Before his bombastic concert-in-the-park performance in Mobile, Donald Trump had come across chiefly as an amusing amateur whose total lack of basic political knowledge and essential reasoning ability had rendered him unwilling to do interviews that he could not phone in from the confines of his office. In Alabama, he broke out, transforming himself in the process into something else altogether. One part Alan Ginsberg, one part Jim Morrison, and one part Roderick Spode, Trump strode onto the Southern stage as might a troubled rock star. This, his insolent upper lip told the camera, was show time.
Attempting manfully to keep up with the spectacle, C-SPAN warned viewers bloodlessly that its closed-captioning system sometimes made mistakes and was therefore not to be trusted. One had to wonder how anybody could have known either way. Words, you see, are for losers. For the overrated. For the establishment. Real candidates leer and emote and strut back and forth.
At times resembling a man who hoped to discover whether methamphetamine or LSD served as the best accompaniment to a mostly whisky diet, Trump stood throughout his pageant in a cocksure fighting pose, breaking his stance only to turn around and bathe in the adulation. When he spoke, he did so as might a half-awake stranger at an underground poetry slam. His thoughts were meandering, irrational, and wholly self-contradictory; his grasp of reality left much to be desired; his aim was to offer up a firework-laden piece of self-serving performance art, aimed squarely at the unserious and the easily led. “I know how Billy Graham felt,” Trump preached before he launched into his quasi-hallucinogenic diatribe. Superficially, perhaps he does. But Graham, recall, was preaching about an external God.
Topics came and went like shooting stars. In the course of just under an hour, Trump took an irony-free shot at the stupid, complaining in mock-sorrow that “we have dummies, we have dummies, we have dummies!”; he explained earnestly why he would no longer be eating Oreos; he grew randomly angry with cyclists, and with a retired thoroughbred racehorse called “Secretariat.” He proposed a 35 percent tariff on goods from Mexico, before incongruously knocking China for its unfair import duties; argued that the presidential election should be held earlier so that he could win it; and supposed that constitutional amendments can be ignored at will. If the mood fell flat, he took to listing countries that the audience was expected to dislike, and to badgering the crowd about the brilliance of his book, which he compared to the Bible. Goo Goo G’joob, Mr. Kite.
His sentences, such as they were, invariably ended up in places that bore no relation whatsoever to their beginnings. His commitment to his sentiments, many of which appeared spontaneously, seemed to be driven in real-time by the crowd’s undulating, fickle, near-braying responses. In place of facts, he offered up falsehoods and wild generalizations, fading any details that he attempted to recall into vague “somethings” and “just abouts.” If, per Mark Twain, those who dislike the weather in New England need only “wait a few minutes” until it changes, so those who found themselves dissatisfied with Trump’s political positions needed only to exhibit a few moments’ patience before their preferences were indulged. In the early 1970s, a psychedelic David Bowie took to writing his lyrics by tearing up poetry, throwing the separated lines up in the air, and reassembling them at random after they had landed. If Trump is even possessed of a speechwriter, his address in Alabama left one wondering whether he had improved at all upon Bowie’s technique.
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Throughout, Trump made considerable hay of his not being a politician, to the point of boorish demagoguery. Given the scale of the dissatisfaction with Washington, D.C., one can understand why. One cannot, however, comprehend why his audience should not know better than to accept the ruse. In a cynical attempt to tap into latent unrest, Trump has set himself up not merely as another option, but as a veritable messiah who will bring salvation by sheer force of will, and who does therefore not have time to waste discussing details. As Alabama confirmed, it is not merely the case that Donald Trump is no politician; he’s not engaged in politics at all. In style, Trump’s shtick is akin to Barack Obama’s, pre-2009 — but, in the place of faux-moderation and ersatz Greek columns, he is offering mass public resentment and a kickass laser show.
#related#All of which is to say that Donald Trump has matured in precisely the wrong direction, having moved from bumbling dilettante to Dunning-Kruger poster-boy in a single leap. Politics in a free republic consists of modesty, of compromise, and of dull perseverance. It is, by its very nature, the precise opposite of rock and roll. Self-described “conservatives” have historically prided themselves on their aversion to our gaudy celebrity culture and their disgust at the conflation of reality TV and the quotidian workings of the government. They should not abandon this virtuous instinct just because a rich and famous entertainer has donned an oversized hat and pandered to their prejudices for a summer. Not all stars that fall on Alabama should be given access to the nation’s nuclear arsenal. Let us leave Donald Trump to his trip.