Trump turmoil will only grow as election counts down

Mike RobinsonAmerican presidential campaigns go on too long. One hundred more days of Donald Trump tweeting, riffing and insulting is not a relaxing concept for mid-summer contemplation. Every day, his combative stance seems to up the aggro-index in as yet uncontemplated ways.

Last week, it was his response to Khizr and Ghazala Khan, and their spirited defence of a U.S. Army son killed in Iraq 12 years ago. Trump just can’t let go of any perceived slight, no matter who issues it, based on fact, fiction or whimsy. He’s a 70-year-old pit bull, loose on the streets with no leash and always hungry for a fight.

Up to a point this behaviour is understandable – this is, after all, politics. But over the last week, it seems to be jumping the firebreaks, raging out of control. U.S. President Barack Obama has just spoken at a press conference asking the elders of the Republican Party why they don’t rescind their support of their nominee in the face of growing evidence that he is unfit to occupy the Oval Office. When has a sitting president ever said this to the national media? Certainly never that I can recall.

Can this behaviour be planned or staged? It obviously plays well to the old male white/blue-collar rump, the core Trump constituency. But do they require daily reinforcement of their prejudices? Just how fragile are the egos of those who learned white male American exceptionalism in their 1950s and 1960s school years? One could argue they are about as fragile as Trump’s. His ego is tied to the premise that his business acumen is unchallengeable. Any threat to his primacy provokes an emotional meltdown.

The core Trump supporters are old enough to have lost the Vietnam War, to have lost their manufacturing jobs to Asia and the North American Free Trade Agreement, to have lost life savings to the 2008 Wall Street meltdown, and to have struggled to master a new economy. But they have also seen in the Obama era an economy featuring 95 per cent employment, a drastic decline in American foreign war casualties and improved access to health care. If they bothered to check the facts.

Perhaps more to the point are the broader social and cultural changes in American society. America no longer looks like the Trump family. It is diverse in all possible ways, and increasingly economic power is exhibiting that diversity. Meanwhile, American exceptionalism is strongly challenged by Chinese, Korean, Singaporean and Canadian exceptionalism. If you are looking for a comparatively strong economy, free health care, strong banks, clean air , multicultural tolerance, a middle-power Pearsonian foreign policy, and a distinguished national education system, where would you rather go today?

The prospect of a Trump presidency has created yet another market for Toronto and Vancouver real estate. It has also dimmed prospects for the Trump brand in Canada, and probably China as well.

The world that confronts Trumpism is not one of his making or his getting. It is the smart new world that he and his rump don’t know from direct experience. It speaks more languages than English; it gets the value of formal education; it values fact-based, scientific argument; it is not wrapped up in nationalistic identities; in many ways it is borderless and meritocratic. Increasingly, it is millennial.

So where does this all go in the final three months before the election? It gets more strident, more emotional and potentially more violent. Trump is schooled in the New York City aggressive behaviour of construction bosses, vindictive lawyers, and unscrupulous developers who vie for primacy in a game solely based on money and power.

Trump’s rump likes his verbal aggression. In the presence of large numbers at his rallies, they occasionally veer into disgusting bullying. I can see more of this coming – and maybe worse.

Trump daily ups the ante: he alleges that the presidential election “may be rigged – I’ve heard too many rumours.” This is the behaviour of a New York trust fund kid who has mastered theatrical street smarts. The problem is he doesn’t know when to stop. His ego knows no limits.

This isn’t presidential behaviour. At best, it is compulsive. At worst, pathological.

Mike Robinson has been CEO of three Canadian NGOs: the Arctic Institute of North America, the Glenbow Museum and the Bill Reid Gallery. Mike has chaired the national boards of Friends of the Earth, the David Suzuki Foundation, and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. In 2004, he became a Member of the Order of Canada.

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By Mike Robinson

Mike Robinson’s career combined his academic training in Law and Anthropology at UBC and Oxford University, in frontier regulatory compliance work at Petro-Canada and PolarGas, and the leadership of three national NGOs: The Arctic Institute of North America, The Glenbow Alberta Institute, and The Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art. In addition, he has chaired the national boards of Friends of the Earth, The David Suzuki Foundation, and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. In 2004 he became a Member of the Order of Canada.

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