When I was a kid, and even into my early teens, I was a rabid professional wrestling fan. So was my dad. We would watch pro “rasslin” on our local TV in Wichita, KS, and cheer when the good guy, e.g. Pat O’Connor or Dory Funk, Jr., or Tommy Martin or Chief Jay Strongbow, delivered a coup de grace to the likes of Mr. Moto or The Sheik or Bob Geigel … anyway, any of a number of bad guys. We would also watch previews of upcoming matches as a “rassler,” almost always one of the bad guys, would amp up viewers with bombastic predictions of how he would crush his good-guy opponent the week or evening following. Dad and I scarfed it up, even as my fundamentalist-Baptist mother sat in an adjoining room reading her Bible and praying earnestly for the eternal well-being of our immortal souls. Seriously now … no brag, just fact … I think this time spent watching pro “rasslin” is why I can, with all due modesty, lay valid claim to having a deeper-than-average, untutored but instinctive, understanding of the psychology driving and sustaining the Trump campaign. It is also the reason why I can understand why all the critiques thus far levied against Trump have failed to touch him, if anything, often have even bolstered his popularity, and why I can also predict that future such attacks are all likewise doomed to fail. My analogy with pro “rasslin” also affords me a basis for asserting that there is really only one way to finally and fatally discredit Trump, and to describe such a strategy.
Let’s understand up front what that strategy is not. The anti-Trump strategy does not consist of attempting to duplicate Trump’s facility for guttersnipe rhetoric about biological functions and anatomical endowments. Sen. Marco Rubio’s attempts to do so only resulted in making my toenails ache from vicarious embarrassment. It was painfully obvious from the get-go that, when it comes to such language and such tropes, Rubio was a rank amateur, as much of an amateur as I would be if I tried to compete with Yitzhak Perlman as a violinist. I disagree with Sen. Rubio on just about everything. But Rubio strikes me as decorum personified, a gentleman in the most honorable sense of the term. Trump quite the contrary. They inhabit altogether different environments. Hogs wallow in mud and offal as a matter of nature. When people try to do it, it always comes across as artificial, forced, and histrionic. Unless you are Donald Trump. In which case, you are dealing with, not only a professional, but with a pig in human form and in its natural environment. (And my apologies for insulting pigs!) Scatology is to Donald Trump what the musical score of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 3 is to Yitzhak Perlman. Just don’t ever go there. I don’t know, of course, but it would not surprise me in the least if Sen. Rubio, in his heart of hearts and while being too civilized to say as much publicly, agrees with all the above.
Problem is, even rationality and dispassionate critique do not work any better. An excellent, even classical, example of this strategy in action was provided by Hillary Clinton’s recent speech so scathingly critical of virtually all of Trump’s proposals, both as to domestic and foreign policy. Trump eats wonks the same way a diner in a Japanese restaurant eats edamame peas: as a light appetizer. And, perhaps more importantly, Trump’s acolytes and devotees enjoy the same appetizer vicariously, much as I enjoyed beating up on Bob Geigel by watching Pat O’Connor beat up on him for real. If this were a normal election, where the bombast and bluster are epiphenomena cast like a thin veil over substantive issues of law and policy, Sec. Clinton’s speech, and others like it to follow, would have nailed Trump to the wall. The speech would have marked her as a serious, substantive candidate with serious and substantive experience – and someone of presidential temperament, even if you disagree with her on matters of policy. But this is not a normal election. Trump's lack of coherence and rationality are seen by his followers as assets, not liabilities. Anything smacking of a thoughtful, substantive critique is instantly labeled elitist and “PC”. So to attack his incoherence and irrationality doesn't discredit him. It just gives frightened and angry people more reason to vote for him. For Trump is a walking id with a “yuge” ego … but no trace of a superego. (Howzzat for an example of an elitist / “PC” allusion?) Trump reminds me of that extraterrestrial virus in The Andromeda Strain: the initial strategy was to destroy it by detonating the last-resort "doomsday" nuclear device underneath the secure laboratory, but it turned out that the virus thrived on radiation, so that a nuclear detonation would actually feed it, not kill it. More prosaically, trying to discredit Trump with any kind of rational critique, however trenchant, is like trying to put out a fire by pouring kerosene on it.
