U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump departs the Manhattan Supreme Courthouse in New York, August 17. Brendan McDermid / Reuters.
By Haroon Moghul
For a long time, I suspected Donald Trump was only running for President because of the 2011 White House Press Correspondents Dinner. Donald Trump was marinated by President Barack Obama—and then roasted by comedian Seth Meyers. Not only was a black man dressing him down, but the very black man he’d accused of lying about his birth certificate. And I figured Trump’s base was behind him because it, too, shared his outrage at being mocked, because they’re often mocked, too. By a new, multicolored elite, which makes jokes at their expense.
But maybe that’s too cynical, I realized, as I researched the topic. Maybe there are other explanations for Trump’s running, and for his positive reception. Maybe Donald Trump really thinks he can do it. Maybe he needs to, whether because of indomitable ambition or fathomless insecurity. (Parents, hug your children.) Maybe he’s tired of being underestimated by the world. Maybe his supporters are too, tired of being talked down to, treated like punch lines, made to feel like the world’s passed them by. In which case, they must love this.
Jeb Bush or Scott Walker or Marco Rubio was supposed to be the Republican frontrunner. But within a month of announcing his campaign, Trump’s taken and held the lead, bringing a New Yorker’s often vulgar, no-nonsense business sensibility and unabashed, unashamed capitalism to the race. No one seems to have any idea what to do about him.
No matter what he does, insulting Mexicans, veterans or, most recently, Megyn Kelly, he cannot be stopped. He’s like a force of nature. The Hegelian Geist. Willing himself into existence, prosperity and now power. Hell, his father’s middle name was Christ, which makes him the grandson of God. Instead of building a wall on our southern border, and billing Mexico for it, as he’s proposed, we could just install him. Who could cross him? Even the mighty Fox News backed down after less than a week. Whether we like it (and we don’t), the man Huffington Post filed away under entertainment is to be taken seriously. So let’s take him seriously.
What would a Donald Trump presidency look like?
There are clues, not just in his statements, but his actions. His recent statements suggest he’s not a traditional Republican, although his plan for immigration leaves many unanswered questions, which seem to suggest he’s in the mood for deporting some eleven million people from this country, including relatives with American citizenship. (If you’re going to read one more thing about Donald Trump, read this. It’s ugly.) In the past, he’s donated to Democrats and Republicans, which might mean he’ll be open to hearing different perspectives. And while he says he can make America great again, by negotiating for America from a position of strength, we should remember he’s still open to negotiations even as we wonder what position of strength he means.
Freak out, but don’t freak out completely.
“We have bad negotiators,” Trump said in an interview with Breitbart. “We have incompetent people leading our country,” Trump continued, and that’s why America has been “totally out-negotiated.” He means with China, OPEC, Mexico, etc. America’s losing not because it’s become relatively weaker, or because the Iraq war handicapped us, or because China and other powers have risen, or even because by definition negotiation requires compromise. Americans just don’t believe in themselves enough, and Barack Obama’s leading from behind is more than half of it.
It sounds good, even tempting. Be strong, and the world will bend before you. But, of course, you might ask—what new leverage would Trump bring to the table, to effect a different outcome in these “negotiations”? I thought about that too. But then I realized. He’s the leverage. He himself. The man who said his daughter was so attractive, he’d date her—if he wasn’t her father. And the thing is, he probably thought that was a compliment. After all, he doesn’t date just anyone.
He’s Donald Freaking Trump. He’s Batman. (Seriously.) He’ll stop ISIS by being himself. He’ll teach China to be more responsible with its currency by being himself. He’ll get the Russians to respect Ukrainian sovereignty by being himself.
Imagine Vladimir Putin is about to sit down at the negotiating table across from Donald Trump, the very man whose hotel, perhaps, he once stayed at, and even enjoyed. Maybe he left a glowing review on TripAdvisor. Putin is not relaxed, or even focused, on the matter at hand. He’s jetlagged—Trump will make sure everything’s on his terms—and descending into madness: What after all is Donald Trump doing across from me? How in the hell did he get here? Either this man is an idiot, and America full of bigger idiots for voting for him, or everything I know about politics and power is wrong. The surge of conflicting sentiments will overturn Putin’s mind, leaving him so much putty in the Donald’s hands.
The Russians might retreat from eastern Ukraine, and even give Karelia back. Incidentally, Trump thinks Crimea’s Europe’s problem, but you get my drift. You can swap out the Russian strongman for any friend, or any foe. Including the tackier ones, who wear his ties.
But as befits the billionaire riding the wave of populist insurgency, Trump’s effect will not be restricted to elites, and his election would fittingly accelerate the world’s redshift away from the United States. In 2008, we wowed the world by selecting Barack Hussein Obama. In 2016—America’s like a slo-mo magic show—we’ll perplex the planet by choosing Donald Trump. Brand America will be great again.
Because he’ll have done what no one thought he could, and what most people wished he hadn’t. He outmaneuvered the Murdochs, the Bushes, the Clintons—to become leader of the free world, the actual Commander-in-Chief of the world’s most powerful country. If the guy from Celebrity Apprentice can have the nuclear launch codes, masses worldwide will wonder, what is there that we should not, or cannot, do? Get ready, Arab winter. Another spring is coming.
Editor’s Note: Haroon Moghul is the author of “The Order of Light” and “My First Police State.” His memoir, “How to be Muslim”, is due in 2016. He’s a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, formerly a Fellow at the New America Foundation and the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School, and a member of the Multicultural Audience Development Initiative at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Connect with Haroon on twitter @hsmoghul. The views expressed here are his own.