John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan: The Donald's just taking the mickey

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The Left and Right are agreed that Trump would demean the world's most prestigious political office.
Trump is not only beating all rivals for the Republican nomination, he is laughing at conventional political commentary. Photo / AP
Trump is not only beating all rivals for the Republican nomination, he is laughing at conventional political commentary. Photo / AP

Over the past two weeks Donald Trump has come through the toughest political test Americans have probably seen. His party's previous presidential nominees publicly repudiated him. His nearest rivals for this year's nomination teamed up to tear him apart in a televised debate. Political commentary went beyond describing him as unqualified or unsuited for office to imply dangers much darker.

Commentaries have extracted implications of racism, misogyny, even fascism, from some of his careless dumb remarks and responses to questions.

None of it has made the slightest difference. Trump won two more primaries this week and looks set to vanquish his most electable rival, Marco Rubio, in Florida on Tuesday.

Trump is not only beating all rivals for the Republican nomination, he is laughing at conventional political commentary. So are the legions of ordinary Americans who are voting for him. They read the commentaries and don't believe them.

They know, as does Trump, that respectable political analysts cannot bring themselves to explain the real reason they find him unsuitable. Their real reason is not political but cultural.

Trump is the Ugly American. He is gross, boastful, obnoxious, wilfully ignorant and rich enough not to care. He also looks bad. He may not be able to help his bloated features, narrow eyes and small mouth but he could do something about the hair.

Political commentary likes to pretend appearances don't matter but it is a long time since Americans elected a President without hair. Trump is at the other end of the spectrum. It clearly mattered to Mitt Romney last week that, "all we get (from Trump) is a lousy hat".

Elections express more than a nation's preference for a person, a party and a set of policies to govern it. Elections express the kind of people they are. Many Americans are mortally embarrassed to think their country might give the presidency to Donald Trump, many others appear to like the idea. It is not political for either side, its cultural.

Political commentary likes to pretend appearances don't matter but it is a long time since Americans elected a President without hair.

And it extends beyond America. All around the world people who care for politics do not want to see Trump in the White House. The Left and Right are agreed for once, that he would demean the world's most prestigious political office.

The Left and the non-religious Right would also be dismayed if Ted Cruz, his likely last remaining rival after Florida, was to win the nomination. Cruz is a serious Christian conservative but he is in the political culture. He might look like a snake oil salesman and talk like a southern preacher but he wouldn't demean the office. He'd be presidential.

Commentary that discusses Trump in purely political terms has offered two explanations for his success. One, that his supporters are being duped by a master illusionist and the other, that he has tapped into a seething discontent with America's politics, economy and its power in the world. Trump's rhetoric supports both views but neither explanation gets to the nub of it.

The first is insulting the intelligence of Trump supporters. Without doubt he is drawing to the primaries many Americans who don't normally take enough interest to vote in these preliminary contests, and don't take more than a passing interest in politics at the best of times. But they are not fools. They like his style. And it is funny. Even many who don't admire it find it endlessly entertaining.

When he vows to "build a wall" on the Mexican border his audiences whoop and cheer, and when he adds, "and Mexico will pay for it", they whoop even more. But I bet they don't really believe it. If they took it seriously they would want to know more about it, like why would Mexico pay for it. But they don't ask. They know it is a fantasy, and they know he knows it is. Americans are glad that two vast oceans separate them from most of the troubles of the world and they wish the moat extended all the way around. They know it is not going to happen but they like the illusion.

As for the second explanation, if they were really seething with rebellion over America's politics, economy and power in the world, they have, or had, more serious candidates than Trump, and when it comes to building up the military, crushing Isis, reneging on the Iran nuclear deal, threatening China, opposing trade deals and securing the borders, Rubio and Cruz concede nothing to Trump.

It is mostly just election talk and every observer, including Trump supporters, know it will have to be moderated for the general election and reconciled with common sense in office. So why is it so appalling? Because he is. And if Americans elect him it will demean them.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald. A graduate of Canterbury University with a degree in history and a diploma in journalism, he started his career on the Auckland Star, travelled and worked on newspapers in Japan and Britain before returning to New Zealand where he joined the Herald in 1981. He was posted to the Parliamentary Press Gallery in 1983, took a keen interest in the economic reform programme and has been a full time commentator for the Herald since 1986. He became the paper's senior editorial writer in 1988 and has been writing a weekly column under his own name since 1996. His interests range from the economy, public policy and politics to the more serious issues of life.

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