the most important job in the world.
Unfortunately, for Donald Trump, though possibly not for the future of his country and the world, the gullibility of his fanatical, “core” supporters may have finally facilitated the failure of his rally-based campaign. The man who can’t stand to be criticized or disobeyed has stood before too many adoring crowds, cheering his every deceptive word.
Those crowds can’t see he’s playing with them, manipulating them, dangerously whipping them up into a state of mindless hysteria that makes at least some of them feel justified in taking violent action if the results of what he calls a “rigged” election go against him.
“Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people,” the famous American businessman and circus-showman, P.T. Barnum famously said many years ago.
That may be true in business. But I sincerely doubt it applies to enough of the American people to elect a president, or even make a good showing when the votes are finally cast and counted. How people think, or not, and behave in a flag-waving crowd is far different from what they will think and behave in the quiet of their own solitude.
In the midst of all the words – some true, some deceitful – spoken by Republican candidate Trump, and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton at their third and last debate one exchange stands out: Trump’s refusal to say, in response to a question from the moderator, that, yes, he would respect the results of the Nov. 8 election.
“I will tell you at the time,” Trump replied, “I’ll keep you in suspense.”
That, I suspect, will go down in American political-debate history as one of the biggest gaffes ever.
“That’s horrifying,” Clinton was quick to say, and rightly so. It was an obvious gut response, perhaps her most real moment in any of the three debates, a real, not artificial scripted moment.
The peaceful transition of power from one government to another is a fundamental basis of democracy in the U.S., and democracy in general, she said.
That is one of the most important, fundamental principles of a healthy, functioning democracy; And that’s apparently something Trump doesn’t know.
By failing to confirm that principle before millions of American voters, and millions more around the world, Trump put himself in a position of absolute power: he will decide if the election is valid; he will have control over what happens the day after.
He had already set the stage in recent days for chaos and instability, even insurrection, if he doesn’t win the election. But that response, delivered with such appalling flippancy, was utterly irresponsible.
A day later he made a joke of it, turning himself into a second-rate stand-up comedian to announce that he would accept the election results, “if I win.” In other words, a supposedly rigged system is okay if it benefits him.
As Clinton and others have said, Trump is indeed “the most dangerous” person to ever run for the presidency of the U.S.
I have no doubt the “great” majority of American people are smart enough to say a resounding “no” to him on election day.
When that finally, mercifully, happens he will have no one to blame but himself.
A version of this was originally published in The Sun Times in October, 2016