12 August 2016

Donald Trump’s campaign of resentment is finally coming unstuck


Walking through Washington D.C., it is difficult not to be stirred by America’s capital. Magisterial monuments with the great speeches inscribed on their walls, museums and government buildings fronted by commanding classical columns, and star-spangled banners flying proud at every turn. The image of a White House etched into the dreams of millions of young people. Rich with history, the city centre is both imposing and solemn.

That was before I came across the eyesore of downtown D.C. on Pennsylvania Avenue: the Old Post Office building, which is soon to become a five-star Trump hotel. Resembling a Romanesque palace, the building wouldn’t look out of place in a Disney movie. Not only does it tower above its neighbours but, quite amazingly, it looks like the luxury hotel is giving onlookers the middle finger.

The new Donald Trump hotel epitomises his candidacy: putting his middle finger up at the Washington establishment, both Republicans and Democrats. A finger which, he is at pains to stress, is “long and beautiful… as are various other parts of my anatomy”.

While all presidential candidates possess an element of narcissism, Trump takes this to a new level, much like his overly-extravagant hotels. This was made clear in his speech at the Cleveland convention, in which he talked about restoring law and order. As opposed to having trust in God or the American people to make things better, Trump simply stated: “I alone can fix it”.

There are similar examples of this self-obsession from the candidate’s past. At his father Fred’s funeral in 1999, Trump gave a speech which characteristically turned attention onto himself, suggesting that his father’s greatest achievement was supporting such a renowned and successful son.

Like any form of narcissism, Trump’s evolves from insecurity. From Queens, an outer borough of New York, he began his business in Manhattan as an outsider. No matter how successful he was in the real estate market, Trump never felt respected or part of the inner circle. That anger is easy to see in the bully he has become. According to MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, a vocal critic who for a long while was the candidate’s friend, “he uses that resentment, unlike others, as a fuel.”

We see that same resentment and insecurity in his struggle to build a relationship with the Republican establishment. Originally thrusting their weight behind Jeb Bush, the Republican Party struggled to support and endorse Trump when his success in the primaries became clear. He was well aware, accusing the party of rigging the selection process: “it’s 100% crooked”.

When he became the nominee, the usual members of the GOP inner circle such as Mitt Romney and the Bush family refused to back him, or even turn up to the convention. Like any insecure person, he craves respect, and he punches back when it’s not given. Upon criticism from the 2012 Republican candidate, he remarked “poor Mitt Romney, I have a store that’s worth more money than he is”. After House Speaker Paul Ryan took his time to endorse Trump, the businessman returned the favour by initially refusing to endorse Ryan in his Wisconsin GOP primary, echoing the representative’s language: “I’m just not quite there yet.”

What was once Trump’s motivational fuel for business has now become a very potent fuel in politics: resentment towards the establishment. His offensive attacks on political correctness and complete disregard for the way politics is usually conducted have struck a powerful chord in the country. Trump’s unencumbered nationalism, racism and sexism has encouraged others to embrace their anger towards the way things are in their lives and direct it at several scapegoats. Like his exclusion from the Manhattan polite society, they feel excluded from the successful elite which runs the country. They want to put their middle finger up at Washington D.C. too.

The GOP candidate’s policies and rhetoric were deeply offensive from the start, but his insecure need to strike back results in the most unforgivable statements. In the past few weeks, Trump has reached new lows with his slurs. Perhaps most appalling was his dispute with Khizr Khan, the father of a deceased Muslim U.S. soldier who gave an impassioned speech at the DNC, criticising Trump and brandishing a copy of the constitution. In a very public feud, Trump said he’d been “viciously attacked” by the Khans, and mocked Khizr’s wife Ghazala, suggesting that he may not have allowed her to speak.

Just when we thought he’d reached rock bottom, we heard his remark in a speech this week about Hillary Clinton and Supreme Court judges. Jaws dropped as Trump suggested that supporters could stop his rival by exercising the second amendment: their right to bear arms. It is no surprise that many Republicans, including 50 of their national security experts, just can’t stomach it any more. There have even been reports that campaign manager Paul Manafort has been close to walking. Trump has hijacked the party and dragged its name through the dirt.

He loves playing the villainous rogue because it makes everyone talk about him, and his demolition of respectable political discourse has eroded the 2016 race into a slug match. Instead of joining the ranks of the GOP club – who will never truly see him as one of them – this movement is Trump’s very own. As he has amply showed during his business career, he is loyal to nothing but his own success.

Meanwhile, the Trump International Hotel in Washington will be opening in September, “dramatically ahead of schedule” it is boasted. They are also soon to announce packages for January’s Presidential Inauguration. That would be quite the dream for Donald: VIPs staying at his own hotel before attending his moment of crowning glory.

However, with Republicans jumping ship and his poll numbers taking a dive, it seems the Trump campaign is finally coming unstuck. While we should never rule anything out, his list of enemies has become unmanageably large. Trump’s anger has fuelled flames which have roared to great success in the Republican primaries, but that fire has hurt too many people along the way. Resentment can only get you so far.

Jack Graham is a political commentator who specialises in American politics.