Donald Trump’s entire career has been a testament to the chicken-in-the-rain stupidity people get when surrounded by money, or at least the trappings of money. Despite being a serial failure, he’s been able to get investors in his bankrupt casinos and optimistic gulls to enroll in his phony school, because he seems really rich. One of the tricks to pulling this off is supreme confidence. People love to see that, and get sucked in. They feel that if this person, who seems rich, is saying “we’re all going to make so much money and we’re going to win” then by gum, we are. It’s seductive.
To say he’s run his campaign as a long con should be a cliche by now (it is on this blog). It’s carried on entirely by brazen lies and force of personality, which, amazingly, many millions of people don’t find ungodly repellant. But what happens when the casinos go bankrupt? What happens when the con is exposed? That’s easy: blame everyone else. Oh, this would have worked if it wasn’t for these people getting in the way or gumming it up. And I’ll tell you what: it’s no accident. They’re jealous, ok? Of our success. But we’ll get them next time. “The game was rigged” is always the cry of the conman when he isn’t able to properly rig it himself. It is absolution and conspiracy, and if successful, draws the mark even closer in.
If it is successful in an election, though, it could lead to violence and discontent like few of us have seen in our lifetimes. That’s the game Trump is playing now, and we’re all on the board.
Yesterday, Donald Trump took the unprecedented step of telling supporters that he thinks the election is going to be rigged against him. All politicians blame the media, or the weather, or the dirty tricks of an opponent for why they lost. But this of another type altogether. This is saying that you should have no faith in the system, because it is already determined to negate your wishes. Let’s let the Tribune news service illustrate, dryly, how absurd this is.
Also on Monday in Ohio, Trump suggested he fears the general election “is going to be rigged” — an unprecedented assertion by a modern presidential candidate.
Trump’s extraordinary claim — one he did not back up with any immediate evidence — would, if it became more than just an offhand comment, seem to threaten the tradition of peacefully contested elections and challenge the very essence of a fair democratic process.
“I’m afraid the election is going to be rigged, I have to be honest,” the Republican nominee told a town hall crowd in Columbus, Ohio on Monday. He added that he has been hearing “more and more” that the election may not be contested fairly, though he did not elaborate further.
(This is not a bylined article, and I think it shows how the media is beginning to understand the danger. They can cover him straightforward and still show how absurd and nation-shattering his candidacy is. I’m not totally sure Tronc could pull off the same deadpan horror.)
The most charitable reading of this is that he had head Bernie and Elizabeth Warren talking about the “rigged game”, and didn’t quite understand that in doing so, they were talking about people like him. So he decided to appropriate the language, like a distaff anti-Lebowski, in order to try to “win over” his supporters. And of course, he has to a) make it so he is the victim, because he’s incapable of seeing the world any other way; and b) pretend that he’s been hearing this from people, because he loves to lie.
But I think it is more than that, which would be enough. It’s clear that part of him knows things aren’t going well. The post-convention polls seem to have straightened some things out, and if the trends continue, we should be able to breathe a little bit easier. And Trump knows this, sort of. I think he lies to himself as well, and when he hears bad news cognitive dissonance immediately clicks in, forming the world’s grossest cocoon, protecting himself from any negative thoughts by creating a mucus-covered coffin of lies and paranoia.
It’s how he has been able to pretend that the debates are “rigged” by going against NFL games, even though, as has been exhaustively reported, they were determined a year in advance, and even though Hillary would want the bigger audience, because he’s a clear know-nothing fraud and she’ll eat him alive. He doesn’t want his followers to believe that, so by dishonest magic, he doesn’t believe it. He is selling the con that the system is set up against Donald Trump, gilded fancy boy.
These are off-the-cuff remarks, but also part of a deeper strategy. It’s partly silly to call anything he does a strategy, yes, but since the campaign is run on his wretched personality, analyzing why he does things is to understand the political strategy. He’s treating this like an already-teetering casino, a too-leveraged property that’s about to bust. He is blaming everyone else, and telling his investors– the voters– that they would have had a chance if it wasn’t for everyone else. It’s how he protects himself both from opprobrium, from the stigma of being a loser, and from any introspection.
This is extraordinarily dangerous. These aren’t other wealthy twits getting gulled. These are voters, extremely angry voters, who already feel like their rights are being taken away by liberals and black and Mexicans and Muslims and Jews and atheists. They are confused and scared about the genuine economic dislocation in their lives, and were ripe for a demagogue. Trump is promising them back a birthright, one that has been stolen from them, and one that can only be given back by a strong leader. And now they are going to steal his destiny– your destiny– from him, and from all of you. We’ve seen this story over and over again in history, and it is never pretty.
I’m not saying there is going to be violence, although it wouldn’t be surprising. But it will be more divisive, more tearing, than anything in my lifetime. You could see massive discontent. What he’s unleashed will infect our politics and society for decades. Because, like always, he has promised people something he can’t deliver. But it isn’t just a building or business expertise or an edible steak. It’s a stolen way of life. It isn’t a bill of goods– it’s a butcher’s bill, and we’ll all be paying for it for years to come.