November Issue 2015
Revenge of the Racists
The US presidential election, particularly on the Republican side, has always been a travelling circus show. Recall 2012, when candidates like Herman Cain mocked foreign countries with his reference to “Uzbeki-ki-ki-ki-stan,” Rick Perry had his “oops” moment when he forgot the names of the government departments he wanted to eliminate, and senatorial candidate Todd Aikin referred to “legitimate rape.”
This time around, the sole superpower seems more determined than ever to embarrass itself, thanks mainly to real estate mogul and reality television star, Donald Trump. The man with fluorescent orange skin entered the Republican race with a dash of racism, accusing Mexico of sending rapists and criminals across the border and has continued ever since. He claimed it would be unfair to expect him to know the name of one Arab person after the other, said Senator John McCain is not a war hero because he was captured by the Vietnamese and insulted the looks of the only Republican woman seeking the nomination.
It should be easy to dismiss Trump as a clown and a buffoon. His only plan for governance is that he will be “awesome” and that his negotiating skills will ensure the US is not taken advantage of ever again. He says he will be able to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants through the sheer force of his personality. And yet, this fundamentally unserious man has a very serious lead in the opinion polls. The Summer of Trump should now be over, but someone forgot to tell Donald Trump.
The temptation so far has been to mock Donald Trump for his outlandish statements without considering the possibility that he might be able to win. The problem is that his most potent challengers seem just as unhinged as the man with the ridiculous rug. Second in the polls is Ben Carson, a genuinely groundbreaking neurosurgeon who seems to have taken leave of his senses. He has repeatedly compared Obama’s America to Nazi Germany, said those in the middle of mass shootings should disregard their safety and charge the perpetrator, and declared no Muslim should ever be elected president. The closest challenger to these clowns is Carly Fiorina, whose only accomplishment is running the venerable HP into the ground as CEO. Between the three of them, they do not have a single day of experience in governance.
The problem with the rise of Trump and other outsiders is what it says about one of the two major political parties in the US. The Republicans, after eight disastrous years of George W. Bush, decided to embrace even more right-wing radicalism. Dismayed at a country that was becoming more diverse and multicultural before its very eyes, where women, gays and other marginalised groups would be given more rights than before, the Republicans erupted with rage. The Tea Party is little more than a temper tantrum and Donald Trump is its id.
On policy, to the extent that he has offered any specifics, there is little to distinguish Trump from more mainstream candidates. He too wants to cut taxes on the rich and dismantle the welfare state, to outlaw abortion and gut regulations on corporations. It is that he adds ‘jokes’ about menstrual blood and foreigners that makes a bully like Trump more appealing to the base.
It is not just the presidential contest that has become a tragicomedy. The extreme right-wing of the party managed to convince House Majority leader, John Boehner, forever frustrated by the Tea Party, to resign. Now it is vetoing any plausible replacement, leaving the party leaderless.
Party elders still do not believe any of the outsiders will end up with the nomination, but the alternative is little better. Establishment favourites like Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are as extreme as Trump but know how to present extremist ideas in soft rhetoric. Senator Ted Cruz is perpetually trying to shut down the government and is hated by his fellow Congressmen. The truly worrying thing is that if the US economy takes a nosedive, one of these wholly unsuitable candidates could end up being the most powerful person in the world.
For eight years, Republicans who should have known better, have indulged the racism, sexism and homophobia of its base. Now that base is taking over and throwing its weight behind Trump. It may be too late to do anything about the Trumpkins. It may be too late to do anything about the US and its dysfunctional democracy.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s November 2015 issue.
Nadir Hassan is a Pakistan-based journalist and assistant editor at Newsline.