The 2016 presidential election is one of the most important in my lifetime. It needs to be taken seriously. But often metaphors, satire and irony can be very powerful in a serious setting. With some apology to the readers, in this post I deconstruct Trump and his campaign using metaphors and sometimes irony, which I hope is not sarcasm.
I love movies. But, I have to suspend my sense of reality when I watch many movies. How else can I, without feeling guilty, enjoy violent movies based on comic books like the X-Men series, the Men in Black series, and the Avengers series? I know they are not real; they are overdrawn entertainment based on overdrawn comic books.
Given the stakes in the presidential election, I cannot suspend my sense of reality and enjoy Trump's antics as though they were in a movie. It is not funny when a major party presidential candidate clumsily tries to walk back dangerous and incendiary words, days after he speaks them, saying he was just being sarcastic or joking. Even so, when I watch and read Trump's angry spouting, I often think he must live in an alternative universe or timeline, like the ones featured in movies.
In Trump's alternative universe, a major party presidential candidate can say and do anything he wants without creating danger. In our real universe, what a President says has immediate consequences that can be very dangerous. The Soviet Union went on high alert when its leaders learned that (jokingly) President Reagan said, "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes."
Using the movie-comics metaphor, let's go to Trump's bloopers reel. It demonstrates that he is the most dangerous person ever to run for president on a major party ticket, at least in our universe. The 50 national security experts from Republican Administrations, who signed a letter explaining that they cannot vote for Trump, agree. America cannot have a President who has no governor between his brain and his tongue.
Trump's alternative universe is littered with unsubstantiated conspiracies. He insisted that primaries were stolen from him, and says that there is a conspiracy to steal the presidential election from him. Recently, despite his cratering pole numbers in Pennsylvania, he said that it was 100% certain he would win Pennsylvania, except for voter fraud that could steal it from him. He challenged his supporters to be extra vigilant about people who will try to vote five times against him. This caused understandable concern that that Trump's bully boys will be out on election day trying to suppress minority and Democrat voters.
Trump helped manufacture and promote the "Birthers" conspiracy theory, that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States and is constitutionally barred from being President. During the presidential primaries, Trump tweaked that myth and attacked Senator Ted Cruz on similar grounds.
Trump has repeatedly asserted that Ted Cruz's father was involved in a conspiracy to assassinate John F. Kennedy, relying on a report he read in the National Enquirer. According to Trump: "This is a magazine that frankly in many respects should be very respected." His alternative universe must be the one created in the movie, Men In Black, which is based on a Marvel comic book series. Men in Black's secret Agent Kay says to Agent Jay, "We'll check the hot sheets" to find out whether a dangerous outer space alien had landed on Earth. In Men in Black's universe, the "hot sheets" are the supermarket tabloids, which almost surely include the National Enquirer. According to Agent Kay, these "hot sheets" are the "best investigative journalism on the planet." It was funny in the movie. But taking a line from another comic book movie, The Kingsman, "This ain't that kind of a movie, Bro." It is not funny when the presidential nominee of one of America's two major parties says he is relying on the National Enquirer as the basis for believing that a person was involved in an assassination conspiracy. It is frightening.
Time after time, Trump and his campaign or surrogates have had to walk back his unscripted comments that reveal his inability to separate fantasy from reality.
One of Trump's latest bizarre conspiracy theories is that President Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are the founders of ISIS. He doubled down on this outrageous claim before he and his campaign decided that he was only being sarcastic. Even then Trump he could not let it go. He said: "Obviously, I was being sarcastic, then, but not that sarcastic to be honest with you." His sarcasm is lost on Hezbollah, which the United States and Arab League classify as a terrorist organization. Its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said at a rally: "This is an American presidential candidate who is saying this. What he says is based on facts and documents."
A few weeks ago, Trump said: "Russia if you are listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will be rewarded mightily by our press. Let's see that happen." Never before has a major party presidential candidate invited a foreign power to intervene directly in an American presidential election. Trump and his surrogates later said that Trump was just being sarcastic.
If anyone believes that Trump is capable of that kind of sarcasm, I have a bridge in Brooklyn that I want to sell them really cheap.
In Trump's alternative universe, he is free to foster violence against his opponents. On too many other occasions Trump has verbally condoned violence against his opponents, enabling his supporters to think and act as though they could be violent. Trump went over the top when he said: "Hillary wants to abolish, essentially abolish the Second Amendment. By the way, if she gets to pick, if she gets to pick her judges, nothing you can do, folks. Although the Second Amendment people, maybe there is. I don't know." Even his supporters at the rally were aghast. His words were so extreme that the U.S. Secret Service had to take note and investigate. Trump and his surrogates later said he was just saying that Second Amendment People must get out and vote for him and against Hillary Clinton. No rational person can think that all of Trump's Second Amendment People heard or understood Trump's words to be so benign.
Trump told a rally that "That could be a Mexican plane up there; they're getting ready to attack." Was he just joking? Probably. Is he joking when he repeatedly says that he wants to build a solid wall between Mexico and the United States and make Mexico pay for it, and to deport Mexicans wholesale? He surely was not joking when he said that the federal judge assigned to the lawsuit against his Trump University was prejudiced against him because the judge is a Mexican. He has never acknowledged that the judge was born in Indiana and had served the United States, at great personal risk, as a prosecutor fighting drug cartels.
Trump says that if he were President, the United States would be safer. Really?! In Trump's alternative universe, foreign affairs can be conducted on the fly, and facts and treaty obligations do not matter. Let's take a look at that.
