Feb 29th 2016

Trump: Feeding the “Monster”

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

Donald Trump's candidacy is American politics reduced to the absurd. It is theater in its most stripped down form—a show where the content is not as important as the event and the raw emotion it evokes.  

From the earliest days of his candidacy, pundits have failed to understand Trump. His appeal is not issue-based, since, as his critics have correctly observed, he has taken wildly contradictory positions on most core Republican concerns—abortion, immigration, and Obamacare, to name a few. Trying, as some attempted, to find the hidden logic in his bizarre mish-mash of words is, at best, a fool's errand.

And pundits who have compared Trump's appeal among Republicans with Bernie Sander's appeal with Democrats have missed the point. Young voters find Sanders authentic and believable. Trump's devotees, on the other hand, are more attracted to their candidate's defiant bluster and his cavalier "bull in the China shop" demeanor. He lies about his personal life, his business dealings, positions he has taken and things he's done. His supporters know it, but they don't care. They are angry, and he feeds their anger.

What they care about is the performance—and this is what the pundits have missed, causing them to underestimate Trump's appeal and to repeatedly and mistakenly predict his demise.

During the course of this campaign, Trump has attacked a series of "icons", many considered "taboo" for Conservatives—Fox News, Megyn Kelly, Senator John McCain, the Pope, the Iraq war. After taking on each of them, his candidacy was declared fatally wounded, until the next polls came out showing Trump's strength undiminished.

Trump's appeal is not in his adherence to orthodoxy, his consistency, his clarity, or his genuineness. Rather it is in his performance. Seeing Trump at one of his "huge" rallies or observing him at a debate is much like watching a contemporary wrestling WWE "Smackdown".

Trump events remind me of this quote that opens a 2014 Forbes Magazine article on Vince McMahon, the billionaire wrestling promoter -

"Subtlety has no place in professional wrestling. Nuance is for losers. Either you play big - to the smallest fan in the last row of the arena, to the millions tuning in each week on television - or you go home...[It is] 'a spectacle of excess'".  

The performance is false—the "bad guys" are as phony as the "good guys".  Even the blows they deliver are fake. But the crowds love it, shaking their fists, whooping and yelling as the "drama" unfolds. It is pure "id", unrestrained.

Like McMahon, Trump knows how to appeal to his crowd. He knows what they want and he delivers. Listen, in the same article, as Vince McMahon describes his approach to his audience -

"I look at it like it's a really nice monster. When you feed the monster, the monster is happy. The problem with that is, the monster grows. And as the monster grows, then the monster wants more to eat. And as long as you do that, everything is great. And if you don't provide the food, then bad things start to happen".    

McMahon's little parable is an apt description of the Republican establishment's relationship with their Tea Party "masses". They created the monster, fed and nurtured it, but, in the end, they were unable to tame it. They fed its anger. They entertained it with the crude rants of Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, and company—using that anger against President Barack Obama. For a while the establishment was able to control this "monster", for example, redirecting it to support Mitt Romney in 2012.  But by 2016, this same leadership could no longer satisfy the hunger of their creation. And when the "monster" would no longer "play ball" with the establishment, it turned on them and looked elsewhere to have its anger entertained and fed.  

Enter performance artist Donald Trump. His appeal is as raw as the WWE. Like McMahon, he plays with his audience, with an intuitive sense of what they want to see and hear. He is successful—a billionaire, many times over. He has a beautiful wife—or better, a series of beautiful wives. Despite his success, he feigns anger at America's demise, promising his supporters that he will deliver greatness. And he appeals to their basest instincts. He cruelly demeans his opponents. He paints the world in terms as starkly black and white as the WWE. He is a xenophobe and a bigot who targets the Mexicans and the Muslims. He is a bully who threatens to "punch in the face" hecklers who disrupt his events. And he is crude, using obscenities and vulgarities designed to incite—to whoops and yells and shaking fists. In this way, the "monster" is fed and appears, at least for now, to be happy.

The danger that Trump poses is not that he is inconsistent or untruthful or that he lacks a coherent philosophy. It is that he is the reductio ad absurdum of our politics. He is the crude reality TV entertainer, turned leader—without politics, just anger. He is not a Republican or a Conservative—not that it matters to him or his followers. He is a budding fascist using his performance art to mobilize "a monster" that may devour us all.

