Magazine article The New Yorker

American Demagogue

Magazine article The New Yorker

American Demagogue

Article excerpt

AMERICAN DEMAGOGUE

Nearly three decades ago, Howard Kaminsky, of Random House, called on the real-estate developer and self-marketing master Donald Trump at his office on Fifth Avenue. Kaminsky brought along a cover design for "Trump: The Art of the Deal," its author's literary debut. Trump seemed reasonably happy. Just one thing, he said. "Please make my name much bigger."

It was all so funny once. For a long time, Trump, with his twenty-four-karat skyscrapers, his interesting hair, and his extra-classy airline, was a leading feature of the New York egoscape. The editors of the satirical monthly Spy covered him with the same obsessive attention that Field & Stream pays to the rainbow trout. Trump never failed to provide; he was everywhere, commandeering a corner at a professional wrestling match, buying the Miss Universe franchise and vowing smaller bathing suits and higher heels. You could watch him humiliate supplicants on "The Apprentice" and hear him on "The Howard Stern Show" gallantly describing the mystery of Melania's bowel movements ("I've never seen anything--it's amazing") and announcing that, "without even hesitation," he would have had sex with Princess Diana. As early as 1988, Trump hinted at a run for the White House, though this was understood to be part of his carny shtick, another form of self-branding in the celebrity-mad culture.

And now here we are. Trump is no longer hustling golf courses, fake "universities," or reality TV. He means to command the United States armed forces and control its nuclear codes. He intends to propose legislation, conduct America's global affairs, preside over its national-intelligence apparatus, and make the innumerable moral and political decisions required of a President. This is not a Seth Rogen movie; this is as real as mud. Having all but swept the early Republican primaries and caucuses, Trump--who re-tweets conspiracy theories and invites the affections of white-supremacist groups, and has established himself as the adept inheritor of a long tradition of nativism, discrimination, and authoritarianism--is getting ever closer to becoming the nominee of what Republicans like to call "the party of Abraham Lincoln." No American demagogue--not Huey Long, not Joseph McCarthy, not George Wallace--has ever achieved such proximity to national power.

Meanwhile, the elders of the G.O.P., like House Speaker Paul Ryan, have declared their disgust, unless, like Governor Chris Christie, of New Jersey, they have sold their souls for a place at Trump's feeding trough. As yet, no detestable remark, no flagrant display of ignorance, no scummy business deal has dissuaded his followers. Nor will Trump be defeated by the putatively scathing critiques of the commentariat (including this one). Quote his most hateful eruptions--about Mexicans, about Muslims, about women, about African-Americans--and the next day will still bring an arena filled with voters who find him incorruptible precisely because he is rich, and who vibrate to his blunt assessments of the American condition. Last month, John Oliver, a master of the extended comic decimation, opened video fire on Trump after many months of resisting the subject. So hilarious! So devastating! And then Trump cleaned up on Super Tuesday. Don't they watch HBO in the S.E.C. states?

Pull the camera back, and Trump can be viewed as part of a deadly serious wave of authoritarians and xenophobes who have come to power in Russia, Poland, and Hungary, and who lead such movements as the National Front, in France, and the Independence Party, in the United Kingdom. …

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