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Donald Trump: Poster Child of American Decline

It’s hard not to be in Donald Trump’s corner when his targets are the likes of John McCain and Lindsey Graham.

McCain may justifiably be indignant over Trump’s stupid and clumsy savaging of him for having such poor taste as to be captured in Vietnam, but the Arizona senator displayed judgment that was just as poor when he claimed Michele Bachmann’s entirely reasonable questions about Huma Abedin’s Muslim Brotherhood ties manifested an “ignorance” that “defame[d] the spirit of the nation.”

So when it comes to John McCain and Donald Trump, it’s blowhard versus boor. But that doesn’t excuse Trump. His current position at the top of the polls — and the very real possibility that he could continue to bestride the narrow Republican field like a Colossus while his petty rivals walk under his huge legs and peep about to find themselves dishonorable graves — is a sign of how much American politics has turned into an Oprah show of celebrity worship, lurid grandstanding, logorrheic superficiality, and tabloid scandalmongering.

But Trump’s popularity is also a sign of how tired the American people are with the political establishment.

It is the very fact that Trump is both blowhard and boor that, paradoxically enough, has catapulted him to the top of the polls. Americans are tired of mealy-mouthed career politicians talking platitudes. They want a real person as president — someone who is unafraid of the politically correct media establishment, and willing to take on the issues that most politicians don’t dare touch.

Trump has shown himself willing to do that regarding immigration. But his opposition to freedom of speech in the wake of our American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI)/Jihad Watch Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest in Garland, Texas — arguably motivated, as Pamela Geller recently showed, by his extensive business interests in Dubai — renders him unsuitable as a candidate.

About this endeavor to stand up for free speech against violent intimidation, Trump thundered:

I watched Pam earlier, and it really looks like she’s just taunting everybody. What is she doing drawing Muhammad? I mean it’s disgusting. Isn’t there something else they could be doing? Drawing Muhammad? …  They can’t do something else? They have to be in the middle of Texas doing something on Muhammad and insulting everybody? What is she doing? Why is she doing it? It’s probably very risky for her — I don’t know, maybe she likes risk? But what the hell is she doing?

Trump should know better. Salman Rushdie summed up what was wrong with this way of thinking when he said last week that the free world had learned the “wrong lessons” from the death fatwa issued against him by the Islamic Republic of Iran for blaspheming against Muhammad:

Instead of concluding we need to oppose these attacks on freedom of expression, we believed we should calm them through compromises and ceding.

If people weren’t being killed right now, if bombs and Kalashnikovs weren’t speaking today, the debate would be very different. Fear is being disguised as respect.”

Rushdie added that, if he were threatened for insulting Islam today:

 … these people would not come to my defence and would use the same arguments against me by accusing me of insulting an ethnic and cultural minority.

Indeed. And while Donald Trump’s critique would no doubt be less sophisticated and stated in more colorful terms, judging from his attack on Pamela Geller, he would be one of Rushdie’s chief critics.

That is one of the principal reasons, aside from the fact that making a fortune in real estate and canoodling with fabulous blondes doesn’t qualify one to counter the Islamic State or to stare down Vladimir Putin, why he is not remotely qualified to be president. Nonetheless, his Republican opponents would be well-advised to dispense with their focus groups and pollsters and carefully calibrated and professionally packaged presentations, and to begin talking squarely and honestly with the American people. It’s working for Trump, and it will, if they have any substance and any courage, work even better for a candidate with even a modicum of the decency, good grace, and intelligence that Donald Trump so obviously doesn’t have.

Trump’s presidential candidacy is yet another symptom of the decline of American culture and the degeneration of the public square into a freak show largely featuring sinister authoritarians like Hillary Clinton on the one hand and puffed-up clowns on the other. Trump, of course, is in the latter camp, but he plays into the hands of the former.

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