FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - January 29, 2016 - 9:00am

Everyone said this man would self-destruct.

Donald Trump, however, refuses to do that. He continues to pile his lead over all rivals for the Republican Party presidential nomination.

He seized the extremist drift of his own party and took things to the border of the absurd. He said things that would, if they said the same, demolished the political careers of other politicians.

Over the past few months, as candidates clambered over each other in a brutal primaries contest for their respective parties’ nomination, Trump seems to be breezing through. He has captured the imagination of the Republican base – to the consternation of the Republican establishment.

The British parliament is debating a measure that would ban Trump from the United Kingdom for all the racist nonsense he spewed. But what if he becomes President of the United States of America?

Analysts described Trump as a “disruptor” – the person who defies the rules of the game and changes the way things are done. He is a disruptor is the way Bill Gates and the others who made billions in technology were.

The other day, Trump took his act to the extreme.

Annoyed by a journalist he describes as biased against him, The Donald decided to boycott the Republican nominees’ debate hosted by the Fox News organization. Nevertheless, in his absence, the man still dominated the exercise.

No name was mentioned more frequently by the non-Trump candidates than Trump’s. All the others who stood at the stage were uniformly Men with No Names. They were empty suits in a debate with neither synergy nor energy. Analysts now conclude Trump won the debate by choosing to stay from it.

Anyone who is capable of pulling off something like that deserves our close attention.

Trump has proposed denying Muslims entry to the US. He wants to build a wall along the long border with Mexico. He wants to bomb all enemies of the US in the Middle East. The man thrived messing with the taboos.

Yet this man could be President of the world’s last remaining superpower, Commander-in-Chief of the world’s most powerful armed forces and chief executive of the world’s largest economy. The Trump phenomenon excites/aggravates the rest of humanity.

I was a student in France when Ronald Reagan took Washington by storm. We needled our American friends no end for this. It was fashionable at that time for Europeans, especially the French, to scoff at the Americans for elevating a Grade-B movie actor to the presidency of the most powerful nation on earth.

There was alarm over the Reagan phenomenon, to be sure. People in Europe imagined the new American president would continue playing his cowboy roles and shoot his way through in international affairs.

The caricature was unfortunate, of course. Reagan did not live up to the worst fears about him. On the contrary, he did quite well on the job. The Great Communicator, as he was called, led his country to unrivaled dominance.

Reagan was derided for his “supply-side economics.” His rival for Republican leadership, George H. W. Bush, called this “voodoo” economics. Today, his seemingly old-fashioned laissez-faire approach has earned its place in the pantheon of economic thought.

But Trump is not Reagan, although he shares the latter’s genius for one-liners that pigeonhole the most complex issues.

Trump’s “ideology” (if one can call it that) is a hodge-podge of populist aphorisms. His thought process is as incoherent as Mein Kampf. Anne Frank’s half-sister describes Trump as the Adolf Hitler of our time.

Hitler was a deranged demagogue who managed to capture his nation’s imagination, leading his people to a destructive war. It is pointless for historians to study Hitler’s mind. What is more important is to understand the German mindset that allowed this incoherent demagogue to hold his nation enthralled.

Likewise, it is ultimately pointless to try and understand how Trump’s mind works. What is more important is to try and understand the mindset of Trump’s political base. The man is simply a symptom of a malaise that infects a significant part of his nation.

When demagogues gain adherents, we are not looking at a biographical phenomenon. We are looking at a sociological phenomenon.

Demagogues, by definition, do not bring enlightenment. When they do gain power and influence, it is the consequence of a cultural warp.

It is the cultural warp we should seek to understand – and cure, if that is at all possible.

But Trump may be worse than the symptom of a cultural warp. It might be more accurate to describe the Trump phenomenon as a black hole that sucks in whatever cultural virtues there might be in the world’s most powerful nation.

How different might Trump be from the Oklahoma Bomber?

Both appear completely consumed by their egos. Both are sociopaths wallowing in their own fears and delusions. They reduce the most complex questions of modernity into the simplest articles of faith.

If all questions are in the end reduced to simplistic formulae, then all solutions are likewise reducible to simple reflex actions. If they annoy you, nuke them. If they overwhelm you, then build a wall to hold them off.

Trump taps into a well of primitive rebellion against the apparent futility of modern government.

Modern government needs to negotiate complexity and therefore appears permanently impaired. The policy questions are mind-boggling. The strategic issues appear to be imponderable.

So, what the heck: give the rednecks someone who by unjust simplification appears to be delivering certainty. Throw the complications out; let the bum in.


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