Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Politics of Trash Talk

Obviously, the big deal about Donald Trump is that he's good at trash-talking. You could say that trash-talking is his destiny. More specifically, he has succeeded in saying things that liberals say you are not allowed to say.

Now, if you step back a bit, you could say that politics is all about trash-talking. The trick is to make sure that your trash-talking is considered mainstream and fair, and the other party's trash-talking is sick and wrong.

In other words, politics is all about controlling what other people are not allowed to say.

Strictly speaking, the things you are not allowed to say are heresies, and ought to be confined to questions of religion. But in our day, religion has seeped into politics, so now the heretics are merely dissenting from the conventional political wisdom of the ruling class.

If you look back, it seems that everything is fixed and impossible to change, until it does. You would never have thought that the button-down Fifties would have morphed into the let-it-all-hang-out Sixties, but it did. Yet who would have thought that the kids swept all before them in the Sixties would be humbled by the Silent Majority of the Seventies?

The "political correctness" of the last 20 years has been a brilliant effort, driven by the ideas of the Frankfurt School, to define political and social reality. You are not allowed to say that western culture is the best thing since sliced bread since that is racist and patronizing to other cultures. And you are not allowed to say anything that would offend any client group of the Democratic Party because racism, sexism, or homophobia.

But then along came Donald Trump, and Trump is more than the author of The Art of the Deal; he is master of the art of the insult. That's what he plays on TV.

Normally, politicians are pretty careful about insults, because the worst thing a politician can do is insult a voter. That's why they usually confine their insults to "greedy bankers" and "billionaires," who you can count on one hand, but never "our nurses" or "our teachers," not to mention policemen, firemen and members of the armed forces. That's where the kids went wrong in the Sixties. They might have thought of policemen as "pigs" and Vietnam veterans as "baby killers" but the American people did not.

Up to now, Donald Trump has done wonders with his insults, and kept the eye of the media on him. The question is, of course, whether his poll ratings translate into votes in the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary. The simple fact is that nobody knows. His core supporters seem to be blue-collar whites that didn't show up in the 2012 election. So the question is: will these non-voters show up at a primary in the middle of winter. Nobody knows.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump decided not to appear at the January 28 FoxNews candidate debate, because FoxNews host Megyn Kelly was biased against him. Was this a masterstroke, showing all the other candidates up as wimps? Or was it a "tell" of weakness? Nobody knows.

I'm reminded of an incident in The Manchurian Candidate. I'm not sure if it appears in the movie, but I know it appears in Richard Condon's book. The stand-in for red-baiting Sen. Joseph McCarthy, name of Sen. John Yerkes Iselin, is asked (by his wife, I think) what he does at a Senate hearing when he needs to go to the bathroom. Why, he replies, I just get up and go. Don't do that, she says. Instead, make a scene. Say you are not going to take it any more, and stalk out of the hearing room in a rage.

I suspect that is why the Donald decided to make a scene about the FoxNews debate. I suspect that his campaign people determined that Trump didn't do all that well at the last debate, and might do worse in the next one. So the best thing to do is to fly into a rage and stalk off.

But will it work? We will know in about a month after Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina.

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