The Tony Clifton Factor

Donald Trump is making a name for himself as the man the media loves to hate and the press loves him for it.

By Jim Knipfel

A long time ago now, a friend told me that when it came to elections, he always made a point of voting for the candidate who promised to be the most amusing in office. It seemed as logical an approach to the contemporary political process as anything else I’d heard.

Still, I was mortified but not terribly surprised the other day to hear my mom sing Donald Trump’s praises. I pointed out that over a very short period of time, he had effectively alienated not only the Muslim population, but Hispanics, Jews, blacks, and the disabled as well.

“Well,” she said. “When he starts coming after Norwegians, he’s gonna have trouble.”

She’s still sharp and funny at 80, and explained she likes him for his unapologetic bluntness. “He’s saying things a lot of people are thinking, but don’t dare say aloud.”

She’s right of course, as proven by all the gibberish spouted in the countless man on the street interviews following his Muslim ban announcement, and that’s what’s terrifying.

For a long time I assumed the Trump candidacy was simply an extended performance art piece inspired by Andy Kaufman, an attempt to be as crass and buffoonish and wrongheaded as possible in a public arena, just to see how many half-wits would support him. I’d still like to believe that—I’d actually be quite impressed if it was true—but the problem is it’s been working a little too well. Of course the media which claims to hate him (and which he claims to hate) are more than a little to blame, dismissing him as a sideshow act but never missing a chance to spotlight his latest wacky antics.

It’s always a mistake for the power base (media and seated politicians) to dismiss an outsider candidate or party as clownish or thuggish, to try and nudge them into the shadows. Nobody likes or trusts anything the power base has to say anyway, and there are an awful lot of clownish thugs lurking in the shadows of the Middle American suburbs, people who so often seem to think “rationality” is a liberal trick designed to rob them of their god and guns. Try to eliminate a candidate who seems to speak their language so clearly and directly, and they’ll only cling to that candidate that much more fiercely.

Case in point: Germany in the late 1920s. Yes, yes, yes, Hitler is a tired signifier, the standard comparison whipped out by knee-jerk liberals to discredit and demonize any candidate they don’t like, but I’m no liberal and in historical terms the comparison is apt. The German and Austrian aristocracy at the time dismissed the ragtag National Socialist party as an inconsequential gang of, yes, clowns and thugs, but the NSDAP was saying an awful lot of things an awful lot of Germans wanted to hear, and so there you go.

People also forget that in The Art of the Deal Trump freely admitted he was perfectly happy to say whatever seemed most expedient at the time, whether or not he believed it and whether or not it was true, if it meant he’d get whatever he was after. Which only makes it all the more interesting (and backs up my “performance art” theory) that he would base his own campaign platform almost plank for plank on the 25-point NSDAP platform announced by Hitler in Munich in 1920 (oh, go look it up your own damn self). All he’s done to it, really, is switch out “Germany” for “America” and “Jews” for (depending on the context) “Muslims,” “Syrians” or “Illegal Mexican Immigrants.” Believe you me, if along with the immigration ban he were to also announce Muslims living here now should not be allowed to hold public office, teach in the schools, or own private businesses, he’d have a lock on the nomination, and fifty years down the line confused historians will be asking “how could it have possibly happened?”

I guess there is some comfort, also in historical terms, in remembering the seemingly untouchable front runner a full year before the election in any presidential campaign will almost certainly be gone and forgotten long before Election Day. I don’t know what will eventually force Trump out of the race (I kind of hope he makes the mistake of going after Norwegians), but wouldn’t it be funny if, when making that final announcement, he said “I can’t believe all you morons actually CHEERED all that shit! You people are all just a bunch of fucking Nazis!”

Then again, they’d probably cheer that, too.

The only downside to that thought is looking at the rest of the field, Republican and Democrat alike, and realizing what kind of sad dregs you’ll be forced to choose between. I mean, none of those jackanapes are entertaining in the least! Makes me glad I don’t vote.

Published December 17th, 2015

Jim Knipfel is the author of Slackjaw, The Blow-Off, These Children Who Come at You With Knives, and several other books.