You know American politics is broken when the wealthiest candidate is the populist. As the larger than life Donald Trump continues to outpace the cardboard cut-outs of the Republican field, perhaps a greater number of his critics should also “not have time for political correctness” in giving the real estate mogul an appraisal.
As the most polarizing figure in American politics this side of Obama, everyone is still talking Donald Trump, including himself. It’s a little strange that the pundits could be dumbfounded and the public caught off-guard by someone that has been on American TV sets for decades. His cavalier and uninhibited demeanor have connected with the disaffected like no other. For those who can tolerate the clichés, the auto-piloted vernacular and his tendency to go off on ego-tripping tangents, Trump provides an engaging commentary on the financial and political clockwork of America, gossip included. His campaign is proving to be an ongoing exposé of the system and a shaming of various establishment figures and his pathetic rivals.
Media too are routinely outed at his rallies for their transgressions both past and projected. Trump has been surprisingly diplomatic about the biased coverage of the numbers he’s drawing, the random protesters showing up or the obvious liberal plants selected to ask questions. Clearly though, he doesn’t always help his cause when coherency and clarity issues aren’t able to be offset by the maverick persona and colloquial touch. He recently derided Obama for having the audacity to refer to the Iranian head of state as ‘Supreme Leader’ – which happens to be his official title. When asked during a morning television interview whether the alcohol ban he imposed on his children included even a glass of wine, his response was that he owned the largest winery on the east coast in a fantastic deal, before trailing off with multiple segues to leave an amused panel. Honed politicians obfuscate with intent, Trump does it by accident.While conservatives have been exposed to a lot of political peacocking from Trump thus far, it was clearly his bold immigration stance that had the base at the get-go. The uncensored language, unapologetic commitment and donor-independence sealed the red-state American deal to “Make America Great Again.” It’s a real sign of the times that so much backlash could be directed at a candidate who has professed his love for Mexicans and reassured people that his great wall will be punctuated with a “big beautiful door” or two. Trump’s unofficial campaign slogan “Taking the Country Back,” uttered at a Phoenix rally, perhaps better encapsulates the sentiment of disaffected Americans on the right side of the aisle, but ironically could also apply to socialist soothsayer and fellow protectionist Bernie Sanders.
Unfortunately for the more nuanced voter, the wedge issues delivering Trump commanding leads in the polls mean that in the slipstream of this conservative Pegasus, a neo-conservative Trojan horse pursues. At times he has been more gung-ho among the Republican war hawks than necessary, much to the consternation of military moderates. The U.S. military budget is more than a third of the entire world’s military expenditure and eight times more than Russia’s, but to Trump there is an urgent need to build up the military: “We’re going to have such a strong military that nobody is going to mess with us. We’re not going to have to use it.” It’s hard to know exactly how this differs from the status quo, but I suppose that few can believe in the Trumpian path to pacifism in a country where isolationism is taboo. He’s already outlined his four step plan for defeating ISIS as bombing the hell out of them, encircling, going in and stealing their oil – candidly oblivious to sovereignty and international law. American imperialism is of course still worryingly conventional so long as it’s called American exceptionalism.
Since launching his campaign Trump has been selling his own exceptionalist credentials in a presidential race which, for the most part, is fielding the usual show-ponies and geldings. He believes he has all the qualities and insider knowledge to make an efficient policy maker, without the baggage of being the “all talk and no action” careerist politician. He’s long known the terms of political engagement and has openly stated that as NYC businessman most of his political contributions inevitably went to Democrats. He even gave the Clinton Foundation a six-figure donation, a fact he’s teased Hillary with since she dare not miss a Trump wedding. Working with Congress however to deliver his punishing tariffs on Mexican or Japanese imports will be a different ballgame, and his political resume has barely been elaborated upon beyond citing his ability to get oversized skyscrapers approved. How exactly his recent personal boycott of Mexico-bound Oreo/Nabisco will transition into a heavy import tariff under the jurisdiction of NAFTA has left a number of commentators somewhere between skeptical and cynical.
Trump will always be a businessman by nature. It’s more than a passion, it’s a pedigree. It becomes apparent in almost any conversation soon enough to cringing effect. On foreign policy he explained Russia’s rebirth as the product of the Soviet Union “going bust” soon after the Afghan war. His assessment of post-war Iraq is that the government is now “over in Iran, trying to work out some kind of merger.” But beyond the speculative rhetoric over some Farawaystan lies Trump’s capacity for mercantile empathy. After all, business knows no borders. This presents somewhat of an opportunity for a little foreign policy realism to be injected into the volatile political climate that has Trump currently traveling with the Iran-bomb doomsday cult. If only he’d put business before political pleasure, the pragmatism he’s capable of could win through for the good of the country. For instance, Trump has spoken frankly on his dealings with the Russians, which seem to have had a lasting effect. In 2013, his Miss Universe Organization held its marquee event in Moscow and Trump got to meet the Kremlin’s top brass. He’s since been referencing his ability to “get along with those guys” and believes he would have a good relationship with Putin, while emphasizing Putin’s total lack of respect and even hatred of Obama.
