I remember meeting Ronald Reagan during the primaries, before he became president, and he was as cheery and optimistic as he remained through his term of office. How things have changed!
All that glitters isn’t gold
Trump’s apparent success in the run-up to the American Presidential primaries is deeply puzzling. Pundits were positive that he could not possibly succeed, but the more he did or said awful things, the more his poll ratings went up. But it’s important to realise that polls aren’t always 100% reliable, and his poor result in Ohio showed clearly that all that glitters isn’t gold.
It seems that the huge crowds at his rallies were more like people who stop at a car crash or gaze at some amusing spectacle than real supporters. They were entertained by him, but clearly didn’t identify with his extremist, xenophobic and simplistic policies as much as he assumed.
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He’s been hypnotised by the polls, carrying the info around with him and proclaiming the figures like a mantra. He sensuously strokes and fingers the polls and ratings as proof that he is popular, and probably counts his Facebook “likes” like hundred dollar bills.
A demagogue gains support and power by playing to the prejudices, and fears of people too naïve to see through him, and desperate enough to believe his comforting lies. He seeks and values their gullibility, which enables him to make vague promises and false claims.
Like a sociopath, a demagogue feels no shame about misleading people, and when elected they feel no shame about not fulfilling the promises they made. They don’t see themselves as public servants; in fact they see the public as their servants,
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Watch how neatly Trump deals with policy questions. Whatever the problem, he announces that he will solve it, without revealing how. He will remove Obamacare and replace it with “something terrific”, but doesn’t explain what – great if you believe in the tooth fairy.
He’s a whirl of motion and emotion, like a juggler, mesmerising his audience with glittering visions – now you see them, now you don’t.
Some of the meanings of our Donald’s name are strangely appropriate. For example, to trump someone is to win by using a hidden asset, and something that is trumped up is an invented excuse or false accusation, based on false information.
Watching him perform, there are a host of words that come to mind: smug, boastful, cocky, sulky, blustering, shallow, smarmy, arrogant, swaggering. It’s a form of political karaoke, telling people what they want to hear, so they can hum along. Scornful of other people’s feelings, he’s tenderly protective of his own.
He has no shame whatever, and little self-censorship, happy to say whatever feels good to him. What other candidate, even if it were true, would brag, as he did, that he could shoot dead a person in the street without losing support?
Reporters, using logic and reason, too often assume he’d be damaged by revelations how false his claims are, but his audience don’t care. Pundits keep announcing that this time he’s reached the tipping point, that he’s gone too far or crossed the line – only for him to cheerfully go one step further. A Teflon Man indeed!
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Though he has no experience whatever in dealing with any of the real problems of the nation, he thinks he’ll solve them by pure will and determination. He is clever and always right, and everyone else is dumb or malevolent or both. He promises to make America “great again” without being clear about when was the last time it was great, in his terms.
He's making it up
He over-simplifies everything. As the old saying goes: for every problem he has a solution that’s clear, simple, obvious – and useless.
He’s largely making it up as he goes along.
Very revealingly in one of his self-praising books in 1987, Trump wrote: “I play to people’s fantasies . . . A little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular . . . I call it truthful hyperbole. It’s an innocent form of exaggeration—and a very effective form of promotion.”
He insults the sort of people his supporters want to see insulted. He brags that he is “really rich”, so rich he can’t be bribed. He has enthusiastically insulted women on many occasions, showing them no respect at all.
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He’ll do anything to get attention, although he does nothing worthwhile when he does get it. He has endless tricks to grab media coverage, and does nothing with it except to grab more. Whenever he’s fading from the headlines, he insults Mexicans, or Muslims, or women, even cripples.
He got a lot of mileage out of “Birtherism”, skilfully raising doubts about whether Obama was eligible to be president because he’s not a “real” American and was not born in the continental U.S.A. Now, he’s doing the same thing with Cruz. Why waste a good smear? But if you watch closely, he often doesn’t have the courage to state these claims directly. He dances around the issue with “A lotta people are saying . . .” or “I hear that . . .”
Trump is anti-Hillary. She brags that she’s an insider who knows how anything can be done, even if we need to prune our dreams and wait. His motto is: “You want it? I’ll get it for you!”
He brags that he is financing his entire campaign himself, though this may not be quite true, as apparently there has been some fund-raising, and there are rumours that he approached the large funders of the Republican Party – who all refused him.
But behind the arrogance and rudeness he is fuelled by deep-seated anger. It’s probably this profound, basic rage that the dispossessed, betrayed and lost people love and respond to. He makes them feel their anger is justified. The actual roots of his personal anger are anyone’s guess.
There are continuing rumours of plastic surgery, and at times he shows a weird reverse panda-like appearance, orange skin and large white patches round his eyes, perhaps from wearing large goggles in front of his sun-lamp.
And what is that thing on his head? A fluffy comb-over to beat all comb-overs! It changes colour daily from orange to daffodil yellow. Will “that thing that lives on his head”, as Dave Letterman used to call it, become the oddest thing that ever lived in the White House?
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Professor MA Simpson is Health24's CyberShrink. A South African psychiatrist, he qualified in medicine and in psychiatry in Britain. He has been a senior academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries. Read more of his columns.