LOS ANGELES, July 30, 2015 – After nearly two decades of flirting with the idea of running for president, Donald Trump is officially a candidate for President. This run comes after the 2012 election cycle where Trump absorbed an enormous amount of media coverage during the presidential primary only to decline to run.
And in short order, “The Donald” has turned the political universe upside down. Some say he is a clown, a charlatan, and an unserious political candidate.
He may be any of those things; only time will tell.
But he is also a gift to American democracy.
In a primary season where the Democratic Party contest is dominated by the most formidable front runner since, well, Hillary Clinton, and where the Republican field is packed with more high profile candidates than anybody can quickly count, Donald Trump has dominated the media coverage and made this opera of a dozen lead actors almost feel like a one man show.
It almost doesn’t seem fair.
He leads all of his Republican opponents by handsome margins in virtually every national poll. And though he has drawn the ire of media elites and the almost universal scorn of the leaders and fellow candidates in the Democratic and Republican parties alike, Trump’s popularity with the swelling ranks of Americans who have grown cynical towards our political system, and more than distrustful of politicians, is visceral. But he has the respect of relatively few in the media and political establishments.
Educated political observers, such as Charles Krauthammer who referred to Trump as “a rodeo clown who hurts conservatism,” George Will, Dennis Prager, Jon Stewart and many others left and right, say in one way or another that Donald Trump is not a serious candidate and that he is damaging to our political culture.
They may be right on the first point. Donald Trump has received a lot of attention, much negative and positive, for his statements on illegal immigrants (“They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists,”) as well as for his insult of 2008 Republican presidential nominee John McCain, saying he is only considered a war-hero “because he was captured,” adding, “I like people who weren’t captured.”
Statements like that are more bombastic than substantive it’s true. Furthermore Trump has yet to go far beyond electric rhetoric in laying out a policy vision for the nation. He speaks consistently about punishing China for currency manipulation, punishing Mexico for illegal immigration and taking a tough stance against Iran, but Trump’s argument for his ability to do these things lie entirely in his insistence that “I’m a great negotiator,” at which point he generally speaks about his tremendous success in the private sector as evidence of his ability to accomplish the things he says he will accomplish politically. But it is an open question as to whether or not an impressive resume is any good without a plan. If Donald Trump has a thorough plan to solve America’s problems beyond his impassioned statements, he has yet to share it.
Nevertheless, Donald Trump is good for American politics.
He is good for politics in this sense: in an age where public figures are so easily intimidated by negative publicity, by the consequences that follow transgression of the rules of political correctness, including the financial and legal punishments that visit a person for offending a certain person or group of people who are usually in a position to redefine the way the world thinks of their enemies.
Virtually every politician pays homage to the opinion makers. Virtually every public figure makes concession or conciliation to the forces of political correctness in our society, to one degree or another. But Donald Trump, almost alone among them, is immune to any and everything anyone can do to try and punish him for the things that he says. That, if nothing else, makes him truly inspiring in the context of our political world, because it means that one man on the national stage has the freedom to be himself.
After all, Trump decided to run for president because he wanted to see himself run. He relied on no political base or patrons to deliver him to political prominence so he does not have to worry about offending anyone now. He has more money than he can ever lose, so loss of sponsorships means virtually nothing to him. Yet, through the power of his celebrity, his wealth and empire, even as the world turns against him, he is still able to command attention on his own terms.
He needs do nothing for political reasons. For better or worse he says what he thinks, heedless of the consequences, because neither the media, nor party leaders nor corporate sponsors have any power to take anything away from Trump that matters to him to begin with. The more they fail to destroy his image, the more powerful it becomes.
In this sense, every politician should be like Donald Trump. They should all strive to attain his forthrightness and his disregard of the attempts at intimidation and condescension that come from others. Perhaps his lack of tact, his insensitivity and his disinterest in policy substance are things best not imitated. But if he has gained a following among the American people, it is for a good reason. Honesty and fearlessness are rare treasures in politics. Would that wiser men than Trump had them; America would surely be a better place.