Johann Hari: Donald Trump's lunacy reveals core truth about the Republicans

He is the Republican id - finally entirely unleashed from all restraint and reality

Share
Related Topics

Since the election of Barack Obama, the Republican Party has proved that one of its central intellectual arguments was right all along. It has long claimed that evolution is a myth believed in only by whiny liberals – and it turns out it was on to something. Every six months, the party venerates a new hero, and each time it is somebody further back on the evolutionary scale.

Sarah Palin told cheering rallies that her message to the world was: "We'll put a boot in your ass, it's the American way!" – but that wasn't enough. So the party found Michele Bachmann, who said darkly it was an "interesting coincidence" that swine flu only breaks out under Democratic presidents, claims the message of The Lion King is "I'm better at what I do because I'm gay", and argues "there isn't even one study that can be produced that shows carbon dioxide is a harmful gas."

That wasn't enough. I half-expected the next contender to be a lung-fish draped in the Stars and Stripes. But it wasn't anything so sophisticated. Enter stage (far) right Donald Trump, the bewigged billionaire who has filled America with phallic symbols and plastered his name across more surfaces than the average Central Asian dictator. CNN's polling suggests he is the most popular candidate among Republican voters. It's not hard to see why. Trump is every trend in Republican politics over the past 35 years taken to its logical conclusion. He is the Republican id, finally entirely unleashed from all restraint and all reality.

The first trend is towards naked imperialism. On Libya, he says: "I would go in and take the oil... I would take the oil and stop this baby stuff." On Iraq, he says: "We stay there, and we take the oil... In the old days, when you have a war and you win, that nation's yours." It is a view that the world is essentially America's property, inconveniently inhabited by foreigners squatting over oil-fields. Trump says America needs to "stop what's going on in the world. The world is just destroying our country. These other countries are sapping our strength." The US must have full spectrum dominance. In this respect, he is simply an honest George W Bush.

The second trend is towards dog-whistle prejudice – pitched just high enough for frightened white Republicans to hear it. Trump made it a central issue to suggest that Obama wasn't born in America (and therefore was occupying the White House illegally), even though this conspiracy theory had long since been proven to be as credible as the people who claim Paul McCartney was killed in 1969 and replaced with an imposter. Trump said nobody "ever comes forward" to say they knew Obama as a child in Hawaii. When lots of people pointed out they knew Obama as a child, Trump ridiculed the idea that they could remember that far back. Then he said he'd "heard" the birth certificate said Obama was Muslim. When it was released saying no such thing, Trump said: "I'm very proud of myself."

The Republican primary voters heard the message right: the black guy is foreign. He's not one of us. Trump answered these charges by saying: "I've always had a great relationship with the blacks."

The third trend is towards raw worship of wealth as an end in itself – and exempting them from all social responsibility. Trump is wealthy because his father left him a large business, and since then companies with his name on them have crashed into bankruptcy four times. In 1990, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston studied the Trump accounts and claimed that while Trump claimed to be worth $1.4bn, he actually owed $600m more than he owned and you and I were worth more than him. His current wealth is not known, but he claims he is worth more than $2.7bn.

Johnston says that in fact most of Trump's apparent fortune comes from "stiffing his creditors" and from government subsidies and favours for his projects – which followed large donations to the campaigns of both parties, sometimes in the very same contest. Trump denies these charges and presents himself as an entrepreneur "of genius".

Yet for the Republican Party, the accumulation of money is proof in itself of virtue, however it was acquired. The richest 1 per cent pay for the party's campaigns, and the party in turn serves their interests entirely. The most glaring example is that they have simply exempted many of the rich from taxes. Johnston studied four of Trump's recent tax returns, and found he legally paid no taxes in two of them. In America today, a janitor can pay more income tax than Donald Trump – and the Republicans regard that not as a source of shame, but of pride.

How are these tax exemptions for the super-rich paid for? Here's one example. The Republican budget that just passed through the Senate slashed funding to help premature babies to survive. The rich riot while the poor shrivel. Trump offers the ultimate symbol of this: he won't even shake hands with any ordinary Americans out on the stump, because "you catch all sorts of things" from them. Yes: the Republican front-runner is a billionaire who literally won't touch the poor or middle class.

The fourth trend is to insist that any fact inconvenient to your world view simply doesn't exist, or can be overcome by pure willpower. Soon, the US will have to extend its debt ceiling – the amount of money the government is allowed to borrow – or it will default on its debt. Virtually every economist in the world says this would cause another global economic crash. Trump snaps back: "What do economists know? Most of them aren't very smart." Confront the Republicans with any long-term social or economic problem, and they have one response: it would go away if only we insisted on our assumptions more aggressively.

This denial of reality runs deep. So Trump says "it's so easy" to deal with rising oil prices. He says he would call in Opec, the cartel of oil-producing nations, as if they were contestants on his show The Apprentice, and declare: "I'm going to look them in the eye and say, 'Fellows, you've had your fun. Your fun is over.' "

It's the same, he says, with China. He will order them to stop manipulating their currency. When he was informed that the Chinese had some leverage over the US, he snapped: "They have some of our debt. Big deal. It's a very small number relative to the world, ok?" This is what the Republican core vote wants to be told. The writer Matthew Yglesias calls it "the Green Lantern Theory of Geopolitics". It's named after the Marvel comics superhero the Green Lantern, who can only use his superpowers when he "overcomes fear" and shows confidence – and then he can do anything. This is Trump's view. The whiny world simply needs to be bullied into submission by a more assertive America – or the world can be fired and he'll find a better one.

Trump probably won't become the Republican nominee, but not because most Republicans reject his premisses. No: it will be because he states these arguments too crudely for mass public consumption. He takes the whispered dogmas of the Reagan, Bush and Tea Party years and shrieks them through a megaphone. The nominee will share similar ideas, but express them more subtly. In case you think these ideas are marginal to the party, remember - it has united behind the budget plan of Wisconsin Representative Paul Ryan. It's simple: it halves taxes on the richest 1 percent and ends all taxes on corporate income, dividends, and inheritance. It pays for it by slashing spending on food stamps, healthcare for the poor and the elderly, and basic services. It aims to return the US to the spending levels of the 1920s – and while Ryan frames it as a response to the deficit, it would actually increase it according to the independent Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. Ryan says "the reason I got involved in public service" was because he read the writings of Ayn Rand, which describe the poor as "parasites" who must "perish", and are best summarized by the title of one of her books: 'The Virtue of Selfishness.'

The tragedy is that Obama needs serious opposition – but not from this direction. In reality, he is funded by similar destructive corporate interests, and has only been a few notches closer to sanity than these people. But faced with such overt lunacy, he seems like he is serving the bottom 99 per cent of Americans much more than he really is.

The Republican Party today isn't even dominated by market fundamentalism. This is a crude Nietzscheanism, dedicated to exalting the rich as an overclass and dismissing the rest. So who should be the Republican nominee? I hear the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse were considering running – but they are facing primary challenges from the Tea Party for being way too mild-mannered.

j.hari@independent.co.uk

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
‘Would Gary Lineker depart if his pay were halved, and would it affect the quality of MoTD?’  

BBC Me – no Archers, and no Fiona Bruce

DJ Taylor
Feeling the heat: David Cameron last week in Lanzarote  

The parable of the PM and the jellyfish

Joan Smith
How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit