FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - December 11, 2015 - 9:00am

The Republican Party could not figure out what to do with a spectacle called Donald Trump.

A few months ago, they expected the unwanted candidate to simply self-destruct. That did not happen. To the contrary, he now tops the surveys in the Republican primaries.

He not only tops the surveys. He overwhelmed all other Republican aspirants for the party’s nomination. The preferred candidate of the Republican establishment – Jeb Bush – slides down the rankings unstoppably.

Now he threatens to run away with the primaries. No other candidate in the field appears ready to match Trump’s propensity for saying the most outlandish things – and scoring points for doing so.

This week, in the wake of the ISIS-linked San Bernardino mass shooting, Trump suggested that Muslims be banned from entering the US. The ban should stay until the terrorist threat subsides and Washington comes to grips with the immensity of the peril.

That suggestion smacked of bigotry. It is unconstitutional in the US to discriminate on the basis of religion. The suggestion is impossible to implement. In a word, it is made only for political effect.

Yet all of American media was all over the controversial suggestion. Trump was condemned, or praised, but mostly condemned. The matter was debated to death.

Trump must have been chuckling in the quiet of his corner at the gullibility of liberals.  It was a wry suggestion, unworthy of too much consternation. It was made, as Trump regularly does, to grab dominance of the media space to the disadvantage of his rivals. The man is genius in deploying this tactic.

He might be dismissed as a clown, but it is difficult to ignore Trump. Indeed, how might anyone ignore the man topping the surveys? His every whimper needs to be interpreted as policy.

How did the Grand Old Party (GOP) founded by Abraham Lincoln descend to this humiliating level? The entire party is hostage to a clown. It is forced to dance to whatever tune he chooses for the day.

The most unthinkable candidate is actually leading the race for the party’s nomination. He has a gun pointed at the party’s head. Should the GOP establishment ignore the results of the primaries vote, Trump threatens to run nevertheless as a third candidate. That will seal defeat to the Democrats.  Right now, Trump seems headed to top the primaries. None of the many contenders for the GOP nomination comes close to him. All the other flounder before they prosper.

If mainstream Republicans are looking for anyone to blame for opening the doors to Donald Trump, they will have to look at the ultraconservative Tea Party wing of the party. These ultraconservatives have pushed the party to the brink with their denial of climate change, their appetite for gridlock and their medieval social views. Trump simply walked in and pushed the party over the ledge.

The Tea Party shrunk the GOP’s base. Trump simply walked in and corralled what was left. He elevated prejudice to bigotry. The man is a parody of himself, but in being that he clarifies what is already ridiculous in the party’s conservatism.

Sure, Americans fear their drift to an uncertain future. In fear, ordinary Americans whisper suspicions about Muslims or Chicanos in private. Trump merely articulated at the podium what is said discreetly at dinner tables. He shouts out what is said in quiet tone.

Clearly, there is an audience for Donald Trump. It is a large audience that the more mainstream politicians would not dare be seen as pandering to because of the strictures of political correctness. Because of that, they lose out to Trump’s audacity.

The man would not be leading at the polls with such margins if the things he says does not resonate. If the things that resonate are absurd, then the Republican base must have been engulfed in absurdity.

The larger question is not whether the Republican Party will survive Donald Trump. It’s whether the party will survive, period.

The social conservatives who have taken control of the GOP are swimming against the tide on every issue: gay marriage, universal health care, immigration reform, multiculturalism, tolerance, etc. They are like some species of fish trying to swim upstream against a very strong tide.  

The base of the Republican Party is rural and old. It thrives on the dogmas of another century. It stands against the megatrends of demography and economics. It could not survive the restless movement to the next generation.

 Republican conservatism has been warped to such ridiculous extents one might say the party deserves the scourge Trump brings. The glib, gregarious and scandalous multimillionaire is the GOP’s just dessert.

If, heaven forbid, Trump ever becomes US president, all the absurdity that bred like some bad bacteria in the bowels of American politics will be spilled onto the rest of the world.

It will now be the turn of an American president to take off his shoe and thump it on the table, as a former Soviet premier once did at the UN. It will now be the turn of Washington to call other nations names and peddle caricatures of other nationalities.

One question has been raised with increasing frequency the past few days: Is Rodrigo Duterte our own version of Donald Trump? Is he the same nihilistic outcome of a system in decay?

That is an interesting comparison to ponder. But that will require a separate essay on the matter, one that will hopefully distinguish the separate context for what might appear to be the same primitive revolt against the System.


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