Donald Trump is no comic book hero, only a crude bully
Kevin Rafferty says in trying to paint China as a villain waging ‘economic war’ with America and stealing its jobs, the US presidential candidate reveals himself to be full of bombastic hot air
Donald Trump has a China fixation. Huffington Post noticed it some months ago and created a three-minute video starring him, which has just been noticed by mainstream America. The video, viewed 5.5 million times, consists of Trump repeatedly shouting “China”, 234 times in all, and nothing else except for occasional assertions that, “I love China”, and “People from China, they love me”.
It is stitched together out of different speeches and interviews. Put together, it is crude, repetitive in a bullying way, yet mesmerising and frightening at the same time, not least because it captures the Trump way of establishing his domination. This is the man who has bashed and bullied his way to the nomination of the Republican Party for November’s presidential election. When he started last year, Trump was the outsider among 17 candidates, some of them favoured sons, like Jeb Bush, others rising political stars such as Marco Rubio.
Trump became the last man standing when Senator Ted Cruz made his bathetic withdrawal: “With a heavy heart but with boundless optimism for the long-term future of our nation, we are suspending our campaign.” The steadfast John Kasich followed suit.
Apart from the token Kasich, the contest was between Trump and Cruz, probably the most hated man in Congress. If Cruz were found dead on the floor of the Senate, no one would be prosecuted, declared a colleague. Former House speaker John Boehner called him “Lucifer”.
So it was fitting that Cruz was the desperate standard-bearer to keep Trump out. Hours before conceding defeat, Cruz claimed that if Trump won, “America will plunge into the abyss”. He called Trump “utterly amoral”, “a serial philanderer”, a “pathological liar” and a “narcissist”. Trump returned the compliment by prefacing references to Cruz with “Lyin’ Ted”.
Most Republican luminaries are now rallying round Trump, some claiming to have heavy hearts, although both former presidents Bush declined to endorse him. House speaker Paul Ryan initially also refused to board the Trump bandwagon, but confronted with Trump bullying, has suggested that he might step aside as chairman of the convention, which will formally nominate Trump. One leading Republican described Trump as “bad” and “a jerk”, but a lesser evil than Hillary Clinton.
Power, and the desire for its spoils, can be a corrosive, corrupting temptation.
Republicans might reflect that Trump’s fixation with China offers a warning of the dangers of a President Trump – for the US itself.
Trump’s trumpetings include his assertion that: “We can’t continue to allow China to rape our country.” He claims that China has waged “economic war” against America and is stealing American jobs, and proposed that imported Chinese goods should face 45 per cent tariffs.
China is the largest trading partner of the US, and many of the Chinese jobs that Trump grumbles about have been created by American multinationals setting up factories in China or US retailers sourcing their orders there. It would take time and cost lots of money to bring such jobs back, if it could be done at all.
To his credit, China’s foreign ministry spokesman was restrained when asked about a Trump presidency, saying the election was an internal US affair. “What needs to be pointed out is that the essence of Sino-US trade and business cooperation is mutually beneficial and win-win, and accords with the interests of both sides,” he added. “We hope people in all fields can rationally and objectively view this relationship.”
As a businessman, Trump knows that he cannot unilaterally renege on a deal without triggering penalties. A US president may have more freedom of action, and World Trade Organisation dispute mechanisms work slowly, but Trump surely knows that Beijing would not stand idly by and would react vigorously to any declaration of economic war.
The China story offers a small but important illustration of the Trump way of doing business, which is boastful and bombastic to the point of demagoguery.
The problem – and it is a problem for America – is that China is not the only target in Trump’s sights.
He has also attacked Mexicans, Muslims, immigrants, women and even cherished allies like Japan, Korea, Germany and Nato for – he claims – failing to pay their fair share of costs for US forces stationed abroad and keeping the global peace.
Michael Chertoff, who was homeland security secretary under George W. Bush, called Trump’s foreign policy proposals “preposterous”. Many of them rest on Trump himself, who confidently claims he will meet foreign leaders, great and small, look them in the eye and do a deal or walk away.
It’s a simplistic view of the way the world works, exacerbated by Trump’s arrogance. An analysis of Trump’s business record shows it is more mixed than he boasts. Last year, Forbes magazine took issue with Trump’s claim that his net worth was US$8.7 billion, estimating it at US$4.1 billion.
Trump reminds me of the rich bully on the elementary school playground who has been reading too many manga comics, and sees himself as a latter-day SuperBrat able to remove any obstacle in his way and transform any situation.
There is a real question of whether the wheeling and dealing which Trump loves as a businessman is appropriate for a president of a major world power. His view of a world in which the US is top dog and the rest are losers is unrealistic and dangerous. Even more risky is his appeal to the losers in the US economy, the disgruntled unemployed and underemployed white males of the rust belt, as his champions who will propel him to power, and then benefit as he restores their fortunes.
There is supreme irony here. Ronald Reagan, so beloved of the Republican right, warned that, “The most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help’.”
Yet here is Trump promising that, as president, he will work economic and political miracles, create jobs, restore mining to West Virginia, and bring back American dominance of the world. It’s more than any comic book hero could ever dream of.
Kevin Rafferty is a political commentator