Some time ago, Trump was asked whether he would defend our NATO allies: "If Russia came over the border into Estonia or Latvia, Lithuania, places that Americans don't think about all that often, would you come to their immediate military aid?" Trump responded: "I don't want to tell you what I'd do, because I don't want Putin to know what I'd do." Trump was pressed by his questioner that we have treaty obligations to defend NATO allies, and asked "Can the members of NATO, including the new members in the Baltics, count on the United States to come to their military aid if they were attacked by Russia? Trump responded: "Have they fulfilled their obligations to us? If they fulfill their obligations to us, the answer is yes."
Under Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, an attack on one NATO member is an attack on all NATO members, and all members are obligated to assist the Party or Parties to the Treaty who were attacked, "by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area."
Perhaps Trump did not know that the only time in NATO's 67 years that Article 5 has been invoked and applied was after the September 11, 2001 attack on the United States. In Trump's alternative universe, maybe our NATO allies sat on the sidelines and let the United States go it alone after we were attacked. Perhaps in Trump's alternative universe and time line there is no concerning and long history of Soviet and Russian imperial expansionism. In our universe, our NATO allies were there for us after September 11th, and Russia has long sought to be an empire.
One of my closest high school friends and his family were refugees from Estonia. They had fled Sovietized Estonia, which President Eisenhower described as a "captive nation." Estonia is now a NATO member. As the Soviet Union crumbled, I visited Estonia's neighbor on the Baltic, Latvia, which was another Soviet "captive nation." Latvia was in the process of joyfully throwing off the Soviet-Russian yoke. Now it is a NATO member. Three of my grandparents were born in Ukraine and the other in what now is part of Poland. Both countries were in the Soviet Bloc. Poland is now a NATO member; Ukraine is not, but would like to join.
In Trump's alternative universe, I suppose that each of these nations has the wherewithal to develop nuclear weapons to protect itself. Brushing aside any concerns about the dangers of nuclear proliferation, Trump welcomed proliferation as country by country defense measures, when he said he would pull the plug on the United States' mutual defense obligations with Japan and South Korea. If former Soviet Bloc East European nations do not have the ability to develop a nuclear capacity, Trump must be prepared to allow them to absorbed or dominated by Russia again, and he must be prepared to have our Asian allies dominated by China.
In Trump's alternative universe, dictators, despots and autocrats are admired. He admires Russia's autocratic President Vladimir Putin, was ignorant that Russia has military forces in the Eastern Ukraine, and is prepared to legitimize Russia's seizure of the Crimea from Ukraine. Trump has also spoken admiringly of North Korea's ruthless dictator Kim Jong Un, and of several dead dictators of similar stripe, namely Italy's Benito Mussolini, Iraq's Saddam Hussein, and Libya's Muammar Gadhafi. Each of them was responsible for murdering and torturing countless thousands of his own people. In our universe, these dictators, despots and autocrats cannot be role models for an American President or major party presidential candidate.
In Trump's alternative universe, the Chinese government's slaughter of unarmed demonstrators at Tiananmen Square is okay.
In Trump's alternative universe, waterboarding and even worse tortures are standard operating procedures.
In Trump's alternative universe, the watchword is, "America First." Maybe it will work better than it did before the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.
In Trump's alternative universe, a Muslim gold star family can be disrespected because they called him out for his anti-Muslim pronouncements. That makes sense in Trump's alternative universe, where only he has the right to free speech and Muslims, including Muslim-Americans and lawful residents, are forced into ghettos and must wear Muslim/Refugee Badges.
In Trump's alternative universe, it is okay to curry favor with home-grown neo-Nazis and white supremacists and to use anti-Semitic symbols in his quest for votes.
Perhaps in Trump's alternative universe, the Nazis did not force Jews to wear yellow Stars of David and force them into walled, tightly controlled ghettos. In Trump's alternative universe, perhaps the Nazis did not send Jews by the millions to the death camps, where they were tattooed and exterminated.
In Trump's alternative universe, disabled people can be mocked with overdrawn parodies of their disabilities. Perhaps in Trump's alternative universe, the Nazis did not try to eradicate disabled people.
In Trump's alternative universe, U.S. presidential candidates (like the dictators, despots and autocrats he admires) encourage violence against reporters, banish reporters and media from their political events, expand libel laws and limit free speech and press. That must be okay, because according to Trump, reporters are the worst kind of humans.
In Trump's alternative universe, women (including one's daughters) are objects, who can be grossly vilified or sexualized. In his alternative universe, it is okay to take campaign advice from Roger Ailes, a man as to whom evidence continues to emerge that he may be a serial sexual harasser, destroying women's careers when they refused quid pro quo sex with him. Apparently, to Trump sexual harassment is not so bad. According to Trump, if his daughter were sexually harassed in the work place, she would quit. Easy to do if you are rich and have a rich father.
In Trump's alternative universe, you hire as your campaign chief executive Stephen Bannon, the executive chair of Breitbart News LLC, an organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center recently called out in its "Hatewatch" report for promoting white racist and anti-Muslim ideology and agenda.
In Trump's alternative universe, trading in hatred, bigotry, misogyny, divisiveness and violence are legitimate political conduct. America "ain't that kind of movie, Bro."
Enough already! Trump's fantasies are not amusing. They are dangerous. In Trump's alternative universe, the United States and the rest of the world will be increasingly unsafe and intolerant and could become dystopian. The 2016 presidential race is for real and will decide whether America remains true to itself as the land of the free.