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Commentary: The Presidential Disco Ball


In my stubborn and almost certainly quixotic quest to understand President Trump and especially his most ardent followers, I locate others trying to do the same thing.  In the October 11 New York Times Magazine Dan Brooks looked at why liberal comedy shows on television have mostly failed.  It’s worth reading for the main content, but there is this nugget toward the end of his article that I had to read three times before I finally got it:

·      The real Donald Trump acts if he’s doing an impression of some normal-looking, occasionally self-aggrandizing president we don’t know about. His supporters know this impression is fake.  They don’t think Trump is the guy he pretends to be; they know he is the guy who pretends to be that guy, which is a hilarious thing for the president to do.

I’m still not sure I understand it, or maybe I know exactly what it means.  Or both.  You see my problem?

Since 2015, when Trump first entered my consciousness as a political creature, I have used the traditional analytical tools and relied on conventional wisdom.  It has been a fool’s errand. 

It’s like I’ve tried to illuminate the political scene using a theater spotlight, and Trump is using a disco ball: Chase the little colored dot.  No, the other one.  No, not that one either.  But good luck!  And it is mesmerizing.

It’s like I’ve tried to put the Trump phenomenon under a scientific microscope and when I look I find I’m actually looking through a kaleidoscope.  I don’t know what I’m looking at and when I rotate it I get something different but still don’t know what I’m looking at.  But it is definitely colorful.  And there seems to be a pattern.  Although never the same thing twice.  And it is mesmerizing.

As a friend pointed out, it’s like I work at a dairy farm and have to milk the cows twice a day and muck the stalls – and then have to go to the pasture and deal with the bull manure too.

So much gaslighting.  So many headfakes.  So much trolling.  They make it very hard to separate the meaningful nonsense from the trivial nonsense.  One Trump troll in particular is truly disturbing and dangerous: His repeated statements that he might not accept the outcome of the election. 

He said this in 2016 and, true to his word, was not satisfied that he merely won the Electoral College majority.  He denounced the three-million popular vote deficit as a product of fraud. 

It is possible that this scenario will repeat in 2020.  More likely, if you believe the polls, he will lose both the popular and Electoral College vote but Biden’s margin will not be overwhelming.  Also, many valid votes will not be counted until after Election Day, and historically those votes are disproportionately for Democratic candidates.  Media outlets, extra-cautious and/or intimidated, may be reluctant to call races, increasing the uncertainty. 

It’s impossible to know if Trump is sincere about not accepting the outcome, but because of his taunts and trolling many of his supporters will not accept any outcome other than a “win,” whatever that is.  We may be in for one of the most challenging three-month periods in American history. 

Next week I’ll tell you how my Republican and Democratic insiders forecast the election.  And don’t forget to tune in to KBIA Election Night for local and NPR coverage of the vote count.

Dr. Terry Smith is a Political Science Professor at Columbia College and regualar commentator on KBIA's Talking Politics.