You may find this difficult to believe (in this age of political wonderment, what isn’t?), but even those of us who delight you with political commentary have the capacity for self-doubt. We may suffer the same phobia about admitting mistakes which we find so distasteful in the generic politician. Yet every now and again, something or someone has enough seismic power to wobble a smug certainty until it topples over.
The question of whether Donald J Trump is something or someone need detain us briefly today. He may be a person, or he may be the result of an audacious cybernetic experiment gone terribly wrong. It’s 10-11 the pair, and take your choice. But whether he’s human or a malfunctioning android that has developed its own power source and now threatens the planet, there is no denying his gift for shaking received wisdom to its foundations.
The truism in peril after the first debate between the leading 10 contenders for the Republican presidential nomination is one that pontificating ponces such as myself have relentlessly blathered about for years, and it runs like this: what the public wants, what it craves, what it deserves, is politicians with the fearlessness to say what they think.
The debate, if you inexplicably failed to stay up until Friday’s early hours for the merriment, was rigidly orthodox in one way, and less so in another. In that its centrepiece was one billionaire (The Donald) performing for the further enrichment of another (Rupert Murdoch, whose Fox News screened the fair), it was a conventional display of modern Republican presidential politics at work.
Where it veered from tradition was in kicking off with Trump admitting that he might, if he did not get the nomination, run for the White House as an independent, thereby gifting the White House to the Democrat (probably Hillary Clinton). Those seeking a political party’s support usually have the courtesy, if asked, to deny that they would destroy its electoral chances in dudgeon.
Trump was not content to leave the candour at that. Megyn Kelly, the lone female among a trio of Fox hosts, and not before regarded as the Andrea Dworkin of news anchors, put to him some epithets he has used for women who displeased him. “You’ve called women you don’t like, ‘fat pigs,’ ‘dogs,’ ‘slobs’, and ‘disgusting animals’,” she told him. “Only Rosie O’Donnell,” he chipped in, provoking a visceral roar of hilarity and approval from a typically enchanting Republican crowd. When reminded that there had been other targets of his Wildean thrusts than the left-leaning actress and lesbian activist, he merrily agreed that there certainly had.
Any debate in this Republican era would involve an eccentric gathering: stick a sadistic psychiatric nurse at one end of the podium, and an unspeaking American Indian at the other, and you’d have a publicity shot for a bad remake of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. But with Trump in the cuckoo’s nest, and leading the field by a country mile according to pre-debate polling, we are entering uncharted territory. The apparent accident of timing that saw Jon Stewart bow out as The Daily Show’s presenter in the midst of Fox News’ Socratic extravaganza seemed no accident at all. What challenge can there be for a satirist of Stewart’s brilliance when The Donald is willing to do all the heavy lifting himself?
All of which is a long-winded preamble to this request to you Corbynites (fellow-Corbynites, I should say, being a fan of the old boy too). Don’t get too hung up on the “he says what he thinks” shtick. Do not, I beg of you, bet the farm on authenticity.
With Andy Burnham raiding Corbyn’s wardrobe on an hourly basis for hand-me-down policies he can wear, one understands the temptation. If Jezza pledged to bomb Andorra back to the stone age on the advice of his personal astrologer, on Wednesday Andy would reveal his intention to unleash the RAF’s entire payload on a tiny Pyrenean state when next Pluto is in alignment with the seventh house of Aquarius. Admire Jeremy for being unspun and saying what he thinks by all means, but please don’t ignore the flip side to glorifying authenticity.
Hitler was authentic. So was Caligula. And Donald Trump, while yet to be entrusted by the American people with the chance to become an epic mass murderer, is authentic.
Donald Trump's most controversial quotes
Donald Trump's most controversial quotes
1/14 On Isis:
"Some of the candidates, they went in and didn’t know the air conditioner didn’t work and sweated like dogs, and they didn’t know the room was too big because they didn’t have anybody there. How are they going to beat ISIS?"
2/14 On immigration:
"I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me —and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words."
3/14 On Free Trade:
"Free trade is terrible. Free trade can be wonderful if you have smart people. But we have stupid people."
PAUL J. RICHARDS | AFP | Getty Images
4/14 On Mexicans:
"When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re sending people that have lots of problems. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists."
5/14 On China:
"I just sold an apartment for $15 million to somebody from China. Am I supposed to dislike them?... I love China. The biggest bank in the world is from China. You know where their United States headquarters is located? In this building, in Trump Tower."
6/14 On work:
"If you're interested in 'balancing' work and pleasure, stop trying to balance them. Instead make your work more pleasurable."
7/14 On success:
"What separates the winners from the losers is how a person reacts to each new twist of fate."
8/14 On life:
"Everything in life is luck."
9/14 On ambition:
"You have to think anyway, so why not think big?"
10/14 On his opponents:
"Bush is totally in favour of Common Core. I don't see how he can possibly get the nomination. He's weak on immigration. He's in favour of Common Core. How the hell can you vote for this guy? You just can't do it."
11/14 On Obamacare:
"You have to be hit by a tractor, literally, a tractor, to use it, because the deductibles are so high. It's virtually useless. And remember the $5 billion web site?... I have so many web sites, I have them all over the place. I hire people, they do a web site. It costs me $3."
12/14 On Barack Obama:
"Obama is going to be out playing golf. He might be on one of my courses. I would invite him. I have the best courses in the world. I have one right next to the White House."
13/14 On himself:
"Love him or hate him, Trump is a man who is certain about what he wants and sets out to get it, no holds barred. Women find his power almost as much of a turn-on as his money."
14/14 On America:
"The American Dream is dead. But if I get elected president I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before and we will make America great again."
Donald Trump is something more than a Marvel Comics projection of what Nigel Farage would have mutated into if he had survived exposure to a staggering dose of radiation as a child. He is a mirror image of Jeremy Corbyn. It’s a fairground mirror image, which distorts the reflection into a grotesque version of the thing staring into it. And there is an obvious, wheels-within-wheels distinction: where Corbyn’s authenticity is authentic, Trump’s is fake. But hey, if you can synthesise authenticity, you’ve got it licked.
These are, to put it at its mildest, strange days indeed for Anglo-American politics. Suddenly, the possibilities seem endless. A Camp David summit where Prime Minister Corbyn told President Trump to remove the six US military bases in the UK would be fun to watch. Chuck in a bare-chested Putin stroking the white Siberian tiger cub on his lap, and you’d have the Bizarro World Yalta.
The course of geopolitics in the hands of statesmen (or statesthings) who always say what they think, and then act on what they say, is as difficult to conceive as a future President Donald J Trump, and incalculably more terrifying. But you will appreciate the urge to hanker after that gentler age when politicians said the opposite of what they thought, and in so far as possible did nothing at all.Reuse content