The race to become the next President of the United States is a unique spectacle, one that draws the attention of people across the world. The 2016 contest, which began formally in Iowa, is shaping up to be one of the most gripping yet. It’s Clinton vs. Sanders for the Democrats and Trump vs. well, the Republican Party and most of the press.
Donald Trump, potential Commander in Chief and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, is a man the world loves to hate. So much so that the good people of the United Kingdom petitioned for a debate calling on the UK Government to bar the presidential hopeful from entering the U.K altogether (even though the debate was relegated to a side chamber and nobody with any real authority showed up).
At this stage, there’s little to say about Trump’s particularly nasty brand of clowning that hasn’t already been said; we know that he’s a horrible bigot, that he’s a misogynist, that he considers a loan of one million dollars “small” and that his foreign policy (insofar as it exists) would surely spell doom for the rest of the world. But I’m not interested in what Donald Trump has to say, or even whether or not he can win both the nomination and the presidency, but rather in what Trump’s candidacy represents.
Though poll after poll seems to support the theory that Trump will win the nomination, public and political opinion seems divided on the matter. It seems likely that ‘The Donald’ won’t be receiving the nod from the Grand Ol’ Party after all and you’d be forgiven for thinking that Trump’s clowning was over, but it’s not. Donald Trump is a clown – but it’s important we remember why clowns exist. In the 18th century, clowns were employed as distraction to keep circus-going audiences entertained between acts with slapstick humour and cheap gags. Sound familiar? It should. Donald Trump, with his orange hair, painted face and crude humour is heir to a rich, ageless tradition – and like his artistic ancestors, he’s distracting the public from what’s really going on.
Trump’s clowning is one thing, but to explain his impact on the American political landscape we need to consider a far more contemporary pursuit – policy analysis, and the work of Joseph Overton, former vice president of the Mackinac Centre for Public Policy in the United States. During his time with the MCPP, Overton developed a model to determine the range of potential approaches to key policies (such as healthcare or education) which could be considered politically acceptable, dubbed the “Overton Window”. The “window” moves along a scale, from far-left to far right, as public opinion changes on specific issues and shifts not at the whim of politicians, but by ideological shifts in the society that elects them – therefore, determining the range of ideas a candidate could represent, while hoping to be elected into office.
Back to 2016 then, and to why Donald Trump is running at all. Sure, the Republican grassroots seem to love him, but the old guard can’t purchase keflex online stand him. To you or I, Trump may seem an arch-conservative, but to the GOP elite, who cite his “philosophically unmoored” populist policies, he isn’t conservative enough. The reality TV star might just be a pathological narcissist, or he might be a piece of a much more complicated puzzle.
As political discourse in the United States continues to lurch to the right, on both sides of the partisan divide, Trump shifts the window in the most effective way; by introducing ideas which exist beyond its bounds. This is a canny strategy, deftly employed by the GOP, by way of FOX news and the far-right blogosphere, to shape public opinion. When Donald Trump gets on TV and tells the world that he wants to build a wall along the U.S./Mexico border and make the Mexican government pay for it, he shifts the window to the right. When he tweets that he wants to “bomb the sh**” out of ISIS, he shifts the window to the right. The Republican Party has come to understand the value of extremists – and by extension, the value of one Donald J. Trump.
Trump’s enduring presence on the list of nominees serves to mischaracterise his rivals as moderate, their policies as more acceptable. The Republican party’s Clown du jour has so far managed to distract the public from any meaningful discussion about policy, ensuring that every televised debate has descended into farce and has succeeded in making the likes of Ted Cruz (who believes that same-sex marriage is “a real threat to [American] liberty”), Marco Rubio (who believes fracking is “progress”) and Ben Carson (who believes that the Big Bang is a “fairy tale”) look positively presidential.
Donald Trump takes a brick, tosses it through the window and leaves the American public scrambling around in the dirt and broken glass, where everything up to Trump’s bigoted bile seems like reasonable policy. The real threat then, isn’t a Trump presidency, but the presidency (and shift in public opinion) that his extremism will facilitate. While democrats will surely devour one another in the ongoing debate over whether to support Clinton or Sanders, republicans voters can be relied upon to galvanise around whichever GOP candidate remains, motivated solely by their (often disgustingly gendered) disdain for Hilary.
I don’t have a vote to cast, I’m an outsider – and you might be wondering why I’ve chosen to concern myself with the battle for who gets to take over the coveted @POTUS twitter account. You’d be right to ask; I might not have a say in who becomes the next President of the United States, but whoever takes on the role will become, without a doubt, the most powerful person on the face of the Earth – and I, like the rest of the world (particularly those unfortunate enough to live in resource-rich and strategically valuable regions) will bear the brunt of their unique contributions to American foreign policy for at least the next four years – and I have a right to be concerned.