Politics & Policy

Trump, All Bluster and Babbitt

(Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty)

There were some low moments during the debates yesterday, both from the candidates (I often want to ask Rick Perry the question that Jules Winnfield asks that poor idiot in Pulp Fiction right before things go bad: “English . . . do you speak it?”) and from the moderators, too (“So, Dr. Carson, you’re black . . . ”). But the lowest moment was the big cheer Donald Trump got for his Rosie O’Donnell line and for his follow-up denunciation of political correctness.

That was a low moment for two reasons. First, it was a lie, albeit a lie that may have been offered in jest: Trump’s ungallant behavior hardly has been restricted to O’Donnell.  Second, political correctness is in this case a dodge: The complaint isn’t that Trump violated some rarefied code of conduct dreamed up this morning by the dean of students. As Megyn Kelly reminded him: “You’ve called women you don’t like ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs,’ and ‘disgusting animals.’ . . . You once told a contestant on Celebrity Apprentice it would be a pretty picture to see her on her knees.” If you think that saying that sort of thing is merely a violation of political correctness and effete coastal liberal etiquette, try it on some dry-land cotton farmer’s wife or daughter and see if you live to boast of your free-spiritedness.

Trump afterward bawled that Kelly’s question was “not nice.” That’s fairly typical Trump: Call a woman a pig and you’re brashly disregarding political correctness; get criticized for it by the nice blonde lady on the news and you cry like a little princess who can’t find her favorite tiara in time for the tea party she’s throwing for her stuffed unicorn.

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That is one of the problems with Trump that the Trumpkins don’t understand. It is true that the our inability to control our borders is an existential threat to these United States and that the crisis of illegal immigration is felt most intensely in downscale communities that do not register on Washington’s radar or Wall Street’s. But Trump’s buffoonery makes it less likely rather than more likely that something substantive will be done on the question. It is the case that the cult of political correctness is very much alive, that it is used to stifle criticism of powerful people and institutions and to render certain thoughts unspeakable. But if your solution to political correctness is to abandon manners and standards of conduct wholesale, then you are simply muddying the waters, making it less likely that we can respond intelligently to the little autocrats when they pipe up.

Trump’s buffoonery makes it less likely rather than more likely that something substantive will be done about our inability to control our borders or solve our illegal-immigration crisis.

There is a kind of addiction to frisson at work, one that’s common among commentators and public figures. One is confronted with some po-faced p.c. policeman who insists that it is improper to acknowledge or speak about, e.g., the high rates of welfare dependency among non-whites relative to whites. And maybe one gets a nice little thrill from the squealing when one stomps all over that nonsensical sensibility. All good and fine and merry, but some people develop a jones for that feeling. You’ve all seen it: A man saying perfectly reasonable things about crime or poverty or the Middle East ends up a year or two down the road collecting Rhodesian flags and carefully tracking the number of Jews who have served on the Federal Reserve board. Ask him how and why he became a nutball, and he’ll protest that he has simply been liberated from the surly bonds of political correctness.

#related#For Trump there’s an additional factor at work: desperation. As the debate last night made obvious — obvious enough even for those drawn to Trump, if they can bear a moment’s intellectual honesty — that blustery, Babbitty persona is really all he has. Asked to provide evidence for his daft conspiracy theory that our illegal-immigration crisis is a result of the Mexican government’s intentionally flooding the United States with platoons of rapists, Trump’s answer was, essentially, “I heard it from a guy.” Challenged on his support for a Canadian-style single-payer health-care system, Trump described the system of his dreams in one word: “better.” As though nobody had ever thought: “What we need is better policies instead of worse policies.” Trump’s mind is so full of Trump that there isn’t any room for ideas, or even basic knowledge.

Bluster, as it turns out, can get a man pretty far in life. (And a lot farther if his bluster is accompanied by the better part of a half-billion dollars in real estate inherited from his father.) But as every glass-jawed bully eventually finds out, if bluster is all you have in life, you’ll eventually get found out.

And at that moment, it will become clear that you are not a courageous defender of free thought and speech, but only an ass. Donald Trump is incapable of being embarrassed; we’ll see how long that holds true of his admirers.

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