Donald Trump is all over the Internet, mostly for his questionable statements. Is he just temperamental or is he a master communicator?
“There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about”, wrote Oscar Wilde in his Picture of Dorian Gray.
And even though Donald Trump does not seem an avid reader of classics, he masters the art of being talked about. And in this way, he is depriving the electoral campaign of its political content.
In Italy, we follow the US elections like they were ours, even more, sometimes. We are fascinated by the primaries so much that we adopted the same model, but Italian primaries never turned into a big event. They do the trick, but they are not a show, nor they are live-streamed (or if they are, very few watches them). And the conventions! We love them, so grandiose!
But we also know that a change in Presidency can affect our mutual relations and that there are many issues close to home (Ukraine and Syria, to name just two) that will be impacted by the November vote.
Hence, we try to understand what each candidate can bring to the table, but currently, it is an impossible challenge.
The headlines of all the major newspapers worldwide are filled with the latest Trump’s gaffes, rants, and tweets.
We know about him offending the family of a Muslim dead soldier, we watched him kicking a baby out of a rally. We cringed when he stated that Putin will not invade Ukraine, oblivious that Russia has already done so. We laugh, often bitterly, at his tweets. We got to know his family. His latest wife Melania and her foggy immigration history, his son Eric and his stance on harassment, and not to forget his daughter Ivanka, whom Trump stated he would date.
We have mixed feelings about his position on immigration, but it a topic on everyone’s lips. Some would love a wall in Europe too, to stop the waves of immigrants, even though there is no border where to build it, since our immigrants mostly come by sea. Others would like to remind him that the whole US is made of immigrants. And we know it by experience since we were the once-immigrants.
Faced with his unusual campaign, people have started wondering whether is behavior is more than charisma, and rather an undiagnosed narcissistic disorder.
Or he could be a political mastermind in disguise.
He managed to be everywhere in the headlines, his media coverage higher (and more profitable) than any other candidate. In fairness, the media are offering him an helping hand: CNN described him last year as a “ratings machine”. More importantly, he gained this attention without seriously talking about his political program. We know bits and pieces, often contradictory, about what he would do should he become President. But his platform? Apart from his website, and the bits he shares on Twitter, it remains a mystery.
And this all-media-no-content campaign forces Democrats to run after him, to join his rollercoaster of daily boutades. He is the one initiating the conversation (shouting, usually). Hillary Clinton can only reply to his statements, and the debate turns out fragmented at best, when not incoherent.
He lowered the tone of the political conversation while raising the tone, and Democrats have to play by his rules. By consequence, little is know about Hillary Clinton’s platform too, as she is too busy trying to keep up with the Trumps to share her program in a holistic way, outside of the DNC, at least.
Has it done it on purpose?
Can it be that he knows that his party is so fragmented that he has to find a common enemy (Hillary) to keep the Republicans together?
He must know that some of his proposals are unfeasible. The Mexican wall cannot be a serious point of a national campaign; neither can be preventing Muslims from immigrating to the US.
And when he happens to share one of his points and be called out on it, he quickly turns up with an illiterate tweet, or an outrageous statement about Putin hacking Hillary’s emails.
In a world of short attention span, this could be mass distraction at its finest, if done on purpose.
But it is also a big risk. Basing his all campaign on an “all appearance and no substance” carousel backfires in the long term.
He is in decline in all the latest polls and is experiencing a taste of his medicine.
Hillary-hate has been the glue of his party, but it also convinced many of Sanders’ supporters to close their ranks around Hillary, whose leadership they used to question.
Trump might not win this election. He might not even be interested in winning. But he has nevertheless changed the way of campaigning. It is not unheard, in times of elections, of below-the-belt attacks to one’s opponent. But he took it to the next level and paired it with the impoverishment of the political content. And mixed it up with some headlines worth besmirching statements. Eventually, also Hillary Clinton cannot talk about anything else but him. He is the one setting the agenda and the mood for the day. The others can react to him, but little space is left for them to pro-act.
He personalized the campaign so much that the November vote will be a “vote against” rather than a decision on the best possible platform.
As Italian, I cannot help thinking back at the campaigns of Silvio Berlusconi, another person who succeeded in turning obnoxious jokes into pseudo-political statements. He too became the center of attention by sheer force of gaffes and inglorious statements and dragged his opponents with him. In the end, the country became a giant soccer stadium in election times. And maybe this is why we were also so fascinated by the US campaigns. They look festive but politically sound.
And we miss looking up at America (we do love looking up at other countries sometimes regardless of their real worth) like the place where things are done properly. Not to mention that we know how the whole Berlusconi thing folded out. And if Trump and Berlusconi are really alike, and there are too many similarities to discard the thought, trust me, for us, it was not a good riddance.