CLEVELAND, Ohio – Donald Trump, whose National Republican convention opened here yesterday, is basing his presidential campaign on the image of himself he has invented rather than on the policies and programs he has developed.
That’s why he is exactly who right wingers need. He’s trying to convince working people to vote against their own self-interest, and he’s playing it safe. He’s not talking too much about specific plans; he’s talking about himself.
It’s up to advocates for working people to be vigilant in exposing what Trump really stands for.
In keeping with the Trump strategy, aside from some tea partiers, a disproportionate number of the “speakers” at the convention here won’t be speaking about anything much at all. Among them will be Antonio Sabato, who models underpants for Calvin Klein, Scott Baio, a has-been TV sitcom star, Willie Robertson, a star of the Duck Dynasty TV show, Dana White, president of Ultimate Fighting Championship and Natalie Gulbis, a professional golfer.
Moreover, in addition to Donald himself, there will be four different Trumps speaking from time to time: Melania, who already gave a speech she plagiarized from Michelle Obama, Tiffany, Donald Jr. and Ivanka.
TV pundits are saying that the various Trumps are playing a leading role at the convention because Donald could not cajole prestigious conservatives to introduce him.
Maybe so, but from the right wing point of view, it’s better this way. Americans are on to “prestigious conservatives.” Talking about “trickle-down economics” doesn’t attract voters anymore.
The right wingers are counting on selling Trump’s image, not his ideas, and the convention here is proving to be just another image sales venue that will feed the ever-hungry corporate media machine and gain Trump more free air time for peddling his wares.
The more outrageous and the less policy-oriented the convention will be, the more media time it will earn.
Since the beginning of his campaign, through shenanigans such as picking fights over nothing with TV commentators and touting the size of his hands and other body parts, Trump has earned close to $2 billion worth of free media attention.
To the media, it’s all about selling advertising. The head of CBS, Les Moonves, told a recent investor conference that the Trump-dominated campaign “might not be good for America,” but it is damn good for CBS … the money’s rolling in and this is fun .. bring it on Donald. Keep going.”
Trump is not the first right wing candidate to pitch an image instead of a program.
It worked with Ronald Reagan. The GOP sold his all-American, aw-shucks cowboy-ness.
But Reagan was no cowboy. He was just an actor who played one in the movies and on TV.
And Trump is not the “decisive” businessman he played on his TV show The Apprentice.
For more than 14 years, Trump appeared in America’s living rooms almost weekly. He would be surrounded by “apprentices” trying their best to please him, but he would eliminate them one by one, mostly for arbitrary reasons, by saying simply, “You’re fired.”
Audiences loved it. “‘You’re fired’ triggered in viewers a sense of someone cutting through the nonsense of the modern work environment,” Hank Stuever, a cultural reporter, recently wrote in the Washington Post.
In real life, however, Trump is quite different. Based on extensive interviews with past and present Trump employees, Michael Kruse reported in Politico that “rather than magisterial and decisive, Trump the actual boss swings wildly between micromanaging meddler and can’t-be bothered …”.
What’s more, despite what Trump now says about himself, he is not a guy who “tells it like it is.”
“I play to people’s fantasies,” he wrote in the Art of the Deal, his 1987 best seller. “People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular.”
If Trump had stayed an entertainer, his playing to people’s fantasies might be tasteless, but it would be harmless. Trump’s doing this as a presidential candidate, however, has become quite dangerous because of the xenophobic, misogynistic, racist fantasies he has chosen to “play to.”
Through Trump the TV show star, viewers who felt powerless in their day to day lives experienced vicariously a feeling of control. Trump was able to say all the things they only wished they could say.
Trump has been able to use his skill as a performer to win the Republican Party presidential nomination. Other politicians call those who vote for or work for them “supporters.”
Trump calls them his “fans.”
Too many working people have become Trump fans, not because they necessarily believe in what he says, but because Trump has mastered the art of making them feel that somehow through following him they share in his “strength” and control.
In other words, Trump is the quintessential demagogue.
Worse still, he has gained the stature of being a demagogue not through actually doing anything to prove himself as an advocate for people, but by successfully marketing a false image of himself.
The labor movement here and around the country has been using the GOP convention as an occasion for puncturing that false image.
For example, in real life, far from empowering workers, Trump is a vicious employer who tries to keep his employees from having any say over their work lives. He is also a greedy businessman who has destroyed communities all the world to make big bucks by building luxury developments.
More important, labor leaders are bringing to light what Trump really stands for: a tax program that would further enrich the rich and steal from the 99 percent, immigration policies that could very well isolate the U.S. from the rest of the world, and repeal of laws that give American workers certain rights.
Photo: Trump introducing his wife at the convention last night, just before she gave a speech that she plagiarized from Michelle Obama. | Charles Rex Arbogast/AP