Monday 08 August 2022

When the ‘villain’ becomes the star

This blog first appeared in Malta Today

Listening to a CNN analyst describing how the voting went Trump’s way in such unprecedented numbers, he succinctly summed up the whole scenario: “the more the media made Trump into the villain, the better it was for him, because in reality TV, the villain is the star.”

It was like a lightbulb moment. Yes, of course. How did we expect a large chunk of the population which laps up reality TV to such a degree, which can name all the Kardashians but has no idea what or where Aleppo is (or even care), to look at Donald Trump and see what the rest of us see?

I am struggling to understand the mindset behind this result but after the stunning result which was Brexit, it is like deja vu all over again. In a few words, a disenchanted segment of the population was telling politicians what they wanted and Trump told them what they wanted to hear. Many Democrats would have much preferred the down-to-earth Bernie Sanders, but the powerful party machine ensured Hillary Clinton became the nominee instead. I do not agree with the narrative that voters did not like her because she was a woman; they just did not like her as a person. She came with too much baggage; people were wary of another “Clinton” in the White House, and the slant of the media, especially the many liberal celebrities in Hollywood, seemed to get up the nose of your average, white, blue collar, non-college educated, traditional Democratic voters in key states. People’s suspicions that everything is manipulated by the corporate media grew. Her use of the word “deplorable” to describe Trump supporters was well, deplorable. As a presidential candidate it is never a good idea to insult voters. In fact, what Trump supporters did was to start wearing T-shirts to rallies which read “I’m an adorable “deplorable’”.

In hindsight, the more the media pushed her and the more it ridiculed The Donald, the more entrenched Trump supporters became.

But the only other alternative was this uncouth caricature of a candidate, with his many divisive messages which incited hatred, and when it came down to the wire, many of us felt it was a matter of keeping him out at all costs.

HIs supporters describe Trump as a man of the people, a straight talker, who “tells it like it is”, who “speaks like us”, who is not part of the Washington establishment and who blew the whole race out of the water by doing the unthinkable.

As with the Brexit result, this result has been a wake-up call. I have been repeatedly taken aback to learn which of my acquaintances speak in favourable terms about Trump and who endorse his beliefs even though the man is obviously a bigot and speaks about women in locker room talk as disposable trophies. The hatred towards those different to them is very real and visceral.

And the demographics are telling: Trump did best with the white, working class with no college degree (especially men but, to my dismay, even women), and mainly those over 30.

As another analyst pointed out: Trump had one newspaper endorsement, had a terrible video, did badly in the debates and yet here we are. People clearly wanted someone different, and they got it. We have to come to terms with the fact that America has elected someone who became famous for his reality shows, even though he has no experience in governing at any level and speaks like he’s shooting the fat with his pals in a bar.

In his victory speech, we saw a calmer, more relaxed Trump. The rhetoric was already toned down. He is a showman after all and he knows that now that the Panto is over, he has to play the part of President.

But, as I watched the analysts, the divisiveness is still there, and that is what I find disturbing. Even before the result of the election was called, Trump’s former campaign manager Cory Lewandowski was gloating because his candidate had clearly won and demanding to know why Hillary Clinton was nowhere to be seen to concede defeat and acknowledge Trump as the next President. But as Van Jones, the liberal CNN commentator told him, “where is the graciousness? How are we going to speak to people we don’t agree with, if this is the way we are going to speak to one another?”

The thing is that Trump’s hateful speech, now that it has been let loose, won’t be put back into the bottle that easily. This is about the average man and woman on the street, who got their man elected President because they liked how he spoke and who have now been given permission to keep talking like that. It is a prospectively ugly scenario to contemplate. And it goes beyond talk: many are scared that power has been given to someone who may repeal many civil rights laws which affect them directly.

I just trust that Trump-loving Maltese people, whose complexion and accent marks them as “foreign” and who decide to visit the US from now on, won’t get all upset when they are insulted in the street as happened in the UK after Brexit won.

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