Ever wonder why Donald Trump is doing so well in the polls? Hardly a day goes by without him making some sort of insulting, degrading, or otherwise frat-boy-esque comment. Meanwhile, your average candidate for president can hardly trip out of line by accident without being burned at the stake of public opinion. I mean, back in 2004, all it took was an excited “Yeehaw!” shouted by Howard Dean for his campaign to run to an abrupt halt.
So what’s Trump’s secret? How is it that he is so impervious to controversy?
Over the past few decades that he’s been in the public eye, he’s cultured a particular charisma which is more akin to a schoolyard bully than the valedictorian. And like the bully, he exudes a perception of strength, even though in actuality he’s just pushing around those who are too weak to defend themselves.
There are problems in this country right now, and we’re societally still looking for the best solution to a lot of them. But Trump, more so than any other Republican candidate, has managed to sell the American people the idea that the solution to these problems is less immigrants and zero Muslims, two groups of people who have never had very much cultural capital in this country. So long as people prefer to blame their problems on people who aren’t them, Trump, and people like him, will manage to find support.
But that still doesn’t fully explain why Trump specifically is doing so well.
A big part of what separates him from the other candidates is the fact that he’s a businessman, not a politician. He’s viewed as an outsider, one who hasn’t been bought by the government machine that maintains whatever evil status quo the people think is ruining everything. And every time he’s attacked by the media for his insulting, degrading, and otherwise frat-boy-esque comments, he simply uses it as further evidence that the powers that be don’t appreciate his message. It’s one of the more perfect examples of a perpetual motion machine.
Credit where credit is due, Trump is a tremendous salesman. His latest feat just happens to be his continuous sale of himself as a reasonable candidate for the highest office in the land. And he appears to know what he needs to do to achieve this, at least in theory:
For one, he speaks only in talking points. If you listen to a Trump speech, you’re not likely to hear a complete sentence, let alone a coherent grouping of thoughts. But the words that he does say give his supporters just what they need to like him, which typically amount to vague notions that he loves them and that there are other people ruining life in America (ie. immigrants and Muslims).
And secondly, his crude persona is easily mistaken for honesty. Despite his sociopathic need to lie at nearly every turn, people seem to believe him because they’re simply not used to hearing the kind of shit that comes out of his mouth from politicians. At face value, it seems honest. And in politics, face value is all that’s needed. But make no mistake, this man is a demonstrable narcissist who will tell you anything to make you like him. He just does a good job at impersonating a person of sincerity.
For better or for worse, future politicians can and probably will take a lesson from the Trump rule book on political campaigns. Personally, I think a willingness to say things that aren’t obviously popular can be a good thing for American politics (it can be absolutely terrible too, as we’re seeing with some of the stuff that Trump says). But a shameless imperviousness to any controversy, on the other hand, is something we should all be quiet weary of.
Trump is a man for himself, not a man of the people. And so an inability to be wrong, and therefore an unwillingness to be corrected, is something we can’t have as the leader of a democratic republic. Fortunately, there is still plenty of time left for him to be marginalized in his highly populated race.