Published in The Express Tribune – cover photo by Max Vadukul
‘America borrows many symbols with the Roman Empire of old,’ writes Zarrar Khuhro, ‘so it is instructive to remember that Rome fell only after being weakened by a succession of weak, and often insane emperors.’
This applies, if with a 2016 spin: current-day Caligulas would hawk greasy steaks, keep black people out of housing, and call opponents ‘dummy dopes’ (or, in the alternative, ‘dopey clowns’).
All this, before coronation: to actually glimpse the king in action would melt all our eyeballs.
The Republican Party isn’t having a bad election; it’s having a bad half-century. Witness the weepy Nixon, the lightheaded Reagan, the murderous W. Bush. Witness their aides: the sinister Kissinger, the clueless Quayle, the criminally insane Rumsfeld-Cheney boys.
And those were just the guys the party accepted.
Today, the Party of Lincoln (and Rove) trembles in fear of its next champion: a man described by late-night comics as a microwaved circus peanut. Honest Abe freed the slaves. Donald Trump mimes disabled people.
And like his successor on The Apprentice – fellow celeb Arnie Schwarzenegger – Mr. Trump’s strategy is simple: he’s got what it takes, and he’s up against girly men.
Jeb Bush was ritually emasculated; robot Marco Rubio’s software crashed; Chris Christie, ever the huckster from Jersey, folded and switched sides.
It’s now up to the perverse powers of Ted Cruz to save the day. And when your only hope between Godzilla and the GOP nomination is an immigrant that hates immigration, it may be best to move.
Let’s be honest, though – no one could see this coming. The script was perfect: Brother Jeb, he by birthright, would once again combat those conniving Clintons as his father had. Trump’s campaign scored obituaries by the minute.
And then it exploded into theatre: an orange dinosaur that gave voice to the public’s basest desires. He uses ‘that word’ on national television, he’ll build a wall to keep the browns out, he’ll run a show so infected with reality TV goop, it won’t be possible to change the channel.
Yet why did the message work as it did? Just four years ago, the party landed on Romney, charmless capitalist and establishment darling. Another four years earlier, they got McCain, whose teeth were bashed in by the Viet Cong.
In retrospect, those gents seemed far less dishonourable than the Donald (whom doubted the latter was a hero, and that the former was a Mormon). Even with the US economy worse than today, the loonies in 2012 were the Tea Party – not the Aryan Nation.
So how did America’s biggest national party become a nationalist insurgency straight out of Europe?
There were always undercurrents – the vicious resentment deep in the GOP’s marrow, the class conflict that tore America at the seams (and won the Republicans elections): Nixon’s hard-hats attacking college kids; Reagan lying about welfare queens; Poppy Bush pointing out black rapists.
Ever since Goldwater, it was acceptable for the GOP’s man to be mean and divisive – but it was never acceptable (with the exception of Reagan) to be an ignoramus.
That too changed with the prodigal son, George Jr. As one commentator put it,
The amazing anti-miracle of the Bush presidency is what makes today’s nightmare possible […] The hero in American culture was always a moron with a big gun who learned everything he needed to know from cowboy movies [and Karl] Rove sold Bush as that hero. […] Compared to Bush, Donald Trump is a Rutherford or an Einstein. In the same shipwreck scenario, Trump would have all sorts of ideas – all wrong, but at least he’d think of something, instead of staring at the sand waiting for a hotel phone to rise out of it.
Thus the inexplicable becomes (marginally) explicable. Mr. Trump’s rise is fuelled by the base the God & Oil Party created, as well as the inadequacy of its elite – the idea that they could sell mannequins like Marco and Mitt to the people, and watch them vote red.
Should the Trumpathon stomp out Cruz, it’ll be him versus the bloodless Clinton machine – a collection of unions, fat donors and city bosses better-suited to corrupt Democrats from the ‘50s. The prize will be the greatest economic and military force in the world (may we still wish for Bernie?).
Meanwhile, the man himself has weighed in on our republic – as with every time he weighs in, in schizoid soundbites.
India is the ‘check’ to Pakistan, the Donald said; thus annoying the weird fringe sympathy he finds here – locals support him the same way they follow pro wrestling, another province exclusive to angry white men. ‘Get it straight,’ he tweets from years ago, ‘Pakistan is not our friend.’
Of course it isn’t. It’s an old tale the uncles tell us – that Republicans are better for us than the Dems; the same way they say the BJP shakes your hand while Congress sticks the knife in. That bill of goods, as everyone knows, is over (though Trump would certainly make a terrific BJP candidate for Assam – ‘Bharat mata ki jai’ the new ‘Make America Great Again’).
With enough problems of its own, Islamabad’s response is guarded. ‘What you do in the campaign doesn’t mean that it becomes policy,’ says the PM’s special assistant on foreign affairs.
True, but if campaigns are anything to go by, this is the Free World falling apart.
Because Mr. Trump is no demagogue: he’s a bloated egoist who’s figured out the biggest spectacle of them all – America’s democratic experiment. And he’s grabbing the highest ratings in history.