September 7th, 2016

The visit of Donald Trump to Mexico and his extraordinarily clumsy speech on immigration that followed Wednesday evening have pre-empted a column on Russia. While Mr. Trump may have reinforced his base, if elected, he has set in place a non-declared war with Mexico.

This is not 1846 and the Mexican-American War we won. Nor is there a single chance in the world that Mexico would pay for this great wall Mr. Trump would build to seal the border with south. America does have thousands of miles of sea coasts as well as a longer border with Canada. What would Mr. Trump do with those?

But the larger issue is what makes Donnie run? Why, despite all the nonsensical and often contradictory comments he makes, is Mr. Trump still competitive in the presidential sweepstakes? To many journalists as well as outside observers, this question begs a good answer. Defeating sixteen presidential aspirants in the primary, several of whom were far more qualified, with bluster, blather and insults was a remarkable feat. Now, in most polls, the gap is closing with Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

The answer is strikingly obvious yet hidden in plain sight. Two of the most powerful human emotions are love and hate. Neither candidate is winning in the love category. The unfavorability ratings of both are at Guinness Book of Records levels.

Hillary is disliked and in some cases hated, seen as untrustworthy, morally conflicted with competing interests and incapable of telling the truth. As bad, she is a Clinton and will never eradicate that stain and the memories of Bill. Trump however is the beneficiary of this hatred.

The reason why Trump so far is making this a race far closer than it should be is clear. Perhaps a majority and surely a large plurality of Americans are fearful and worried about the future for themselves, their children and grandchildren. The middle and lower classes are beset with the rising costs of health care, schooling, living and virtually every other economic category. Wages are not keeping pace. Working two jobs often is not enough to pay the bills.

Meanwhile, the one percent is getting richer. Hedge fund managers, Wall Street bankers, high technology CEO’s and people with large stock portfolios are making tens, hundreds and even thousands of millions of dollars a year. To many, the system is rigged. And while the Clinton Foundation may not have broken a single law or broached any ethical standards, it is widely seen as a sign of this corruption.

Fear translates into anger. This is as true on the battlefield as it is in kitchen tables across the nation. Anecdotally, millions of Americans are angered with the failure of government to govern. One example: Zika is on the march and Congress refuses to appropriate money to contain it. When the president is forced to rely on executive orders to bypass Congressional gridlock, he is obviously assuming dictatorial and unconstitutional powers.

The success of Trump’s entire campaign will be based on mobilizing this anger, hostility and in some cases hatred against the status quo and use it to overwhelm Hillary, the do nothing differently candidate. Hence, and this is the key point, IT MAKES NO DIFFERENCE WHAT TRUMP SAYS. Many Americans are neither listening to nor interested in the messages that are often incoherent and always contradictory. Flip-flopping does not adequately describe the quicksilver like quality of what Trump says.

Trump supporters only care about the messenger. And to win, the messenger must harshen his attacks against “Lyin’ Hillary;” question her physical and mental health and stamina; challenge the Clinton Foundation as the reincarnation of Tammany Hall corrupt Democratic politics of the late 19th century; and demand a special prosecutor for investigating the E-mail scandal to send Hillary to jail.

The ensuing six weeks to the election will no doubt see the nastiest political campaign since campaigns were recorded. The Willy Horton ad used against Governor Michael Dukakis and the Lyndon Johnson “daisy” commercial ending with a mushroom cloud implying Senator Barry Goldwater would start a nuclear war will be mild by comparison. Energizing and intensifying hatred will be the only means by which Mr. Trump can sufficiently tar Mrs. Clinton to eek out a victory in November.

What can the Clinton campaign do? In some ways, she has a George H. W. Bush problem in reverse. How could a president with a 90% approval rating in late 1991 lose to a “womanizing, draft dodging, pot smoking” opponent? Similarly, how can a candidate with Hillary’s resume lose to totally flawed, likely incompetent, loud mouthed buffoon with absolutely no experience in government?

In the tension between love and hate, when one of those emotions is at best tepid, the outcome is certain. In this case, tragically, hate can win out. Fear, manifested as anger, is powerful. Mr. Trump has tapped into this vein of seeming political electoral gold. But knowledgeable people will realize that vein will turn out to be fool’s gold. And the nation will have to wait until 2020 until we get two candidates who deserve to be president by virtue of their character and disposition; experience and judgment.

The 2017 edition of the Strategikon Annual Book – The Year of Challenging Choices

The 2017 edition of the Strategikon Annual Book – The Year of Challenging Choices

It’s not easy to be a leader, but the solution is closer than people may think and it has to do with returning to some good old fashioned traits that shaped leaders in past decades: will power, values and vision. Launched at the Good Governance Summit, The Year of Challenging Choices strives to understand the fault lines in international relations and the relevant actors, as they are and not how they appear to be.

Download book