I recall many years ago reading Rolling Stone magazine, in the days when you could actually buy it in a newsagent, and reading an old quote about Ronald Reagan. It went: “When I heard Ronald Reagan was running for governor of California, I thought it was a joke.” I don’t recall who said it, but the quote, for some reason, remains embedded in my brain. In 1980, the quote came to mind when Reagan announced his candidacy for the presidency and again the year after when he commenced the first of two terms in the job. If an old B movie actor could become the most powerful politician on earth, either the American dream was still alive or the world had gone mad.
Fast forward to 2016 and take a look at the Real Clear Politics (RCP) poll of polls on this year’s presidential race. Billionaire businessman and TV personality Donald Trump, who has alienated everyone in America except working class white men, is now in front. He leads his likely opponent Hillary Clinton by a modest 0.2% but the margin doesn’t matter. An incredible candidate is a credible potential president.
Trump is seen, for reasons I don’t understand, as the anti-establishment candidate when everything about him, from his wealth to his power, suggests he is not just part of the establishment, he is the establishment. Clinton is presented as the establishment, which is not wholly inaccurate, despite the fact that she is more likely to do things, like install greater equality, that the establishment would prefer never happened.
Not for the first time, I am glad I don’t have a choice like Trump and Clinton. It is nothing more than the choice between a right wing Tory maverick, a bit like Nigel Farage, against a centre right Tory, Clinton. America doesn’t usually do socialism except that in this year’s campaign the veteran senator Bernie Sanders has pushed Clinton much closer than many expected. Barack Obama, for all the man love I have for him, is a centrist Tory but I do wish they’d find a way to let him carry on for, say, another 20 years or so.
The prospect of President Trump is writ large now. I think he will do it and it’s not as frightening as you might think. Unlike some of his Republican opponents like Ted Cruz, Trump is at least malleable. He says mad things, for sure, but he can bend with the wind and boy there will be plenty of wind if he makes it to the White House.
I do not know if the rise of Trump represents any societal reaction to conventional politics but I rather doubt it. People love the maverick but that love doesn’t last forever. As with Boris Johnson, people eventually see behind the mask and the flame dies. I see no mask with Trump. I think he really is what he seems to be. It might be an unpleasant and dangerous authenticity, for sure, but that’s where the appeal lies.
I don’t bet because you never see a poor bookmaker but if I did I’d have 50p on Trump. As Ronald Reagan once said: “You ain’t seen nothing yet!”