The attempt at rationalizing and explaining both Trump’s victory and the President himself has been going on non-stop since his 2016 campaign. How could a man such as Trump win the Republican primary against so many seasoned candidates? How could he keep getting away with his absurd and completely false statements? How could he win? The subject of constant confusion; why does he act the way he does and how could he win? The explanations for his victory range from Trump getting lucky that having the opinions of the average right-wing news viewer combined with his personality happened to be the prefect recipe, to Hillary being that bad of a candidate, to, and this is probably Trump’s preferred explanation, a genius who hacked the American political system and is still playing nine-dimensional chess with every tweet that he sends, However, with the release of the Richard Wolff book that details Trump’s staff’s views of him in combination with the array of mess-ups and utter chaos constantly coming from the White House, which seemingly stems predominantly from the President’s own chaotic demeanor, this doesn’t seem likely. Wolff’s book reveals that even the people closest to him who choose to work to further his presidency everyday wonder if he is fit for office and were surprised at his victory. Can the narrative of Trump secretly knowing what he’s doing please be buried forever now?
It is true that Trump’s personality did help in the election as it set him apart from the otherwise quite normal roster of Republican candidates and that his lack of a filter earned him an image of being a straight-shooter that wouldn’t change or cower under the pressure of the status quo in Washington. And to his credit, he hasn’t changed since becoming president even though the media waited for and talked about the elusive pivot every time Trump managed to read from a screen for 45 minutes. The rare occurrence of Trump reading a scripted speech only demonstrated that he has the ability to read and not that he suddenly had become a policy wonk who had left his explosive personality from the campaign behind. The fact that the pivot never came and that he continues to do things like leak sensitive information to Russians, call out his Senate colleagues by name on Twitter, write that the female Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was “someone who would come to my office ‘begging’ for campaign contributions not so long ago (and would do anything for them)” and bate a dictator who says he has a nuclear missile with the capability of hitting the U.S on Twitter, Trump has shown that his scripted speeches don’t represent who he is.
Trump’s systematic focus on “culture war” topics and his public fights with anyone who gets on his bad side over policy and leading displays his complete lack of interest in being president and a lack of understanding of what the presidency means.
He does not, like Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, have any ideological convictions that motivate him to get out of bed and fight for something that he believes in. Instead, he starts his day live-tweeting cable news to his large following of devoted supporters who like his jabs at the mainstream media and Washington elite, his promise to fight for them and protect them from the war on Christmas, that he—despite his very non-conservative lifestyle—has implemented a conservative policy agenda and that his views on race in America are a mix of what Fox News reports and the tirades of right-wing radio talk-show hosts. He is a famous TV-personality who wanted to increase his time in the public eye and decided to run for president on a platform that mirrors what he sees on TV all day, which happens to be the same things that many other Americans also believe. He didn’t carefully study American demographics and cultural movements to see that a platform that fed of white Americans racial grievances, anti-establishment rhetoric and economic populism was the perfect recipe to win the presidency. That’s just who he is and as Richard Wolff details in his book, no one, including the President and Steve Bannon, believed that it would lead them all the way up Pennsylvania Avenue.
He is not the first to realize that a campaign based around economic-populism, anti-immigration, law-and-order and anti-establishment works. After all, it wouldn’t be populism if it didn’t work to some degree. The effectiveness of kinds of policies has been evident in the United States with the election of tea party candidates to Congress, the growth of right-wing media and the increasing amount of nationalistic parties all over Europe. While I do believe that Steve Bannon had a more strategic view of the 2016 election than Trump, figuring out that white people struggle and blaming their struggle on elites in some far-away city and people of color could get them to read your publication and even send your worldview to the White House, is not that far-fetched or even original. With a little help from the complacency of voters who might dislike the race-baiting of the Trump campaign and shake their heads when they hear his latest outrageous statement but still vote for him because “you know, he’s better than a Democrat,” Trump and Bannon managed to surpass their own expectations. They didn’t manage this because Trump was 15 moves ahead of everyone else, but rather some luck, a lot of angry voters, the Republicans’ political infrastructure, a timely letter and partisanship.
Wolff’s book describes Trump and everyone around him’s surprise at his victory. Wouldn’t someone who was playing nine-dimensional chess with the American electorate be more confident in his chances of winning? Wouldn’t he know which candidates to back for Senate? Wouldn’t he know that calling a bill that he’s trying to sell to the American public as their savior from Obamacare “mean” is an unwise thing to do? Wouldn’t he see his declining poll numbers and realize that appealing to only his base voters might not be enough against an energized Democratic electorate in 2020 and try even in the slightest to expand his voter base? If Trump really is the political mastermind that his surrogates and supporters claim he is, why doesn’t he act like it? The president of the United States is not a genius or “like, really smart.” He is someone who likes to watch cable news that ideally centers around himself, talk to people who agree with him and type out his opinions for all to see. In the right conditions, that is apparently enough to become president.
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