Donald Trump frequently asserts that he’s not being politically correct in what he says.
For example, in an interview with Jake Tapper of CNN before the final Republican debate this year he proclaimed, “I’m not looking to be politically correct. I’m doing this to do the right thing.”
In that statement, Trump himself revealed the paradoxical nature of Trump-speak. Trump is correct that he is not being politically correct in his pronouncements — at least in the conventional sense of that term.
He is being completely politically correct, however, in speaking to those whom he has targeted as the audience for his Trump-isms. He is doing and saying absolutely the “right thing” to connect directly to his espoused supporters.
Merriam Webster defines “politically correct” as “agreeing with the idea that people should be careful not to use language or behave in a way that could offend a particular group of people.” In this instance, the obverse obtains, the politically correct thing to do is to offend particular groups (e.g., race, religion, sex) in order to appeal to another particular group (i.e., a desired voting segment).
Trump has been weaving a negative narrative to capture dominant market share in the campaign for the Republican presidential nomination. Bill Clinton’s narrative in the 1992 race for President was “It’s the economy, stupid.” Barack Obama’s narrative in his 2008 campaign was “hope and change.”
Donald Trump’s narrative is “fear and loathing.” While, according to Trump, his narrative is the “right thing.” The “right thing” is not the accurate thing, the civil thing, or the real thing.
The New York Times recently ran an article by Angie Drobnic Holan of Politifact titled “All Politicians Lie. Some Lie More Than Others.” The one who lies more frequently than any other in the races for the presidential nomination (both Republican and Democratic) is not Mr. Trump. But Ben Carson, whose rating for making statements that were “mostly false and worse,” was an astounding 84 percent.
Trump came in second with a mere 76 percent of falsehoods. The Donald detests coming in second. Therefore, we are certain that he will be embroidering and embellishing much more going forward to become the front runner in the race for non-truth teller.
Trump is already way ahead in the “gloom and doom” race. Patrick Healy and Maggie Haberman of The New York Times document this in an article titled “95,000 Words, Many of Them Ominous, From Trump’s Tongue.”
Healy and Haberman studied all of Trump’s statements for one week. Based upon their analysis, they report, “While many candidates appeal to the passions and patriotism of their crowds, Trump appears unrivaled in his ability to forge bonds with a sizable segment of Americans over anxieties about a changing nation, economic insecurities, ferocious enemies and emboldened minorities…”
Trump not only bemoans conditions in general he belittles individuals as well. Healy and Haberman note, “…Mr. Trump tends to attack a person rather than an idea or a situation, like calling political opponents ‘stupid’ (at least 30 times), ‘horrible’ (14 times), ‘weak’ (13 times), and other names, and criticizing foreign leaders, journalists and so-called anchor babies.”
What makes this level of un-civil and fictional discourse acceptable? There are undoubtedly many factors.
But, one trumps them all for us and that is that we are now living in an era of fabricated reality — one that Mr. Trump helped spawn for TV with his “reality” showThe Apprentice along with others such as Survivor and Big Brother.
These best-selling shows with their concocted scenarios and winner-take all at all costs with little regard for codes of conduct and fair play have conditioned many in the viewing public to see the fabricated as the real and meanness as an okay way to behave and communicate. This brings up back to the Trump narrative.
And, that narrative revolves around Trump — aided and abetted by a gluttonous news media — using the same formula that worked in building a successful reality TV show to construct a fabricated reality in the real world of the United States that resonates with “a sizable segment of Americans.”
This is scary stuff on many levels and in more ways than one. The question becomes who is in that segment (audience) for the Trump narrative.
They tend to be: older, white, less educated, pessimistic, and “desperational.” By contrast, the segment for the Obama narrative in his initial race for President tended to be: younger, diverse, more educated, optimistic and “aspirational.”
Trump supporters have also been characterized as “anti-establishment.” They hold traditional politicians and the privileged class in low regard.
Trump understands this and has assumed the anti-establishment mantle as his persona for his presidential candidacy. This is a true feat of legerdemain in that Trump is unquestionably of the establishment. By his own admission, he is part of and has consorted with the rich and famous from both the public and private sectors.
Trump didn’t work his way into the establishment. That’s where he started.
His father was a successful New York City real estate developer who gave Trump the money to finance his initial business ventures. To borrow an old saying, Trump appears to be one of those people who was born on third base and has gone through his life thinking he hit a triple.
That’s not to diminish his personal accomplishments which as he will let any one who will listen know have been “huge.” Undoubtedly. one of the hugest has been Donald Trump, a member of the establishment donning the garb of an establishment-basher to become the hero of those who are anti-establishment and the leader in the Republican race for the presidential nomination.
Time magazine acknowledged Trump’s triumph by naming him number 3 on its short list for person of the year for 2015. In the Time article on Trump, Michael Scherer duly points out that Trump is not the first person to trod the path he is on.
Scherer cites Huey Long, Joseph McCarthy and George Wallace as others who had similar approaches. He then observes, “Each was denounced, like Trump, as a leader who appealed improperly to emotion and prejudice to gain power. Each was a master of the public spectacle. Each terrified some and delighted others, testing the nation’s very identity.”
Eventually, the bubble burst for all of those others. Time and the presidential primaries of 2016 will tell what will happen for Mr. Trump.
Nate Cohn of The New York Times is not ready to concede victory to Trump in the Republican race. He writes, “But, it’s still too soon to say Mr. Trump is the front runner for the nomination. He has a high floor but a low ceiling, and although he has weathered many controversies, the tougher days are yet to come.”
That may be. For the time being though, as 2015 draws to a close, Trump has shown that being politically correct by not being politically correct is a poll-winner.
It’s also become a popular place to be for other Republican presidential candidates. In the final Republican debate of this year, Rick Santorum, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson, all joined the fray to rail against “political correctness.”
They did so in an attempt to steal some of Trump’s thunder. But they sounded more like echoes or Memorex than the real thing. And, their moments in the sun of political correctness were short-lived.
Almost immediately after the last debate, Trump received praise from Vladimir Putin and reciprocated in kind. By dignifying this questionable mutual admiration society, Trump demonstrated a level of chutzpah that is unrivaled and proved that the center stage for being politically correct (or not) still belongs to him — and only him.
In the interests of full and open disclosure, Frank Islam serves on the national finance committee for Hillary Clinton.