As a kid growing up playing computer games on a PC, there was always the temptation to employ ‘God mode’. God mode was a combination of key strokes that would make the player invincible to enemy attack. You could walk into Rocket Propelled Grenade fire or stroll the halls of Castle Wolfenstein with impunity.
As the US Presidential Election campaign rolls to a close, commentators are still grappling with how Donald Trump remains in the race despite a catalogue of comments that would be terminal if uttered by any other politician. For those of us who find much of what Trump has to say abhorrent, the campaign has been characterised by a sinking feeling that a large chunk of the US voting population agrees with him.
But if we look closely at the bedrock on which his campaign has been built, it’s apparent that anti-establishment and conspiratorial themes have given Trump a ready defence to just about anything. More importantly, they have given those who want to support someone (anyone?) they see as outside the establishment, a reason to believe that criticism of Trump is nothing more than that very establishment fighting to preserve the status quo.
There are so many examples of where Trump has pivoted to ‘God mode’ to extricate himself from the seemingly inextricable that it’s difficult to know where to begin. Nonetheless, here are three examples that give insight into the depths of distrust the public has for the establishment, and how Trump has used that distrust as a shield.
John McCain, war hero
At the Family Leadership Summit in Ames, Iowa, the moderator referred to Senator John McCain as a war hero, to which Trump replied: “He’s not a war hero…. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren’t captured.”
McCain was a navy pilot shot down over Hanoi in 1967 and taken prisoner of war. He was held captive for five years and tortured. To survive an ordeal like that and return to civilian life with a desire to serve in public office has always been a storied part of American history.
Trump’s attack on McCain was astonishing and, many assumed, campaign-ending. And whilst those disinclined to vote for Trump felt vindicated in their choice, those rallying behind him were unswayed.
The simple reason is that John McCain – war hero or not – is a Senator and former Republican candidate for President who was elected in 1983 and has spent the intervening years as part of the establishment that Trump supporters detest above all else.
The Google lie
The second example is more recent and I think the most indicative in terms of plumbing the depths of Trump supporters’ paranoia. After the much-anticipated first presidential debate, the clear majority of polls gave the win to Clinton. Trump disputed their accuracy and at a rally in Wisconsin he made the following accusations: “A new post-debate poll, the Google poll, has us leading Hillary Clinton by two points nationwide,” he said, “and that’s despite the fact that the Google search engine was suppressing the bad news about Hillary Clinton. How about that?”
In any regular presidential election race a suggestion that Google was manipulating search results to favor a candidate would be tremendously damaging to the accuser’s campaign. However, if Trump’s self-labeled ‘movement’ has taught us anything it’s that the term ‘establishment’ is so broad that it encompasses not just politicians and parties, but also mainstream media and multi-national corporations. When you throw into the mix the ubiquitous questions about Clinton’s private email server, it makes for a mouth-watering conspiracy.
The third and final example comes from a rally in Birmingham, Alabama on November 21, 2015 where Trump claimed that Muslims in New Jersey celebrated as the World Trade Centers fell.
“I watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down. Thousands of people were cheering.”
There is not a skerrick of evidence to support this claim by Trump, but given that his supporter base blames immigration for many of the country’s ills, it’s not hard to see how they can swallow this one too.
THERE are those who would take a harder line about why Trump has maintained the level of support he has. They would say that a big proportion of the voting population agrees with Trump’s sentiments on women, abortion, immigration and foreign trade. I concede this could be true. But that argument does not explain how he was able to label an American war hero a “loser” because he was taken prisoner, and still win the Republican candidacy.
The underlying truth is that disenchantment amongst mainly white middle-aged men toward a system that has seen their job prospects diminish and traditional industries decline has reached such levels that they are convinced it’s all part of one big conspiracy.
So, although the Trump equivalent of ‘god mode’ is almost as effective as it was on a 90s PC, it’s not as simple to activate. In fact, it has been built from the very beginning of his candidacy by laying a Hansel and Gretel style trail of conspiratorial crumbs for his supporters to follow.
He has raised questions about the legitimacy of the media, the Supreme Court and Congress, not to mention the birth right of Obama to be President. And, in many instances, the actions of Clinton have played right into Trump’s hands; running her emails through a private server whilst Secretary of State screams ‘cover-up’, and leaked transcripts of Hilary giving fundraising speeches to banks where she suggests both a public and private position on Wall Street is necessary confirms for many that behind the veil there is an elite club that makes far-reaching decisions free of scrutiny or accountability.
The only hanging chad here is this: just how does Donald J Trump, high profile realtor, reality TV star and businessman manage to convince his supporters that he is somehow not part of that club?
If there is method in Trump’s madness then it is here, for his answer is gob-smackingly simple: “I will tell you that our system is broken.” “I gave to many people before this – before two months ago I was a businessman. I give to everybody. When they call, I give. And you know what, when I need something from them two years later, three years later, I call them. They are there for me. That’s a broken system.”
And the obvious imputation is that this makes Trump the only person who can fix it.
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