Bryan Gould: 'Trumpery' covers this extremist perfectly

Donald Trump appears to encompass the word "trumpery" completely, says Bryan Gould.
Donald Trump appears to encompass the word "trumpery" completely, says Bryan Gould.

The US matters to us. If we must have a global super-power, we'd rather it was the US than anyone else. That is why, observing from the sidelines, we have a growing sense of incredulity and consternation as the battle for what is often touted as the leadership of the free world unfolds.

We are of course accustomed to the excesses that, in our terms, often characterise American public life. But even then, it is hard to comprehend that a figure as bizarre and extreme as Donald Trump could be taken seriously by American voters.

It is at least of some comfort to know that there are many Americans who share that distress. Nicholas Kristof, writing this week in the New York Times, reports that he invited his followers on Twitter for words beginning with "p" to describe Trump and was rewarded with a deluge, ranging from "petulant" to "pompous" and on to "pernicious".

It is not as though there is anything special about "p". Choose any letter you like.

"B"? What about "bombastic", "blustering", and "bigoted"?

The odd thing is, however, that we do not need to scour the dictionary for a word that accurately captures the essence of Trump. There is a perfectly good English word, with a respectable provenance, that pithily says it all and is just waiting for its moment in the sun. That word is "trumpery" - and it could, I suppose, be spelt with a capital T if one wished.

The dictionary definition tells us that "trumpery" means "foolish talk or actions", with a secondary meaning as "useless or worthless". How extraordinary that here is a word that has existed for centuries and has innocently waited all this time, unsung and unheralded, for a Donald Trump to come along and embody its meaning as though it was his sole purpose in life.

There must, surely, be a small possibility that Trump has been aware of the word from an early age and perhaps developed an irrational fixation and affinity for it. That would explain why his name is now Trump - so that even his name is "trumped up" - and it may even suggest that he has deliberately tailored all his actions and speeches since then so as to fit the word that so appeals to him.

These are possible explanations for Trump's extraordinary behaviour during the primary campaigns. But none of them goes all the way to explain how the foolishness of "trumpery" has become something darker and more worrying.

Trump is, after all, the classic demagogue. He has learnt how to amplify and exploit the prejudices of his supporters. He recognises no responsibility to take on the true tasks of leadership, to explain and educate; indeed, he glorifies ignorance, trumpeting that "I love the poorly educated".

He offers no solutions to difficult issues other than the bombastic and egocentric assurance that he is himself the solution. He has learnt that, in the age of celebrity, the greatest risk is to stay out of the headlines. He cares little for the damage he may do to social integrity and the interests of women, or those of different ethnicities and religions, still less to America's standing in the world; that is just another sacrifice required of the American people in order to secure the greater good - the election of Donald J. Trump.

He knows that there is little or no downside in being outrageous, as long as the television cameras are there to record it - and no one does "outrageous" better.

So confident is he in his ability to capture the headlines, any headline, that he does not bother even to try to conceal what he is really about. "If I were to pull out a gun and shoot someone," he boasts, "people would still vote for me." It is that combination of apparent frankness and readiness to shock on the one hand and calculation and cunning on the other that makes him so dangerous.

"Trumpery", sadly, is only the half of it.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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