By David Waywell.
You might have noticed that there’s little love out there for Donald Trump. The Donald has more ‘personality’ than a waterlogged Gremlin. Brash, egotistical, and prone to inflammatory comments, he’s the kind of politician that nobody in their right mind would ever love. Which brings me to the reason why I love The Donald. As a cartoonist, I prefer my politicians when they’re big, broad, and ugly and very few come quite as big, as broad, or as ugly, as Donald J. Trump.
If my love of The Donald is an ironic love, there’s nothing ironic about my defence of the man. And I do find myself repeatedly defending Trump. But it’s not because I agree with the man or his policies. Had I a vote in the next American election, there would be no chad, hanging or otherwise, next to the Trump on my ballot. I defend Trump because the quality of the debate both in the American and British press has been so overwhelmingly biased that I have begun to wonder if it’s to the benefit or hindrance of the Trump campaign. I know I risk a generalisation by saying that the media are wholly against Trump but the evidence is out there.
Trump is the loutish cartoon politician using his four billion dollars to ease his oily catfish jowls into the Presidential debates. He’s the capitalist evangelist with the Armitage Shanks teeth who promises the impossible based on his track record of delivering the implausible. His every mistake makes headlines that do little to disguise the opinion that Trump is portrayed as the biggest joke in world politics.
As a result, Trump is attaining the rarest of qualities. He’s become eminently watchable and ordinary folk are beginning to take note. Trump is rapidly becoming the outsider, vilified because he says the things that you are thinking but you rarely hear voiced. He’s the guy you don’t particularly like but you trust to get things done. He’s the guy you listen to because he speaks to you in your language. And before you reply ‘no he doesn’t’, let me add that the ‘you’ I’m talking about isn’t the kind of ‘you’ who would read this article. The majority of all electorates do not read articles about politics. The electorate who vote for The Donald are the people who watch him on The Apprentice. They respond because the name ‘Trump’ is already a brand and, in political terms, branding is all-powerful.
It’s powerful because the world is far too complex to understand either in its entirety or even in part. Political debate can quickly descend into brain numbing sessions of data analysis. Charts of population growth or income differentials say different things to different experts who might have spent the thick end of a four year Ph.D. researching these thing to no obvious conclusion.
Since reality is unknowable, voters work on their own twisted notions of the world and, in that reality, men like Donald Trump prosper. He doesn’t speak about detail. He speaks in generalisations. People are pouring over a border so he promises to build a wall. As dumb as it sounds to some, it also sounds profoundly obvious to others. Trump starts to look like the exponent of a street wisdom and that dangerous catchall we call ‘common sense’. He’s the brave underdog voicing things which are rarely voiced in the political mainstream.
Trump is hardly the first person to attack Megyn Kelly and I doubt if he’ll be the last. Kelly has come to symbolise a style of American news journalism which has all the subtlety of a lycanthropic jackhammer left out in the moonlight. Kelly did hound Trump during the debate, singling him out for particularly snarling kind of interrogation. Fox News might well have an agenda and fear Trump’s momentum. Yet, on the other hand, Trump’s response was typically uncompromising and crude.
Both of these facts should have been reported equally. Yet, instead, the press responded with a totally inappropriate accusation of misogyny levelled at Trump. Listen to the CNN interview in which he says that ‘you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever…’ and you might question the reading of the line that equates it to menstruation. In the same CNN interview, he later says that Chris Wallace also had blood coming out of his eyes but it’s a line that’s rarely quoted in the articles and nobody questioned Wallace’s twenty eight day cycle.
Others have accepted this point. Writing in Slate, Laura Bennett points out that the ‘media frenzy over bloodgate also seemed to be missing some key context.’ This isn’t to say that Trump is not a misogynist. Bennett rightly calls him a ‘cartoon misogynist’ and there’s enough evidence elsewhere to support the argument, least of all his ‘ownership’ of the Miss Universe organization. However, in his attack on Kelly, Trump (for once) wasn’t being a misogynist. He was merely expressing an opinion which he had a right to do and addressing something about which, I think on balance, he was right to feel angry.
This is but one example but the pattern is established. Last week, Trump was reported to have thrown a Latino journalist out of his press conference. The media and social media erupted. The Guardian ran the headline ‘Donald Trump ejects Latino news anchor as Iowa campaign gains ground’. The article’s photograph shows the back of Trump, gesturing to one side, as Ramos stands quite passive, posed with his mouth closed and hand on one hip. In the background are some looming and large bald men who we might assume are Trump’s security. Below the picture the caption reads: ‘Security escorts Univision news anchor Jorge Ramos out of a Donald Trump event in Iowa on Tuesday, after the journalist repeatedly tries to ask the Republican presidential candidate about his immigration policy.’ This is how The Guardian’s Ben Jacob’s reports the confrontation.
The fireworks came early, inside the press room of the river city of Dubuque, after Univision anchor Jorge Ramos stood up and started asking a question without being called on. Trump tried to ignore Ramos – whose highly rated Spanish language news telecast has had him labeled “the Walter Cronkite of Latino America” – and called on another reporter.
None of this is factually wrong. You take from this that Trump threw out a highly respected journalist who dared challenge him on his immigration policies. However, like most stories, the same facts can be presented with differing degrees of spin. Just look at the wording of the Guardian’s link: http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/aug/26/donald-trump-in-iowa-obama-esque-campaign-but-the-same-mouthy-mogul. Is this fair? You can judge if you can find the full exchange online. It begins with Ramos speaking over the journalist that Trump had signaled to ask a question. Jacobs does mention that Ramos returns to the debate but a casual glance at the story as presented doesn’t really convey this reality. It doesn’t mention how Trump smiles at Ramos, invites a question, and says ‘good to have you back’ before answering Ramos at length.
And that is the problem with much of the coverage about Trump. The cartoon candidate has resulted in a cartoonish editorialising, in which his outlandish character is made to appear even more outlandish, cartoonish, and even, dare I say, wickedly watchable. Not only is this poor journalism but I think it’s also self defeating. Stripped of nuance, Trump is becoming iconic, a symbol of something that is as profoundly stupid as it is also deeply seductive. This combination of reducing him to comic creation whilst at the same time as failing to seriously draw him out about his policies is a dangerous one. To the liberal, well-educated and affluent elite who form opinion, Trump is a joke. I’m not quite so sure the broader electorate will see it with the same eyes.
A final point arises that’s almost tangential to my argument. Despite the hostility towards Trump, he is far from the least convincing runner in the Republican campaign. Indeed, it’s a point that I don’t believe I’ve seen made elsewhere but I offer it as an observation. Trump’s reality is grounded in something that has substance. His love for the American dollar and his faith in American industry has significantly more weight that the pronouncements made by politicians who believe that the will of God is manifest in their campaigns. I’m not saying that this should qualify him for the biggest office in the land. I’m merely pointing out that a big mouth and cock-sided comb-forward are not the dumbest things about the 2015 Republican presidential nominees.