Boom! A bomb goes off. Hundreds of people are scattered, thousands are affected, and some are dead. Firefighters and the police run to the scene, and the media jump on the story. At the epicenter, there is disaster and uproar; a place that was once familiar is now unrecognizable. Investigators come to analyze the situation, and people in the outer limits are dazed, trying to make sense of something that seems senseless. People around the world, stop, look and listen to the repeated scenes and testimony on TV. Engrossed now, we ask ourselves: What happened? Where did it go off? Who was affected? Who was involved? How many casualties were there? Why did it happen? Who is to blame, and how can we ensure this never ever happens again?
This is a result of a single bomb, but in politics, you don’t need a literal explosion to feel the effects of one. Bombs are not an impulse occurrence, but well-thought out, timed and crafted. They aren’t random either, but a build up of animosity, frustration and broken promises over time. No matter the rules and regulations in place – if not examined and learned from – they will occur again. But, it is also not to say that bombs are always a bad thing, it depends whom and what is being blown up; if it is the enemy’s camp, it might be good, but if it were innocent lives, it would be horrific. In a political sense, words and following actions can have the same effect as a bomb, and sometimes even more. Sticks and stones can break our bones, but words leave a lasting impression. Depending on the context, tone and timing, spoken words can have severe consequences. They have the ability to engage, enrage or empower billions of people.
On June 16th, 2015, such a bomb was being planted. Donald J. Trump rode down the escalator with his wife Melania and announced his candidacy for President of the United States. Mainly known as a TV personality and a real estate mogul, his serious entry into politics was treated by many as entertainment, a publicity ploy, or a joke.
So, to become politically known and relevant, it was either the traditional way of learning the policies, taking positions and spending millions of dollars to have a shot, or the strategic way of shock and awe for instant notification. Understanding the role of media in politics and that controversy and drama fuel their fire (i.e. ratings), he knew that mainstream media wouldn’t take him seriously, so he pursued the latter strategy.
During his announcement, he addressed: corruption, terrorism, his GOP rivals, The Affordable Care Act (Universal Healthcare), China, our economy and Iran. However, the issue that received the most traction was his immigration stance. Planned or not, and with much foresight or not, he said, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
Although a businessmen and not a “politician”, regardless of his style or context, his words were explosive, especially in the Hispanic community. Like a bomber, unknown and determined, Donald Trump blew up in the media and social media, and in a matter of hours, all newspapers, networks, and even some international outlets jumped to cover him. He sucked all the air out of the political arena and became the epicenter of the nation. No exotic clubs nor casinos he built could compare to the single rhetoric that some would say brought him down or, now in hindsight elevated him up. Politicians go through such great lengths to craft their words and style, but he, in his elaborate ways, spoke with such vigor as if there would be no consequences at all. Throughout the Republican Primaries, he doubled down on his words and rose up in the polls, at least with a certain demographic. Taking on 16 challengers ranging from career politicians to a renowned surgeon, one by one he took them down.
But to constantly remain relevant and dominant in the game – primaries, caucuses and in the media – he stuck with this strategy of shock and awe. He threw more grenades in various camps, saying:
- “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,”
- “A total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States” is needed to counter terrorism in the US.
- Obama is “the founder of ISIS” – a group that killed thousands of people – and that “the co-founder would be crooked Hillary Clinton.”
Being just a few of the things Trump has said, he made sure that he was on every trend measure and talking point for months to come. Usually when a politician says something politically incorrect, they are scrutinized and grilled in the media for it, but Trump, ironically, did the opposite. When he would fade in the polls, he would pull the trigger on another issue. He ensured that after one bomb went off, in due time, before the smoke would clear, he would let another one go.
When an explosion occurs, people sadly don’t look at the policies and details, but rather, focus on the intense drama and external realities; the media also feed off of that. It takes great time for pundits and people to dig into the details of the who’s, what’s, when’s, where’s and why’s, but if another bomb goes off during that same time, the attention is diverted and redirected. Trump, coming from the Reality TV world, understood this very well and utilized this strategy throughout the presidential process.
