Friday, August 12, 2016

Are Trump's gaffes deliberate self-sabotage?

In the interests of fairness, I have been trying to understand the strange phenomenon that is Donald Trump, to understand where he is coming from, and where he thinks he might be going. Trying, and failing.
His latest outburst came on Wednesday, during a campaign rally in Florida, when he claimed unequivocally, not once but three times, that President Barack Obama was the founder of Islamic State (IS or ISIS): "ISIS is honouring President Obama. He is the founder of ISIS. He's the founder. He founded ISIS. And I would say the co-founder would be Crooked Hillary Clinton. Co-founder: Crooked Hillary Clinton."
Now, most people know that Islamic State began as Iraq’s local affiliate of al-Qaida in the early 2000s, and is usually considered the brain-child of the Jordanian-born activist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was killed in 2006 during a US airstrike. So, OK, you think, this the Donald's (rather lame, and not at all funny) idea of a joke, a metaphor, poetic license, whatever. But he certainly didn't look like he was telling a joke, and his lackeys in the crowd certainly seemed to be lapping it up as the gospel truth.
Then, the next day, a conservative radio commentator gave Trump an opportunity to manage the gaffe, suggesting that perhaps Trump meant by his outrageous claim that Obama’s foreign policy had created the conditions in Iraq and Syria that allowed IS to thrive. Trump's response? "No, I meant he's the founder of ISIS. I do. He was the most valuable player. I gave him the most valuable player award." When it was pointed out that Obama has led a coalition of Western and Arab countries in an extended campaign against IS, and launched over 10,000 U.S. airstrikes in an attempt to defeat it: "I don’t care, he was the founder."
Then you start to worry. Who is this guy? What does he hope to achieve by this fabulation? It was only in a terse tweet on Friday morning that Trump finally attempted to defuse the situation, by belatedly claiming that it was all just a little joke after all, a small exercise in sarcasm: "Ratings challenged @CNN reports so seriously that I call President Obama (and Clinton) "the founder" of ISIS, & MVP. THEY DON'T GET SARCASM?" You can almost imagine a bunch of distraught advisers pleading with him to retract his initial statement and save his campaign, and Trump's grudging acquiescence, petulant lower lip extended and quivering.
So, how to make sense of it all. I think sense is perhaps too much to expect, but there is a theory, one that has been around for some time now, that Trump actually does not want the Presidency and is deliberately trying to sabotage his own campaign. Why would he do that? Perhaps partly because the whole thing was just a ruse in the first place, a publicity stunt, a cynical exercise in self-promotion and hubris, to see just how far he could pull the wool over the eyes of the American public. And perhaps partly because he really never expected to get this far, is in way over his head, and is now panicking at the prospect of actually having to run the country (according to some, he only ever wanted to place second, so that he can make his point, gain some publicity and notoriety, and then escape from the real responsibilities).
Interesting theory, and perhaps the only one that makes any sense at all, although maybe it is conferring a little too much smarts and Machiavellianism on the man. Maybe he is, after all, just an idiot and actually believes the stuff that comes out of his mouth (see this recent article for a good summary of some of his most egregious claims and assertions during the campaign).

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