It’s critical to note Russia’s vilification by Western governments in recent years which has reached the point at which Putin is compared to Hitler. The comparison in not as rare as it should be; Hillary Clinton, Prince Charles and Garry Kasparov have all made it. Meanwhile, Netanyahu flew to Moscow in September for a chat with the now out-of-season Hitler regarding Syria. But it’s remarkable to see the extent to which Trump’s Russia position has been rather fraternalized through his own business experience and personal interaction. He’d otherwise have the same hardball talk as his fellow Republican cockerels. Perhaps because of this soft spot, he’s felt the need to out-froth his rivals on Iran in order to appease his allies and political kingmakers.
Trump has been very outspoken on the catastrophic war in Iraq, and indeed his position cross-references with statements he made at the time. Having a moderate, mainstream opinion sometimes gets to be a badge of honor among Republicans, but it’s disappointing to see Trump now brandishing this accolade to offset his current and future militarism. Every thinking man outside of the neo-con bunker can see that Iran is the new Iraq, with the same hype of cataclysmic weaponry and crazed regimes posing an existential threat to the world, especially the most democratic and peaceful countries.
The etiology of Trump’s hard-line commitment to Israel and the ‘Iran question’ — beyond Republican politics — is a rather straightforward matter. Trump was born in New York City and is still based in midtown Manhattan. His social, family and business lives have intersected with prominent American Jews and the Jewish state. Trump’s legal and political right-hand man is lawyer Michael Cohen, while before him it was the highly controversial Roy Cohn. The Trump Organization, historically a family business, now has Allen Weisselberg as Chief Financial Officer, Jason Greenblatt as Chief Legal Officer and Cathy Hoffman Gloser as Executive Vice-President. Trump also now has Jewish grandchildren from his daughter’s marriage and conversion, which “wasn’t in the plan” but could not have surprised him either. Last year, son Eric also married beneath a Jewish chuppah — to personal trainer turned TV producer Lara Yunaska — with no word on which religion won out in the merger.
Although it’s seldom mentioned, Trump is third generation German-American. It’s a hyphenation of little value in contemporary America but in Trump’s case makes for curious intersection. His grandfather Friedrich Drumpf only intended to sojourn a few years in America but had problems on his arrival back in Germany when officials charged him with tax evasion and dodging the draft. Not even his pregnant wife’s impending anchor baby saved the couple from deportation back to America.
Two generations later and as many political worlds away sees grandson Donald disparaging Germany for the “free” protection they enjoy, while prioritizing affairs of the Jewish state. Earlier this year in Israel he was the only foreigner to record an election promo for “good friend” Bibi Netanyahu. Israeli media happen to be quite fond of characterizing Trump’s persona as having the archetypal Jewish chutzpah, which might just be true given in 2006 he thought the Israelis would let him construct the tallest building in the country. For an unknown reason, Trump later gave up the rights to the proposed site near Tel Aviv, albeit with a $34 million payment of atonement from its sale to Israeli group Azorim.
Trump’s most recent loss however was on a more personal level. He no longer owns his cherished Miss Universe Organization following presidential campaign comments on the high crime rate of illegal immigrants. Broadcast partners NBC and Univision reacted to his statements by issuing their own politically correct fatwa against him, which forced Trump’s hand into selling. The chance then of bikini diplomacy (or belly dancing) around misunderstandings with Iran is no longer. Interestingly, Miss Iran contests were held in the sixties and seventies until the Islamic Revolution of 1978, although they continue unofficially. Even Iraq is hosting its first pageant since 1972. Trump recently told a Norfolk rally of the respect he had for ‘the Persians’ being masterful negotiators — referencing their stereotypical dickering in rugs that he can relate to. It always comes back to the fundamentals with Trump. Meanwhile, he has demonstrated he is more than willing to see his kind of green in the Islamic world, as huge prospects in Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia are on the Trump Hotel Collection horizon.
Just what a President Trump would mean for the Middle East is difficult to gauge. His strong rhetoric on pro-active interventionism is countered by his own equally feisty changes of heart to sit back and let others duke it out. He prides himself on deal-making competence, but is allied to those who really prefer war to realistic compromises on foreign policy. He is prepared to fight for Israel “1,000 percent” but, according to JTA’sRon Kampeas, has the Republican Jewish establishment worried. Trump wants to shake things up and is well aware of the plutocracy and lobbiocracy that has compromised American politics and brought woe to millions at home and abroad. A month ago Trump said he now intends to cut the military budget, while still making it stronger than ever, so there is hope yet even if in hedged commitments.
The histrionic campaign thus far might largely be singing to the choir, but the estranged voter has for a long time been denied even that. Unlike the heavily censored Ron Paul, Trump is proving irresistible to the media and is the ratings bonanza and stadium filler that Paul never could be. Behind the sulfur crest and brass tongue is an astute tactician, rational thinker and synergetic high-achiever who cares about his country. Contrary to the ceremonial presidents of late, he isn’t used to signing on the dotted line so easily. Suffice it to say, the concerted effort to prevent Trump from gaining tenancy of the Oval Office will be more than big — it’ll be yuge.