One of the most powerful and sometimes dangerous qualities in a person is fearlessness; those who are aware of the consequences of their words and actions, but are unshaken by them. Politicians these days are afraid of taking chances, and are so calculative that they seem unauthentic; but “fearlessness” is the one quality that has given many Trump supporters the validity and solidarity they sought for in the beginning; He has given them power and credibility through strength.
However, fearlessness itself doesn’t make a prudent leader, it is also humility, open-mindedness, deep-rooted principles and ethics. In a time where our political system seems corrupt, and officials on both sides are easily swayed by special interest groups and lobbyists, this time has called for a leader.
Politics today has become a game of two sides: the right vs. the left, Democrats vs. Republicans, and even, some say, “true” “conservatives vs “true” liberals or progressives. Like a pendulum moving back and forth, every cycle is just a switch from one side to another. It’s not just the social issues that affect us, but the financial implications within each issue too (taxes, bonds, etc..). Politicians come and go with term limits, but the issues that affect us still remain. Our immigration problem has been in the mainstream media for decades and the same goes for Social Security, entitlements and education. Politicians are so afraid of losing votes with different groups that they measure the political winds to craft their words; some don’t even take a stance so they can avoid confrontation. In each election cycle, promises are made but not kept, and the result is a build up of people’s frustration and growing distrust. Like the housing bubble that exploded due to a growing problem, Trump is the result of this political bubble that has also exploded.
But, it is not to say that he hasn’t taken any measures; he too has been testing the media and market (Middle America) since the 1980’s. In 1987, he considered running for President, and in 2000, he actually ran as a Reform Party candidate, receiving more than 15,000 votes. Then again, in 2003 and in 2011, he entertained the idea of running for President. Like a bomber who plans, coordinates and waits for the appropriate moment, he has been patiently waiting to strike. With a bang, he started off with his “Mexican” comment and has continuously been throwing bombs in different camps and also shedding light on important issues.
Many bombs have gone off this 2016 election cycle, but each and every one of them have had severe repercussions. His takedown of all 16 Republican Presidential candidates has shown us how the game of politics has changed. However, it is his brilliant understanding of how people’s sum of frustrations on the issues is more important than the individual frustration on each issue that made him rise.
He has blown up our political system and exposed the harsh truths about our process, political people and policies, such as: The Electoral College system, border security, campaign finance, political corruption, and the power of the media. By throwing so many bombs, and some close to himself, he too has been self-inflicted. It has taken a toll on his image and ratings – his unfavorables are the highest of any Presidential Candidate to win in modern history at 38%. – and even comments like racist, a bigot, and a power-hungry person have come out of it.
With these numbers, and even a Women’s March that had as many as 4.6 million Americans world-wide attend, can “a house divided against itself stand”? Can he unite the nation? Or is this premise incorrect? If effectiveness is the mission of now President Trump on a variety of issues (through Executive Orders), does he need to unite the country for the success of it? Former President Barack Obama left office with a very high 57.2% approval rating, but still with a hugely divided nation.
No matter your view on Candidate Trump – a then private citizen who was able to say and do what he felt to win – he is now our 45th President of the United States, a public citizen that is held to the rules and regulations of a three-branch Democracy. May it be “draining the swamp” or blowing up the system, or even “Making America Great” again, only time will tell how his reign will be.
Regardless, though, the way we know and see politics has changed. Our changing demography is shaping a new democracy. The built up frustrations and animosity towards the system and stakeholders have shown through Donald Trump and even Bernie Sanders. This political explosion is just a result of another changing time, but from what and to what is unclear. Democracy is messy, but it is still the best form of government humanity has here. Regardless of the people in office now or in the future, it is important not to just keep our focus on the ever-changing politicians or parties, but the policies that effect the people, and most importantly, the deep-rooted principles within those policies. With time, we will see many new faces – some will be provocative and bombastic, while others will be traditional – but each will expose a truth about something important. If we do not listen and learn from these situations, we will find ourselves frustrated and rushing toward another explosion again.
*This op-ed article was a special post outlining the 2016 Presidential Election by Vijay Vaswani. All quotes and facts have been cited and hyperlinked.