So Se Pyong, North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, said it all the other day: There is no meaning, no sincerity to a word that Donald Trump says. Yet, somehow, this essential point that has penetrated the anti-reality shield that protects North Korea from the rest of the world seems to be lost on many Republicans, who have been flocking to support the New York billionaire.
I get it, Donald Trump is not Hillary Clinton, and that might be enough. After all, to a large share of the electorate, she is a liar and a shapeshifter and a believer in the nanny state. She is pro-tax and anti-growth, pro-choice and anti-gun, and stands against everything that Republicans stand for — except perhaps military interventionism — and that might be enough. Driven by the hatred of the other that has become the central psychosis of our politics, there has been an urgency to find their champion in the man who is the presumptive nominee of their party, but if they believe that Donald Trump stands for anything they believe in, they are deluding themselves.
Things were easier early on, when his support hovered around 20% of the GOP primary electorate and his campaign was built around a nativist appeal to beleaguered white folks who heard in his rantings about Mexicans and Muslims and building walls a man who offered an antidote to all that ails them. It was an ugly message, and one that even then was built around a lie: he never had any intention of doing what he said he would do. As So Se Pyong noted, there was no meaning to it, his rants were just words. Just words that he knew would stir the crowd.
In an ugly, anti-Washington year, Donald Trump has been the man for the moment. There is nothing quite so easy as penning a right wing rant — just probe for the soft spot of your audience and keep pounding away on it — and Trump is a demagogue of the purest sort. He bathes in the emotions of the crowd, his rhetoric ramps up as the fervor in the crowd grows, with no regard either for consistency or fundamental decency — much less how much if any of it he would ever actually do. The sky is the limit as long as his audiences never stop and pause to ask themselves who is this guy, really?
As his support in the Republican Party has grown — built as much as anything around the oldest of all political maxims, the enemy of my enemy is my friend — Donald Trump has become a human rorschach test. People who want to support him — whomever they might be — can find support for their views somewhere in his words. He has not, he is not, for anything or against anything. He is the consummate Zen politician, always in the moment. He has been for cutting taxes and for raising taxes. He has been for raising the minimum wage and eliminating the minimum wage. He has been in favor of guns in schools and opposed to guns in schools. He was against political contributions, and now he is in favor of them. He has been on both sides of most any issue, often on the same day, sometimes within the same sentence. A stance. A beat. A moment of reflection. A new stance.
Remarkable. And like conspiracy buffs who can find evidence somewhere on the Interweb that will support whatever their pet theory might be, any group of Republicans can find somewhere in Trump’s words just enough data points that will allow them to embrace him as their own. But just as the alien landing at Roswell, New Mexico never actually took place, and just as the World Trade Center was not brought down by a government plot, and just as the moon landing was not a hoax staged by NASA, whatever any of those Republicans might want to attribute to Donald Trump is not real. They cannot know what Donald Trump would do as President for the simple reason that Donald Trump does not know what Donald Trump would do as President. It is all just words in the moment, nothing more.
This week, Donald Trump dipped into the well of conspiracy theories past and conjured up the suicide of Clinton aid Vincent Foster. When Fox personality Bill O’Reilly suggested that this might be a bit over the top, even for Trump, and undermine the oft-stated commitment of the presumptive Republican nominee to pivot to a more presidential bearing, Trump retorted “I have no choice. When she hits me on things, I have no choice.”
Trump’s response was the perfect corollary the comments of So Se Pyong. Trump’s campaign staff has tried and failed to tamp down on their candidate’s use of Twitter, because Twitter is who Donald Trump is. He is the 144 character candidate. There is no deeper meaning to what he says. There is nothing of substance his words. He has no commitments. There is no sincerity to his stance on any issue. When it is time to say something, he says it. When he is hit, he hits back. All with little thought to what might transpire tomorrow, or even what he might say in the next sentence.
Republicans who have searched for, and think they have found, their own reasons to support him should have no illusions. There was no alien landing at Roswell, notwithstanding whatever they might read on the Interweb. And Donald Trump is not who they might want to think he is, regardless of what he might have said at one point or another, or some assurances he might have offered them. He is, instead, what Ted Cruz said he is: a pathological liar who doesn’t know the difference between truth and lies. He is a narcissist at a level the country has never seen. And in the words of Jeb Bush, he has neither the temperament nor the strength of character to serve as president.
So struggle with your hatred of Hillary as you must, but Donald Trump is not your answer.
Artwork by Jay Duret. Find him at jayduret.com.