Tuesday, December 29, 2015

It's Serious, Important, and Interesting, But It's Still Funny

by Neil H. Buchanan

The big political story of 2015 was the unexpected emergence -- and even more unexpected staying power -- of Donald Trump as a presidential candidate.  For most of the summer and early autumn, I chose to write nothing about his candidacy, in part because the absurdity of it all made serious commentary seem pointless, while sarcastic commentary would have been redundant.  As the story grew, however, it became all but impossible not to say something about the emptiness of Trump's assertions, the lack of any details in the few policy positions that he announced, the ugliness of his rhetoric, and so on.

As the year ended, I used three Dorf on Law posts (here, here, and here), as well as my most recent Verdict column, to assess an emerging discussion among politicians and pundits about whether Trump could destroy the Republican party in 2016 (and perhaps permanently).  In those pieces, I did not actually discuss Trump's assertions in any detail, but I certainly made clear my negative views about his candidacy.  In response to the second of those Dorf on Law posts, Professor Dorf received a misdirected piece of angry email that was intended for me, titled "MY ANSWER TO THE COMPLAINT."  (Yes, of course it was in all caps.)  Here is the email in its unedited entirety:
As a Lawyer you should know nothing pleases the Law more then brevity. You prolixity is your quicksand. A bore is a person who will not come to the point. A greater bore is a person who continues to talk after he has made his point.

Counselor! Stop! I got the point! I do not mean to be unkind but I have read enough of your contributions to know somewhere half-way though reading you become a great bore. I'd hate to have to read your briefs.

I take it you're a nice intelligent guy. I am sad to read of the misery you feel will befall you if Trump is elected, as he will, and for good reason. The reason is voters are not excited about Trump as Trump but they feel in their gut they cannot endure another 4 years of anything like Obama's " God Damm America" race-obsessed presidency and Trump , and only Trump, is the guy to "Make America Great" again.

I'm not as smart as all you Democrat-Socialist minded guys trying to sabotage or bad mouth Trump hoping the voters will imitate the words you talk about because you're so smart they too will sound smart. You guys are just too smart for your own good.

I will vote to hire Trump. I know in my gut I'm right. I can tell you why in thousands words but let me say here very simply: I want him to be another Chainsaw Al Dunlap in arresting the growth of the Federal Government. Period! I know we have a million problems, I can talk for an hour without interruption on all of them without becoming a bore but the first problem we need to take care of for the economic health and welfare of this country -- and yours --is the national debt. You're an idiot--just because you cannot and the government can print money to avoid bankruptcy you think you can continue to spend over cost -- don't bet your life on it. It will take a chainsaw guy to cut down spending by increasing taxes on the wealthy and reduce spending on the poor --sorry about that --and we must or we're another Greece.

Citizen Dorf, you have a choice. The President and Congress will be just about the same as we have had it for the past 8 years of gross stupidity if anyone else is elected. It's no longer a question of Party which you have explained is as easily changed as the next Supreme Court opinion on Race. The only way to change things is to hire Trump--with all his faults - you get the bitter with the sweet - but he's your man to do the job. You wait for the "perfect" politician to come along and you will lose out. Take him up on the deal he's making you. Give him the chainsaw and tell him to go to work! It will take all of 4 years. Then you can hire a man of your dreams.
Even though I obviously disagree with nearly everything in that email, I am not reproducing it here to mock it.  Instead, I find it fascinating, and I think that the writer of that email would be pleased to know that my bottom line is this: I could easily believe that the email was written by Trump himself, rather than by one of his acolytes.

Think about the cornucopia of everything that is Trump on display in that email.  The insults.  (I am described as "a great bore" and "an idiot."  The writer might as well have called me "low energy.")  The baseless bravado.  ("I am sad to read of the misery you feel will befall you if Trump is elected, as he will, and for good reason.") The stilted prose. ("You [sic] prolixity is your quicksand.")  The puffed up patriotism.  ("Citizen Dorf, you have a choice.")  The complete falsehoods masquerading as unassailable facts.  ("... just because you cannot and the government can print money to avoid bankruptcy you think you can continue to spend over cost -- don't bet your life on it. ... or we're another Greece.")  The weak attempts at charming anti-intellectualism. ("I'm not as smart as all you Democrat-Socialist minded guys.")  The tic-like references to the Trump-as-businessman pose.  ("I will vote to hire Trump."  "Take him up on the deal he's making you.")  The odd and defensive comments about race. (Note especially the description of "Obama's 'God Damm America' race-obsessed presidency." Also: "It's no longer a question of Party which you have explained is as easily changed as the next Supreme Court opinion on Race.")  Note also how the writer personalizes criticisms of Trump, responding to my statements that Trump is dangerous by referring to "the misery you feel will befall you if Trump is elected."  Befall me?

In any event, this is not standard-issue Republicanism, even of the more recent extreme variety.   For example, the writer wants to "increase taxes on the wealthy" (although he is "sorry" that spending on the poor will be cut, too).  Beyond such passing remarks about policy choices, however, the exercise is mostly about empty rhetoric and rote repetition of slogans.  ("Trump , and only Trump, is the guy to 'Make America Great' again.")

As an aside for those readers too young to understand the reference, I should note that Al Dunlap was a takeover specialist in the 1970's, 80's, and 90's, who engineered massive accounting frauds.  (When he was finally brought down, of course, he walked away with a $100 million golden parachute.)  He was popular in some quarters for massive layoffs of employees at companies that he owned.  Time magazine in 2010 listed Dunlap among the nation's ten "most egregiously bad chief execs."  This dated reference by the email writer is also consistent with what we know of the demographics of Trump's supporters.
 
In short, for those of us who have been wondering why some people support Trump, there it is, in all of its illogical glory.  This is still utterly puzzling, but (apparently unlike me) it is definitely not boring.