Donald Trump, all the best people insist, represents something radical and new on the American political scene. There’s something to that, though it’s not entirely true: Woodrow Wilson had similar strong-man fantasies, and Franklin Roosevelt had admiring words for Benito Mussolini. But Donald Trump also represents something that should by now be utterly familiar.
He is, of course, the second coming of Barack Obama.
As David French points out today, every election is a test of character, and Americans are just now giving every indication that they intend to flunk this test in spectacular fashion. Why shouldn’t they? They flunked the last two, too, for similar reasons.
Barack Obama had, and has, a remarkable ability to inspire irrational devotion among his minions, whom he holds in more or less open contempt. The Hollywood types were literally singing hymns to his name, you’ll recall. Trump inspires a similar abject devotion. Observe that his actual history in business suggests very strongly that he was lucky to inherit a great deal of money – 2006 was “a great time to start a mortgage company,” he insisted – or that the man himself has confessed to exaggerating his wealth, and you’ll get a stammering: “B-b-b-b-b-b-but, you’re not a billionaire!” Suggest that his fundamental rejection of basic things like property rights and free speech means that he isn’t a conservative, much less a constitutionalist, and they’ll scoff that you’re a purist. (The same people scoffing that you’re a purist also insist that such deviations from conservative orthodoxy as Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio have entertained are per se disqualifying.) Obama’s daft minions insisted that he was a “lightworker,” while Trump’s only boast that he is an “alpha male.” George H. W. Bush, who completed his flying mission in World War II with his airplane on fire after being shot in the head before bailing out over the Pacific and dodging angry Japanese intent on eating him? Meh. What’s that compared to playing a tough guy on television or throwing a temper tantrum about Macy’s?
Point out to a Trumpkin that they are making ignorant and inconsistent claims, and they’ll whine that such criticism is only driving them further into the Trump camp, i.e., they will shout: “Pander to me, damn it!”
Like Obama before him, Trump promises his followers that they can have their cake and eat it, too, so long as they invest him with power. For Obama, the promise was that we could enact universal health-insurance coverage and end up spending less money on health care, because he was so goddamned smart. For Trump’s whey-faced horde, the promise is that they can have more welfare benefits, lower taxes, and less debt, all at the same time, because Trump, who doesn’t know how a bill becomes a law, is so goddamned smart.
“If you like your plan, you can keep your plan” was last season’s “I’ll build a wall and make the Mexicans pay for it.” This season’s version will work out the same same, if American voters are in fact childish and unpatriotic enough to invest Trump with the power of the presidency in a fit of pique.
I hope they don’t. But I don’t put it past them, either. They’ve done it before. Immediately before, in fact. Yes, Trump is a con artist. No, he isn’t the first. The last one didn’t work out too well.