 

Browse articles by author

More Essays

Sep 16th 2021
EXTRACTS: "Hyperbaric oxygen therapy involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurised chamber. In the chamber, the air pressure is increased two to three times higher than normal air pressure. It is commonly used to treat decompression sickness (a condition scuba divers can suffer from), carbon monoxide poisoning,......" ---- "Blood flow to the brain is reduced in people with Alzheimer’s. This study showed increased blood flow to the brain in the mice receiving oxygen therapy, which helps with the clearance of plaques from the brain, and reduces inflammation – a hallmark of Alzheimer’s." ----- "The researchers then used these findings to assess the effectiveness of oxygen therapy in six people over the age of 65 with cognitive decline. They found that 60 sessions of oxygen therapy, over 90 days, increased blood flow in certain areas of the brain and significantly improved the patients’ cognitive abilities – improved memory, attention and information processing speed."
Sep 14th 2021
EXTRACT: "Hollywood for years called on Charles Boyer to typify one French look –  bedroom eyes, sly maneuverings, the dismissive look. A face of another type, the massive mug and narrow eyes of Charles de Gaulle, provides the same disdain of the foreigner but also a superiority based on his belief in his own destiny."
Sep 12th 2021
EXTRACT: "The burden of loneliness for older people is intimately connected to what they are alone with. As we reach the end of our lives, we frequently carry heavy burdens that have accumulated along the way, such as feelings of regret, betrayal and rejection. And the wounds from past relationships can haunt people all their lives."
Sep 5th 2021
EXTRACT: "Gardens help restore the ability to concentrate on demanding tasks, providing the perfect space for a break when working from home in a pandemic. Natural things – such as trees, plants and water – are particularly easy on the eye and demand little mental effort to look at. Simply sitting in a garden is therefore relaxing and beneficial to mental wellbeing."
Aug 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "Whether or not a person achieves remission, reducing blood sugar levels is important in managing the negative effects of type 2 diabetes and reducing risk of complications. But when it comes to choosing a diet, the most important thing is to pick one that suits you – one that you’re likely to stick to long term."
Aug 10th 2021
EXTRACT: "In our latest study, we show that by taking the microbiome from young mice and transplanting them into old mice, many of the effects of ageing on learning and memory and immune impairments can be reversed. Using a maze, we showed that this faecal microbiota transplant from young to old mice led to the old mice finding a hidden platform faster."
Aug 3rd 2021
EXTRACT: "Fukuyama argued that political struggle causes history. This struggle tries to solve the problem of thymos – an ancient Greek term referring to our desire to have our worth recognised. This desire can involve wanting to be recognised as equal to others. But it can also involve wanting to be recognised as superior to others. A stable political system needs to accommodate both desires." .... "Counter-dominant spite can weaken liberal democracies. During the 2016 Brexit referendum, some people in the UK voted Leave to spite elites, knowing this could damage the country’s economy. Similarly, during the 2016 US presidential election some voters supported Donald Trump to spite Hillary Clinton, knowing his election could harm the US. "
Jul 31st 2021
EXTRACT: "If we want to live in a world that is good for pollinators, as well as the rest of us, big changes are needed in our environment, and our food system. This is why many beekeepers change their diet and their shopping, eating more locally grown vegetables that aren’t treated with pesticides. ...... Being willing to buy fruit and vegetables that may have the occasional insect living in it is better for us and for nature. To live more harmoniously with the natural world, we need to relax about larvae in the lettuce and slugs in the spinach."
Jul 22nd 2021
EXTRACT: "You’d think our brush with mortality through the pandemic would have brought some of this home to us. You’d think it would give us pause for thought about what really matters to us: the kind of world we want for our children; the kind of society we want to live in. And for many people it has. In a survey carried out during lockdown in the UK, 85% of respondents found something in their changed conditions they felt worth keeping and fewer than 10% wanted a complete return to normal."
Jul 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "English artist Damien Hirst’s latest project, “The Currency”, is an artwork in two forms. Its physical form is 10,000 unique hand-painted A4 sheets covered in colourful dots. In the same way as paper money, each sheet includes a holographic image of Hirst, a signature, a microdot and – in place of a serial number – a small individual message. The second part of the artwork is that each of these hand-painted sheets has a corresponding NFT (non-fungible token). NFTs are digital certificates of ownership which exist on the secure online ledgers that are known as blockchains. ---- The way that “The Currency” works is that collectors will not be buying the physical artwork immediately. Instead, they will pay US$2,000 (£1,458) for the NFT and then have a year to decide whether they want the digital or the physical version. Once the collector selects one, the other will be destroyed. ---- So what is going on here, and what does it tell us about art and money?"
