Donald Trump is notoriously afraid of germs and does not like to shake hands. He is also a man who likes to make brazen comments concerning the valor of Senator John McCain, likes to refer to Mexicans as being rapists, or women as bleeding bodies. And yet, he is the leading candidate in the polls as the Republican nominee in the presidential race. According to the Huffington Post, which tracks in real-time 198 polls from 31 pollsters, Donald Trump is the leading candidate in all polls combined since July. What does this tell us about our democracy?
Europeans are often astounded that in the United States, actors, peanut farmers, and reality-show stars can be taken seriously and even arrive to situations of power as is the case of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jimmy Carter or Ronald Reagan. Americans can counter with pride that the democracy in the US is so transparent and direct that any citizen can aspire to occupy the most important position in their government. This is in contrast with France where almost all politicians on any point of the political spectrum are spewed out by a single factory, the École Nationale d’Administration, which makes people extremely well prepared for government, but with a monolithic and rigid approach.
Is it true that our democracy tells us that any home-born citizen in the United States can be president of our nation? Unfortunately, the answer is almost certainly no: one must be in possession of an astonishing large amount of money to be a candidate. According to Forbes, of the 20 candidates currently running for president in the Democratic and Republican primaries, half have a net worth of seven million dollars.
Trump has the money. In a nation where many people think that money makes right, it makes sense that this man has appeal. The guy must be doing something right. Trump is an accomplished businessman who gets things done. He lives lavishly, he talks with chutzpah, has no need of a teleprompter, and (apparently) says what a lot of what people think but dare not utter. According to the BBC, he is the symbol of success.
Christie D’Zurilla from the Los Angeles Times declares that Donald Trump gives people permission to say “Maybe it’s okay to like money.” He is more than just an entertaining celebrity shooting from the hip who has gone from beauty pageant director to host of “The Apprentice.” He is a real-estate magnate.
Never mind that he might be a wheeling-dealing, politico-oiling, real-estate developer who is accused of cutting off people’s utilities in order to evict them, or of building golf-courses on the protected great dunes of Scotland against the opposition of ecologist organizations. The daily El País refers to him as “a ball of noise and fury.”
There is reason to fear that money blended with two cups of what people want to hear makes for a hefty cake of populism. But could it be that Trump is actually saying it like it is?
Forbes calculates Trump’s net worth to be at 4.5 billion dollars, but this year Trump told the BBC that he was worth 6 billion and a few months later he told The Economist he was worth 10 billion. The Trump Tower in NYC, his glitzy emblem for which he employed 200 undocumented Polish immigrants as construction workers, boasts 90 floors on its elevator panels but in reality has only 72. According to The Economist, Trump’s tax plan (one of the few topics the candidate has decided to be specific about), developed by “top economists” who have all (wisely) remained anonymous, is “a fantasy.”
According to the French newspaper, Le Figaro, many Americans see Trump as a straight-talking outsider who will strut into Washington and make the representatives see the errors of their ways, and a strong man who seeks national interest beyond party lines; but the newspaper concludes that he is an authoritarian narcissist with an empty yet effective media offense.
For most of his ventures, Trump quotes figures that can be found nowhere, not even by his press team, but this may all be part of his maxim: Life is a show. Can the United States be run like showbiz? Perhaps the most important question here is what does Trump tell us about ourselves as a nation. I hope the answer is not found in the September issue of US News & World Report, which states that Trump’s support comes largely from voters who are unengaged and uninformed.
In any case, one would hope that US politics is not just show business, and that it is much more than a money-making machine. Our country plays a central role in the development of world peace, ecology, and human rights. The negotiations all of these require are no easy task. In order to carry them out, we need a leader who is willing to listen and to compromise, and this, I’m afraid, implies that our future president needs to reach out and shake many, many hands.