If the 2016 presidential race seems surreal, there’s a good reason for it.
Donald Trump, the bombastic, unapologetically fact-challenged reality TV star leading the GOP candidate field has turned the election process on its head, creating chaos by simply exploiting the faults in the system. The circus he’s created this cycle has reminded many of the cult hit Idiocracy, a comical meditation on what would happen if you take the current the commercialism and anti-intellectualism dominating American mainstream culture to their logical conclusions.
The success of Trump, who has never positioned himself decisively in politics until now and has up until now been mostly known for lavish hotels, beauty pageants, and the occasional cameo appearance, has baffled the media and even the GOP establishment.
But as Rolling Stone journalist Matt Taibbi puts it, we should have seen it coming. The so-called Trump Train keeps rolling because Trump has figured out that the American electoral system is nothing more than glorified reality television.
“It turns out we let our electoral process devolve into something so fake and dysfunctional that any half-bright con man with the stones to try it could walk right through the front door and tear it to shreds on the first go,” Taibbi writes. “And Trump is no half-bright con man, either. He’s way better than average.”
As Taibbi points out, luck would have it that the “bloated billionaire scion” Trump just so happened to be into the very kinds of activities that would poise him to lead the Republican field in 2016 — beauty pageants and reality TV.
“He knows show business,” Taibbi notes. “That put him in position to understand that the presidential election campaign is really just a badly acted, billion-dollar TV show whose production costs ludicrously include the political disenfranchisement of its audience.”
It’s not clear whether Trump is aware of the fact he’s making a mockery of it. But if anyone watched his performances in previous debates, it makes perfect sense he’s been featured on WWE. Taibbi compares Trump’s shtick to that of “Ravishing” Rick Rude, even branding Trump with his own WWE-like moniker “The Front-Runner.”
Taibbi seems to have a point. Trump hasn’t shied away from taking to low road, even taking pot shots at former rival Jeb Bush’s mother, Barbara Bush, when he trotted her out on the campaign trail.
The ugliest and most unsettling thing about Trump’s rise is it seems to be predicated on his willingness to attack marginalized, powerless groups like undocumented migrants and refugees fleeing violence in Muslim countries to gain popularity. He’s even admitted his talking point about building a “great wall” between the U.S. and Mexico is a trick to rile up his audiences.
This willingness has earned him open support from white supremacists, which he has yet to reject and even seems to encourage. Last month, prolific Twitter user Trump retweeted to his 6-million-plus followers from a pro-Hitler account.
But as Taibbi points out, his rivals are all inept at countering the bulldozing force of a man who knows how to entertain his audience.
“What Trump understands better than his opponents is that NASCAR America, WWE America, always loves seeing the preening self-proclaimed good guy get whacked with a chair,” Taibbi writes.
Aside from the obvious entertainment value — Trump persistently dominates the media with one outlandish story after the next — Taibbi points out that Trump’s ascendancy is basically taking the temperature of the country.
Despite their various targets of blame and outlets of expression, people are generally aggrieved by massive wealth inequality as average American struggle with stagnant wages coupled with an increasing cost of living.
“His pitch is: He’s rich, he won’t owe anyone anything upon election, and therefore he won’t do what both Democratic and Republican politicians unfailingly do upon taking office, i.e., approve rotten/regressive policies that screw ordinary people,” Taibbi observes. later noting, “No one should be surprised that he’s tearing through the Republican primaries, because everything he’s saying about his GOP opponents is true. They really are all stooges on the take, unable to stand up to Trump because they’re not even people, but are, like Jeb and Rubio, just robo-babbling representatives of unseen donors.”
That’s not to say Trump will fix any of these problems, if elected.
“The problem, of course, is that Trump is crazy,” Taibbi hilariously concludes. “He’s like every other corporate tyrant in that his solution to most things follows the logic of Stalin: no person, no problem. You’re fired! Except as president he’d have other people-removing options, all of which he likes: torture, mass deportations, the banning of 23 percent of the Earth’s population from entering the United States, etc.”