Donald Trump and the dumbing of America

What is it about America and fools? Donald Trump is the latest would-be leader to don the dunce’s cap and fling himself into the public arena … and Americans love him! Even though few people initially believed Trump could actually secure the Republican nomination, he is the current primary front-runner. Trump has catapulted himself to the fore of the Republican field with bluster and taking “anti-everything” stances. He is anti-debt, anti-Washington, anti-abortion, anti-immigration, maybe anti-menstruation and he doesn’t believe Barack Obama was born in America. He rarely talks about how he will achieve his goals, he simply opines that he should be allowed to “handle it.” Comically, Trump’s act is selling and this says more about our dumbed-down citizenry than it does “The Donald.”

To be sure, Trump is riding the same wave of willful ignorance and lowered expectations that elected George W. Bush twice and cast the “well-read” Sarah Palin as a viable vice-presidential candidate. Other Republican candidates seem genuinely flabbergasted that people are taking Trump seriously. The Huffington Post has even pledged to only cover him as entertainment, not a real political figure. Sorry, but he is! Meanwhile, Trump continues to draw massive crowds as he tours the country and his lead in the polls grows and grows.

While Trump gets most of the current attention because of his showman’s flair, the other Republicans are just as scary. Chris Christie and his crew will shut down bridges if you don’t fall in line. Marco Rubio is convinced the idea that humans impact climate change is insanity. Jeb Bush thinks everything will be okay if Americans just “work longer hours” (no mention of increasing their pay here). Bobby Jindal is still trying to get rid of same sex marriage. Ben Carson thinks Obamacare is comparable to slavery. Carly Fiorina hasn’t done much other than cast herself as the Bizarro Hillary. Lindsey Graham, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee are … well, they’re Lindsey Graham, Scott Walker, Ted Cruz and Mike Huckabee. Enough said. It’s a crazy world when Rand Paul seems to be the most reasonable person in the field. 

The Democrats have their problems as well. Heir apparent Hillary Clinton has likability and honesty problems. She’s also mired in an e-mail brouhaha that her opponents believe rises to the level of the Watergate break in. Lincoln Chafee, Martin O’Malley and Jim Webb don’t have a chance in hell and should probably pack up and go home right now. Bernie Sanders is an interesting fellow, but can he maintain momentum over time? Joe Biden to the rescue? Hmm.

It isn’t difficult to see that Trump and Sanders have a certain appeal because they actually seem to say what they feel rather than hedging on everything under the sun. Honesty certainly isn’t enough, but it is nice. On another level, Trump and other Republicans tap into a particular brand of meanness, closed mindedness and xenophobia still plaguing our country that is telling and dangerous. On the other side of the aisle, the Democrats are still trying to be something more than a reactive party with few seriously progressive ideas. Put simply — it ain’t lookin’ good.

I don’t understand why anyone is shocked that a Trump presidency seems more and more like a real possibility. We are in a country that celebrates the Kardashians, Real Housewives of this and that, and other buffoonery. Like one of my ex-girlfriends, we are pretty but much more comfortable in shallow waters. Donald Trump is a clown — albeit a wealthy clown. But we have to take him seriously because we now live in a nation largely populated by numb-nuts who love spectacle. So, who is the fool — Trump or America’s increasingly dumb citizenry? You decide.

Eight years ago the skinny kid from Hawaii offered a large dose of hope and change. Sadly, “Obama the Idea” greatly exceeded “Obama the President.” Despite that disappointment, I sure do miss the fantasy we lived for a little while. Now its back to reality. The Empire has struck back and the political Death Star is intact. Darth Trump rises! Help us Obi-Wan Kenobi. You may be our only hope! •

Ricky L. Jones is the chair of the Pan-African Studies Department at the University of Louisville. He is the author of Black Haze and What’s Wrong with Obamamania both available from SUNY Press. Follow him on Twitter @DrRickyLJones.