The Political Genius of Donald Trump

The word ‘genius’ is not often appended to Donald Trump, except perhaps by himself, but he has demonstrated since early 2016 that he does indeed have a rare political genius.  A man not given to modesty, President Trump can rightfully claim he embodies the American ideal of an assured sense of purpose that comes from totally believing in one’s own greatness.  His campaign slogan of 2016 -- “Make America Great Again” -- was as much about his own greatness rubbing off on America as it was about America’s destiny. 

It is precisely this quality of character that has enabled Trump to be what he has become:  the current symbol of the greatness that America once was and is already becoming again.  But what is most impressive about Trump the man is something that would be a weakness in any other.  He delights in fighting -- with unflagging energy -- the messy tactical engagements his political enemies force upon him, which would overwhelm a weaker man.  But through all this Trump, the president has been implementing his political strategy as if the constant skirmishes with those trying to unseat him are a mere inconvenience. It is his opponents who are exhausting themselves, whilst seemingly making no dents in his armor, as he continues towards his goal.

So preoccupied with destroying Trump has the Democratic Party been since 2016 that their only success is their own survival.  But the party is even more disunited than in 2016 and is having to downplay the extremism of a younger generation of neo-Marxist activists pushing policies ever leftwards in a way that is alien to most Americans.

Paradoxically, their latest presidential candidate looks as if he has just wandered out of a retirement home with an idea of what he’d like for lunch but no idea of how to get to the dining room.  And along with all this comes nothing but the same old empty promises:  more welfare, more minority rights, more social justice, more multicultural harmony.  The usual combative rhetoric of social conflict and fighting injustice gives the game away.  In reality, all the Democrats have to offer ordinary Americans is more social strife, more crime, more state interference, and higher taxes.

The Democrats have run out of ideas.  And it’s Trump who has done this to them, albeit with their unwitting collusion.  He has made himself seem such an irresistible target to take down that they’ve expended too much political capital on keeping him in their sights.  Constant -- and highly personal -- campaigns of ridicule and denunciation have been combined with obstruction of his policies, and harassment of his appointees and supporters.  And while they’ve been doing all this, the Democrats have neglected vital strategic issues, such as how to present a winning message to the electorate later this year.   They’ve been Trumped.  By a political genius.

The roots of Trump’s political genius lie in his highly unorthodox approach to public life.  He has enjoyed careers as a property developer, a business entrepreneur, a game-show host and a high-profile member of America’s business elite.  For decades he supported the Democrats, contributing millions of dollars to their funds and donating to charitable causes associated with them.  Throughout all this he has exhibited the same mixture of bombast, braggadocio, and brashness.  And a directness of expression that offers no room for confusion as to his intentions. 

None of these qualities appear to be an advantage to anyone considering a political career.  When he decided that his only remaining ambition was to run for president, the Democrats all but laughed in his face.  A man such as Donald Trump does not take that kind of treatment lightly.  But when he then appeared as a Republican presidential hopeful, they still mocked him.  How could a man such as Donald Trump possibly win the presidency?  They should have heeded Lao Tzu: There is no greater danger than under-estimating your opponent.  Trump has a genius for getting people to under-estimate him.  And he is still doing it.

As the campaign season gets underway in the coming weeks the mudslinging from the Democrats will get messier, but they are now at an even greater disadvantage than they were in 2016.  Back then, Trump -- having been one of them for decades -- knew exactly how their minds worked and what their weaknesses were.  When Hillary Clinton started treating him in the public debates as if he were a simpleton in the presence of greatness, his ripostes were brutal and hit the mark.  The Clinton campaign crumbled into irrelevance, even as Clinton herself became ever more strident and more obviously condescending to supporters and opponents alike.

Donald Trump was victorious in 2016 because he successfully challenged the complacency of the entire political elite of America.  He talked directly to the concerns and aspirations of the ordinary people of America and especially middle-America, fly-over country, people long ignored and at times scorned as “rubes” by the bourgeois-bohemian well-heeled coastal metropolitan elite to whom the idea of Trump-as-president seemed like a bad dream.  And the more they scorned him, the more the people of middle-America loved him.  By the time Clinton made her “basket of deplorables” jibe they were happy to seize on it and started wearing T-shirts announcing their “deplorable” status.  Trump had even got Clinton inventing campaign slogans for him!  Genius.  And yet, with almost all the mainstream media on her side, and most opinion polls predicting a landslide, Clinton still expected to win.  Trump proved them all wrong.  They should have heeded Lao Tzu.

This year Trump has a track-record in power to campaign on, and he won’t be worried by his current poor showing in the opinion polls.  He’s been there before, at the same stage in his first campaign.  He will already be prepared for the negative campaigning the Democrats will fall into very early on.  The problem with negative campaigning is that it can come to dominate all the other messages, which was what happened in 2016.  This time is likely to be no different. 

Trump is not a humble man, and doesn’t like admitting mistakes, and he has made a few, but then all great men do.  Great men are only human, after all.   But even this Trump turns to his advantage: not dwelling on past mistakes enables total focus on the next challenge, the next hill to climb, the next victory to be won.  Trump is very focused.

Donald Trump is into winning, and if enough people in America believe he will take them with him to the top, they’ll vote for him.  And he’s also very good at getting those who feel let down by the Democrat party to believe in him.  He knows how they feel, because the Democrats let him down by not believing in him.  And he knows how the Democrat party works, and what its weaknesses are.  He knows the right messages to send out, and he knows what messages work best.  And, above all, he knows what middle-America wants, and how to get them to listen to him when he tells them he’s on their side.

That’s how he’ll win in November -- provided he doesn’t commit any dreadful blunders.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore

Wen Wryte is the pseudonym of a retired teacher of philosophy who likes a quiet life.

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