Viewpoint: Are Donald Trump and his rivals a big joke?

February 9th, 2016 by Staff


With the US presidential election just nine months away, American political satirist, PJ O’Rourke casts a scathing eye over the candidates hoping to make it to the White House.

There’s an American saying: “Anyone can become president.” And in the 2016 election we’ve been trying to prove it.

The list of people running for president seemed to include everybody except Beyonce. And there actually was a rumour last October that Beyonce’s husband, rapper Jay Z, might run.

The US presidential field has begun to narrow at last. Although, to judge by who’s left, this is not because of quality control.

To the rest of the world Donald Trump seems like a joke. And, please, let’s hope he is. Trump is a prank the American electorate is pulling on the American political establishment.

Like many jokes, Trump is a manifestation of discomfort and anxiety.

America is a pretty good place. By world-historical standards it’s an excellent place. And yet, according to opinion polls, almost two-thirds of Americans think the country is “on the wrong track”.

What has got Americans so worried? The technological revolution is unsettling. So are rapid social shifts involving everything from immigrants to gender roles and sexuality. The global economy is shaky. And America’s political establishment is so bitterly divided that we can’t get bipartisan agreement on whether the sun will come up. (Republicans call predictions of dawn “unproven climate change science”.)

So, for a laugh, a lot of Republicans are claiming to support a cartoon character – an over-confident blustery bigot, a self-inflated one-man business boom who claims he can make a deal with the devil that will have the angels of heaven lining up to buy condos in Trump Tower Hell.

Like many jokes, it’s not very funny.

Trump’s Democratic Party opposite number is Bernie Sanders. Bernie repeats the pieties of the 1960s New Left with a straight face, as deadpan as Trump is clownish.

Bernie seems a bit foggy on things that have happened since Woodstock, especially in the realm of foreign affairs. Bernie doesn’t know the Berlin Wall fell and doesn’t know he’s still standing on the wrong side of it.

Most of Bernie’s support comes from people who weren’t born when his ideas were in vogue. They’re too young to know that what Bernie says may sound like it makes sense during the dorm room bull session, but sooner or later you have to put the bong down and exhale.

For the rest of America what’s not amusing is Bernie labelling himself a socialist. The word has a particular and peculiar meaning in the US. If you say “I’m a socialist,” what Americans hear is, “I’m going to take your flat-screen TV and give it to a family of pill addicts in the backwoods of Vermont.”

Bernie is not the right man to break America’s political deadlock. It would be worse than electing Angela Merkel prime minister of Greece.

Then there are the serious candidates. Chief among them is Hillary Clinton. She has been seriously trying to become president, one way or another, since 1992

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