BY MARTIN KICH
At the very end of 2015, Emily Schwartz Greco, the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies, wrote a piece titled “Enstrictly Speaking, 2016 Could Be a Trailrazer,” which was republished by Common Dreams.
In the piece, she begins by detailing how the books that her young daughters have been reading have been encouraging them to coin new words. And then she brings much the same sort of delightful, uninhibited sense of invention to the generation of some much-needed, new political terminology:
For starters, how about ‘trumpalist’? As in: ‘This candidate’s trumpalist tendencies scare me.’ Pundits could use this word to economize on hot air when they discuss pompous, cruel, and self-centered politicians, even after Donald Trump’s White House bid fizzles. No matter what the polls say, I still say his candidacy is doomed.
As Trump put it recently, after converting a vulgar Yiddish noun into a verb and applying it to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 performance, he’s going to get ‘schlonged.’
‘Trailrazer’ would also enrich our political vocabulary. Trailrazing is what happens after trumpalist bids ultimately collapse. It’s the opposite of having political coattails. Toxic candidates dim the chances of other members of their party winning races in the same electoral cycle.
Thanks to trumpalist politicos and their trailrazing ways, legions of political junkies and journalists will be incapable of unplugging from now until long after Election Day. They’ll need ‘vacational’ training to learn how to untether their mind and body from electronic devices and the news cycle.
Since I often write about the financial woes of fossil fuel companies, here’s a new word for that: ‘debtidend.’ This neologism will prove useful should oil prices sink lower in 2016, especially if they graze $20 a barrel. As unprofitable oil and gas companies keep paying investors more in debtidends than they can sustain, they’ll risk insolvency. Here’s looking at you, Chevron. . . .”
Now, I am betting that some of you can hardly wait to fire off comments to the effect that Emily Schwartz Greco’s dismissal of Trump’s candidacy may have been very premature, if not simply foolish—that his showing thus far in the GOP primaries has made it increasingly possible, if not probable, that he may actually win the Republican nomination.
Yes, we all do need to reflect on the implications of that possibility—that a candidate who on some level not only deliberately courts derision but also perversely engages in what amounts to continuous self-caricature now has considerable political momentum towards the presidential nomination of one of the two major political parties in the most powerful nation not just on the planet but in the history of the planet.
It may time to stop asking whether or not he has completely lost his mind, and it may be time to start asking whether or not some substantial portion of the nation has lost all sense of the significance of the office that he is ostensibly seeking.
One could focus on just the 30%-40% of GOP primary voters who have been supporting Trump. But the problem is much more pernicious than the usual responsiveness of the gullible to demagoguery and the other predictable lunacies of the reactionary fringe.
In his improbable political ascendancy, Trump has had plenty of assistance from the “mainstream media” that he very predictably has claimed to despise even as it has purported to dismiss him. In a pursuit of ratings and ad revenues that has been every bit as blatantly exploitative as Trump’s campaign has been, the cable news channels have cut away to every stump speech that Trump has given and then have endlessly recycled every stupid and offensive thing that he has said. The cumulative effect of this coverage has been to give legitimacy to the idea that a presidential campaign can, indeed, be based on little more than bombastic assertions of self-importance, gratuitous insults, and very broad assurances that some of our most dubious political delusions are not only reasonable personal expectations but easily achievable national aims.
In short, the cable news channels have been as responsible for erasing the distinctions between reality and reality television as Trump has been responsible for erasing the distinctions between exploiting and confronting political alienation, economic inequality, and cultural dissonance.
Trumpalism is, I think, the triumph of language designed to provoke a strong visceral response but devoid of any lasting meaning or import. Such language might be acceptable if Trump were seeking something other than the very important office that he is ostensibly seeking—an office that, as much as any other position that one human being can hold, will actually shape history.
Our presidents have not always been capable of rising to the demands that history has made on them. All too frequently, they may have lacked some of the qualities of greatness that might have enabled them to transcend the troubles that have defined their times.
But those sometimes very disappointing realities should not lead us to treat the presidency with the same disdain that we have expressed toward some of our presidents. The office simply deserves to be taken much more seriously and to be treated much more respectfully than that.
If I were pressed to make one indisputable assertion about the presidency, I would say, especially in the context of the current campaign, that the ability to keep us entertained is neither a requirement for the office nor even a significant asset to the person holding the office. If it were either, we’d be remembering the presidency of Bing Crosby, rather than that of Dwight D. Eisenhower. But even a Bing Crosby presidency would not have provided a precedent for a Trump presidency. And that reality should make Trump’s candidacy more a matter of concern than a cause for amusement or amazement.