MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Is this the dawn of the age of tyranny by celebrity?
That’s what the dyspeptic but very smart former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu Sr. thinks after watching fear-mongering billionaire Donald Trump win Tuesday's primary here.
“So the joke about Kanye West running in the future isn’t a joke,” he said. “We are now in a time when all you have to do is be a celebrity. You don’t have to have real positions. You don’t have to have details. You don’t have to have experience. All you have to do is be famous.”
“Frankly, I’m frightened for the country,” said Sununu, who also served as chief of staff to President George H.W. Bush.
Sweeping in and out of TV studios here in the last day or two before the primary, Trump conveyed the aura of the TV star he is and was, glad-handing staffers and anyone he may have recognized from other television shows.
He is surrounded by an ever-growing security detail, primarily of his own men, who hover just out of camera range with a look that is adoring of the boss and menacing to anyone else.
Secure (at least for now) in the knowledge of his own popularity, Trump blithely bats away detailed questions about his vague policy proposals. And when he's done, he just as blithely praises the hosts for asking questions he hasn’t answered.
He represents something new, but arguably inevitable, in American democracy.
There have been famous people before who have run for the highest office, but they have always been military heroes. An exception was Wendell Willkie, a well-known businessman who became the GOP nominee in 1940. But he did not run in the primaries and was chosen in convention.
Trump is closer to P.T. Barnum or Walt Disney than he is to Willkie: a businessman, yes, but far better known by most American voters as the longtime host of a TV show called “The Apprentice.” An entire generation grew up watching him “fire” fake business contestants.
Trump has traded on his fame from the start of his utterly unorthodox campaign: hurling personal insults through his Twitter account (which has 5 million followers); making outrageous proposals to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and “temporarily” bar all non-American Muslims from entering the country; delighting in the use of foul and inappropriate language at his rallies.
It’s a show -- a dangerous show -- that has caught the attention and even the support of a considerable slice of America.
And it is one that the country's founders feared. As they drafted the U.S. Constitution and then argued for its adoption, they stressed that they were looking for -- and thought they had found -- a middle way between monarchy and the mob.
But they perhaps could not have envisioned an entertainer/businessman who would try to combine the power and the danger of both the monarch and the mob together.
That is what Trump is trying to do, and what he did in New Hampshire.
If Trump can do it this way -- with no ground organization, with no real background in politics -- with tweets and fame and social media and manipulation of the media, well then, he has changed the nature of our system for good.
“Ben Franklin famously said that the founders had created a Republic, if we could keep it,” Sununu said. “I hope we still can.”
Editor's note: Donald Trump is a serial liar, rampant xenophobe, racist, misogynist, b