National Column: Campaign of fear and loathing just might work for Trump

by Thomas Walkom

Donald Trump’s campaign for the U.S. presidency is based on fear. It uses outrageous hyperbole. It might also work.

Day one of the Republican Convention in Cleveland shows why. Much of the press attention focused on what went wrong as Republican delegates kicked off the four-day convention to formally crown Trump their presidential nominee.

Indeed, many things did go wrong. There was a messy, albeit short-lived, floor fight over the rules. With the exception of former presidential contender Bob Dole, the grandees of the Republican Party – people like George W. Bush or John McCain – were visibly absent.

Trump’s wife, Melania, delivered a speech that in places appeared to have been cribbed from one that Michelle Obama, the current first lady, gave in 2008.

Other speakers praising Trump for his grasp of national security issues included some, such as soap opera star and former underwear model Antonio Sabato Jr., who had no obvious expertise in the field.

So it was easy to laugh.

But I suspect that many Americans watching Monday’s televised proceedings were not laughing. I suspect that many were nodding in agreement as speaker after speaker described the U.S. as a country on the edge of chaos, in a hostile world where no one can feel safe.

Americans are inured to most gun violence. But the recent attacks on police in Baton Rouge and Dallas have raised the stakes to disturbing new levels.

When Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, an African-American – and a Democrat – declared from the podium Monday that “blue lives matter,” he struck a chord.

Those who follow the ins and outs of U.S. politics will know that Clarke is a vocal and controversial critic of the Black Lives Matter movement, which sprang up in the aftermath of police shootings of African-Americans.

But all that those casually tuning in Monday saw was a black police officer calling on all Americans, including black Americans, to obey the law.

And what’s so bad about a presidential candidate who supports that?

Similarly, other non-celebrity speakers chosen by the Trump team provided compelling television.

Mary Mendoza told the story of how her son, himself half-Hispanic, had been killed in a motor vehicle accident by an undocumented alien from Mexico.

African-American Jamiel Shaw told a similar story, although in this case, his son was murdered by a Mexican illegally in the U.S.

In a rational world, these two anecdotes wouldn’t be enough to justify Trump’s demand for a wall along America’s southern border. But in a fearful world, they can carry great weight.

Besides, there is more than a little truth behind at least one of Trump’s critiques: The war on terror has not worked.

It did not work when it was being prosecuted by George W. Bush. In its latest iteration, the war against Daesh militants, it is not working under Barack Obama.

Fifteen years after the U.S. and its allies invaded Afghanistan in reprisal for 9/11, the Taliban there remains undefeated.

Five years after the U.S. and its allies deposed Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, that country remains in chaos.

In Iraq and Syria, victories on the ground against Daesh have succeeded only in moving the battleground abroad – to Paris, Brussels, Orlando, Nice and most recently Wurzburg, Germany, where an Afghan teenager armed with an axe wounded five people.

This is not to suggest a President Trump would do any better against the militants. In a major foreign policy speech this April, he declined to say how he would deal with Daesh, saying he didn’t want to tip his hand.

But he also said, correctly, that military action alone wouldn’t be sufficient.

All of which is to say that Trump’s campaign has legs. He is betting that dissident Republicans will hold their noses and vote for him just to deny Hillary Clinton the presidency. He is betting that enough other Americans are fearful enough that they will cast their ballot for a self-declared strongman. On both counts, he may be right.

Thomas Walkom’s column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Copyright 2016 – Torstar Syndication Services

Print Friendly, PDF & Email