To commemorate his unceremonious dumping by a wide range of belatedly embarrassed corporate entities, I have been thinking a lot about the man who will not be our next president, Donald “Mayonnaise” Trump. Young people today may only know him as the talentless, egomaniacal clown behind The Apprentice who has helped make the 2010s a bad joke, but some of us are old enough to remember that he was once the talentless egomaniacal clown behind the Trump real estate fortune/boondoggle who helped make the 1980s and 1990s a bad joke.
With all due respect to Digby, one of the most astute and penetrating political bloggers of the era, she’s wrong on this one: we should not take Donald Trump seriously. We should not take Donald Trump’s bad hairpiece, rampaging self-opinion, or pointless desire to be President of the United States any more seriously than we would treat a toddler with a diaper full of steaming carrot purée if that shit-befouled child announced his intentions to become King of Nintendo Land. He may appeal to a particular sliver of hero-worshiping Tea Party dullards, but he has no more chance of winning the 2016 election, or any election not involving his own hand-picked board of directors, than a tub of slaw has of solving the Kobon triangle problem. He can only do good by peeling a substantial minority of dimwitted voters away from whoever the eventual actual Republican candidate will be.
Here is something I did for larks: I went through all my old Spy magazines and found all the ways they described Donald Trump. I added a few of my own just to make it tricky for you: see if you can spot the real ones! “Short-fingered vulgarian”; “Queens-born casino operator”; “social criminal”; “close-friend-free millionaire”; “embarrassment to the nepotism industry”; “employer of white people”; “self-adulatory profiteer”; “shuttle-owning dilettante/megalomaniac”; “living monument to the micro-penis”; “labor-averse hustler”; “man of obviously limited abilities”; “greedy megacapitalist tycoon”; “human garbage barge”; “pea-brained mogul”; “nobleman/lounge singer”; “foundering demibillionaire”; “cautionary hair loss tale”; “classy guy”; “flyaway-haired mogul and author”; “doomed millionaire”; “impotency broker”; “America’s cheapest zillionaire”; “Forbes 400 dropout”; “long-running scamp”; “crassness mogul”; “marginally solvent financier”; “banking-asset drain”; “debtor/adulterer”; “social change denier”; “shameless gopher-toothed real estate glutton”; “single-guy developer”; “financial whiz kid”; “political distraction generator”; “litigious father’s-money enthusiast”; “puffy-faced acolyte”; “brown-nosing deadbeat”; and “hypertrophied McDonald’s assistant manager”.
Of course, it’s a trick question. All of those are real, and in aggregate, they describe a man whose foremost claim to fame is that he managed to give casino ownership a bad name. Trump is the kind of man who literally talks just to hear the sound of his own voice, as evidenced by his recent Jimmy-Jamesish presidential announcement, in which so few actual voters were interested that Trump was forced to hire day laborers to stand around and cheer at his asinine, incoherent speech. While there was plenty of comedy value in Trump’s gaseous bloviations about how he would run the country the way he runs his overinflated businesses — by simply bellowing out fiats and firing anyone who points out that you can’t turn milk into cream just by yelling at it — even more amusing were attempts by allegedly respectable journalistic organs like Vox.com and the Washington Post to “fact-check” his ridiculous speech. Fact-checking Donald Trump is like fact-checking a drunken, brain-addled street evangelist, or a Beetle Bailey cartoon: it is an act that is pathetic in its futility.
There is a scene in the original 1962 version of The Manchurian Candidate in which a liberal senator speculates that the only way Senator Iselin, an obvious stand-in for then-cancerous Joseph McCarthy, could be more damaging to America would be if he was a paid Soviet agent. This scene (which was pretty over-the-top even for a Cold War thriller involving brainwashed assassins) makes it out that the joke’s on us, because, of course — and herewith your spoiler alert for a movie that was made before most of the people reading this were even born — it turns out that Iselin and his wife, played with viperous menace by Angela Lansbury, really are paid Soviet agents. Similarly, it is hard to imagine that Donald Trump’s political buffoonery could do more to erode the average American’s faith in the political process if he were a billionaire capitalist who set out to do that very thing in order to further along the degradation of the public sector to the gain of the private sector. The only thing that keeps this from being a compelling conspiracy theory is the fact that Trump is far too dumb and incompetent to execute it, let alone to have thought it up.
Donald Trump is a wonderful creation in many ways: a walking proof of the Peter Principle, who has managed to fail upward in a way that can only be described as spectacular; a man who took his family wealth and then squandered it and rebuilt it half a dozen times regardless of his own incompetence, all the while portraying himself as a self-made man; a bully who only fails at being feared because even his victims can see that he’s a braying jackass; a public figure who, despite having proven himself exceptionally terrible at everything he has attempted, has risen to prominence as the ultimate boss. There is no greater testament to the way corporate capitalism has ingrained its own boneheaded dysfunctionality into the fabric of American society that we have come to hero-worship a businessman who embodies every single negative stereotype of the incompetent, delusional big-shot, right down to the xenophobia, the planet-sized self-opinion, and the bad rug. Trump is a uniquely American type that every working person has encountered before: the bungling, incompetent executive who is stupider and less able than everyone who works for him, but still struts around like he’s better than they are because otherwise, how come he makes more money?
And yet, for all that, he does us a public service. He shows us how much worse things could be if we really stopped paying attention. Trump is the kind of politician who gets elected to the Senate in semi-sophisticated banana republics and delivers an annual speech about reform while wearing two dozen diamond signet rings, but he isn’t the kind of politician who will ever do anything in America but waste a bunch of his own money on giant-sized posters of himself. He is doing us a favor by being the one creature in this dismal horse-flogging that everyone can agree to laugh at; if we fail by taking him seriously, we don’t deserve to have such blessedly easy targets.