So what would be a truly decisive, dispositive strategy for once-and-for all discrediting Trump with stake-through-a-vampire's-heart finality? If (a) competing with him in the self-defeating game of mutual vilification and ridicule in a kind of ad hominem Olympics will not suffice -- as has already been amply and painfully demonstrated in the case of Sen. Rubio -- and if (b) refuting his candidacy by demonstrating his arrant incompetence, abysmal ignorance, and desperately dangerous disregard for the US Constitution, as Hillary Clinton recently attempted to do in her San Diego speech ... if neither (a) nor (b) will suffice ... then what? Is there a (c) strategy to defend the Nation against the walking embodiment of the very "domestic" enemies members of the Armed Forces are oath-bound to oppose? Well, I have good news and bad news. First the good news: yes, there is a strategy (c). Insofar as anything in life can be guaranteed, it is guaranteed to work. Now the bad news: you almaost certainly will not like (c). Given that it is impossible for anyone to "out-scatologize" Trump by personal insult and invective, and given that Trump is a master of channeling his followers' slavering anti-intellectualism so as to warp serious critiques of his proposals and policies on grounds of rationality, facts, and logic. (Remember: we are citizens of a Nation where roughly half the people accept the belief that Jesus will return in their lifetime, and where roughly one-third also reject evolution.) Strategy (c) for decisively discrediting Donald Trump and his candidacy is both simple to state and horrifying to contemplate:
(c) Go ahead and elect Donald J. Trump President of the United States
Please understand: I am not advocating. I am not campaigning. Least of all for Donald Trump. If I could gaze into a crystal ball and see Trump defeated in November, and that by a humiliatingly decisive margin, both electorally and popularly, I would be the first to admit that I am over-reacting. I would not only open the champagne. I would buy the champagne. But given the utter failure, except for a couple of exceptions (Nicholas Kristof and, I think, Nate Silver) to predict the likelihood of Trump candidacy, I have adopted a policy of simply ignoring the commentariat's prognostications of Trump's political demise ... all of which have so far been premature. The one and only, sole, unique anti-Trump strategy I am willing to credit at this point is the ignominious failure of an actual Trump Presidency. So go ahead and elect him. Let him try to build his damn wall. Let him try to rewrite tort law -- and State tort law at that -- to re-inscribe in the statute books the 18th-century crime of "seditious libel" so he can use it to persecute his enemies at the Washington Post and the New York Times, who have had the audacity to actually believe that the "abridgement" clause of the First Amendment means what it says. Let him re-litigate NY Times v. Sullivan. Let him try to force Muslims -- including American Muslims -- to carry religious i.d. cards declaring their Muslim faith -- and thereby litigate what would surely be civil-rights cases based on the "free exercise" clause of the very First Amendment he gives every evidence of reviling. Let him try to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants without so much as a "by your leave" addressed to the Fifth Amendment's "due process" clause. Let him attempt to dissolve NATO in favor of returning Europe to a baroque system of interlocking local alliances ... you remember ... right? ... like the interlocking alliances that, in August of 1914, functioned as a mutual suicide pact transforming the Continent and England into one vast abattoir. So let the loose cannon roll and hope that the aftermath will leave people willing to learn elementary lessons in ballistics and the use of artillery.
Assuming his ready-fire-aim approach to matters of global strategy and statesmanship did not eventuate in either a nuclear war, environmental apocalypse, or a trade war that would make the Great Depression look like a Sunday School ice-cream social, it would also be salutary for us, as a Nation, to suffer through the Goetterdaemmerung of an actual Trump presidency. Maybe we could regain, or begin nurturing in the first place, some minimal respect for facts, evidence, rationality, and civilized discourse that the Founders of the Nation and the Framers of its Constitution tried to teach the country they founded, and whose prospects for success seem now so much in doubt. An actual Trump Presidency might just serve us well as a form of national penance. Perhaps most especially for those fundamentalistic and Puritanical quote-progressives-unquote whose insistence on moral purity and ideological orthodoxy amounts to an arrogant refusal to learn that, in an imperfect world, sometimes the best is the enemy of the just-good-enough.
And when all that was over and we started digging out from under the rubble ... well ... see the title of this column, and remember: y'always got me.
James R. Cowles
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