Jul 20th 2021
EXTRACT: "Ellison was an abstract expressionist painter, who, having come to New York City from West Texas in 1962, was as he said “unable to find traction” as a painter. At the same time, he began collecting ceramic objects and educating himself about this field of art as he went along. In 2009 he bestowed on the Metropolitan Museum of Art over 300 extraordinary examples of American ceramics, spanning the years 1876 through 1956. Since then, Ellison has gifted to the Museum over 600 works – including a significant collection of European art pottery in 2013, and most recently over 125 modern and contemporary clay vessels and objects – making the Museum one of the most significant repositories of Art Pottery in the world. ---- The current exhibition presents nearly 80 pieces drawn from Ellison’s latest donation, and it is a thoroughly captivating show; even where (or perhaps especially where) the works are outlandish, bizarre, sometimes almost monstrous, but nonetheless enthralling."
Jul 11th 2021
EXTRACT: "Over the course of England’s journey to the Euro 2020 final, one of the most fascinating plays has been happening just off the pitch. Whenever the TV camera cuts to the team’s manager Gareth Southgate, he is occasionally seen standing alone on the edge of the field, urging his team on. ---- But most of the time he is deep in conversation with his assistant Steve Holland. ---- A recent study of English football culture points to a shift away from what the authors term “Beckhamisation”, after the former England captain and Manchester United star player David Beckham – a popular and instantly recognisable symbol of that period of football history (though, it is not suggested the culture was his creation). ---- During the 1990s, the study claims, this “Beckhamisation” saw high octane management practices imported from the corporate world into football. ---- In recent years, this has been replaced by “Southgatism”, a leadership style which that study describes as “modest, self-deprecating, down to earth, diverse and progressive”. "
Jun 30th 2021
EXTRACT: "New York’s Museum of Modern Art is currently presenting an exhibition devoted to an in-depth review of Paul Cézanne’s drawings. If there is any criticism to be made of this extraordinary show, it is that it is frankly overwhelming: with roughly 280 pencil, ink and gouache drawings and watercolors (and even a handful of oil paintings), there is so much to take in that two or three visits to the exhibition may be required to do it justice."
Jun 25th 2021
EXTRACT: "Cognitive flexibility provides us with the ability to see that what we are doing is not leading to success and to make the appropriate changes to achieve it." .... "Flexible thinking is key to creativity – in other words, the ability to think of new ideas, make novel connections between ideas, and make new inventions." .... "The good news is that it seems you can train cognitive flexibility."
Jun 17th 2021
EXTRACT: "Confronting our complex history and ultimately embracing a more equitable, balanced, and humble culture may be a tall order in these fractious times. But that makes it even more imperative that we fully reckon with who we are and who we are capable of becoming."
Jun 11th 2021
EXTARCT: "A further health benefit of hiking is that it’s classed as “green exercise”. This refers to the added health benefit that doing physical activity in nature has on us. Research shows that not only can green exercise decrease blood pressure, it also benefits mental wellbeing by improving mood and reducing depression to a greater extent than exercising indoors can."
Jun 10th 2021
EXTRACT: "“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress,” Mahatma Gandhi said, “can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” If we apply that test to the world as a whole, how much moral progress have we made over the past two millennia? ...... That question is suggested by The Golden Ass, arguably the world’s earliest surviving novel, written around 170 CE, when Emperor Marcus Aurelius ruled the Roman Empire. Apuleius, the author, was an African philosopher and writer, born in what is now the Algerian city of M’Daourouch."
Jun 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "Research we’ve done, which looked at 37 adults with type 2 diabetes, found that over two weeks, prolonged sitting was associated with high blood sugar levels. But we also found that when people stood up or walked around between periods of sitting, they had lower blood sugar levels. Other studies have also had similar results."
May 28th 2021
EXTRACT: "Paul Van Doren's legacy lies in a famous company, and in his advice to young entrepreneurs to get their hands dirty, and to know what goes into making what they are selling."
May 19th 2021
EXTRACT: "May 7th marked three hundred and ten years since the philosopher David Hume was born. He is chiefly remembered as the most original and destructive of the early modern empiricists, following John Locke and George Berkeley." .... " Shocking as it may (and should) sound, Hume is implying nothing less than that the next time you turn the key in your car ignition, you are as justified to expect the engine will start as you are in believing it will turn into a pumpkin. For there is a radical contingency that pervades all our experience. We could wake up tomorrow to a world that looks and behaves very differently to the one we are in now. Matters of fact are dependent on experience and can never be known a priori — they are purely contingent, and could always turn out different than what we expect."