When I wrote a column late last year saying you’d all be sorry when Donald Trump was out of the 2016 presidential picture, I figured he’d be long gone by now. And yet, as of this writing — the morning after he strongly won the South Carolina Republican primary — he’s still very much in the race.
Not so John Ellis Bush, who was pounded so badly in the primary it left him stuttering behind a microphone thanking his wife, Columba, along with the handful of supporters who stayed with him ’til the end. Despite finishing behind “Jeb” with single-digit returns, both John Kasich and Ben Carson kept their hats in the ring, though everyone knows it’s just a matter of time until they’ll be up there making the same speech Bush just stumbled through.
That left Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz to fight like pit bulls for second place, while Trump leaned back and enjoyed a 10-point victory.
It wasn’t until this morning while reading a CNN piece that outlines Trump’s decades-long connection to the New York and New Jersey mobs that I figured out why he’s virtually untouchable to his voter base.
Trump has emerged as the ultimate antihero. In his supporters’ eyes, he’s that flawed character in the movies who does bad things but for (what he perceives to be) good reasons.
Merriam-Webster defines a fictional antihero as a protagonist whose characteristics include “imperfections that separate them from typically heroic characters — selfishness, ignorance, bigotry, etc.” Webster adds antiheroes’ characteristics include “qualities considered dark traits, usually belonging to villains (amorality, greed, violent tendencies, etc.) that may be tempered with more human, identifiable traits (confusion, self-hatred, etc.).” And Wikipedia, where I’m culling this info, says antiheroes have possibly noble but ambiguous motives pursued by the belief that the ends justify the means.
Trump, in a nutshell.
Famous antiheroes from film fiction: Tony Soprano, Michael Corleone, Gordon Gekko, Harry Callahan, Travis Bickle, Charles Foster Kane. You root for them even though you know what they’re doing is “wrong” in the eyes of respected society.
Trump’s fans don’t love him because of any “Big Thought” policies or intricate 5-Step Plans; they love him because he says and does whatever he wants to. Trump’s speeches and actions provide formal justification for all their most vile and repulsive ideas. He is, after all, a presidential candidate. And a billionaire. What more noble pursuit can one have?
When Trump boasts he could “stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” he speaks the unfortunate truth. He clearly is beyond reproach in the eyes of an electorate that finds him irresistible.
I never, ever thought he’d last this long, but he’s bigger than ever despite not giving a single detail as to how he’d get Congress to follow his commands — a Congress that loathes him. His retort when asked how he’ll get anything done in Gridlock City — I make deals, big successful deals. That’s what I do. That’s what I’m known for. Or in the words of Don Corleone, he’ll make them an offer they can’t refuse.
For his supporters, that whole “Congress problem” — you know, the democracy part — couldn’t be further from their minds. It’s as if Trump weren’t running for president as much as running for King of America. King Trump. Try that on for size.
Look, it’s not so much Trump’s long history of misogyny or the xenophobia, the bullying or mob ties, or even the constant crassness that bubbles from his bloviating mouth that annoys me. It’s the lying.
The most blatant lie is the whopper he’s centered his entire campaign around: “We will build a wall along the border and make Mexico pay for it.” Never mind that the United States could never afford to pay for such a massive, multi-billion dollar construction project. Trump insists a country as poor as Mexico could — and would — build that wall. And if they don’t, once in the oval office he threatens to increase fees for visas, border-crossing cards and tariffs (probably illegal) — i.e., they’ll pay for that wall or he’ll start a trade war with our third largest trade partner.
Of course Trump knows all this bluster about building a wall is pure folly. And, deep down inside, so do most of his supporters. No one really expects the wall to be built, just like no one believes he’ll follow through on expelling more than 11 million people who are here illegally. It’s the idea that matters.
In fact, the worst thing that could happen to Trump is that he’d actually win the presidency. Because he’d have to try to do all those things he knows were never possible in the first place. And, let’s face it, it’s better for Trump’s constituency if he loses. That way they can continue to blame someone else for everything that goes wrong in their lives.
We all know what happened to Gordon Gekko and the Corleone Family and Citizen Kane. All the great antiheroes lose in the end. That’s why we love them. Why would Trump be any different?
Over The Edge is a monthly column by Reader senior contributing writer Tim McMahan focused on culture, society, music, the media and the arts. Email Tim at email@example.com