I never thought I would say this, but last month, two of the leading candidates for President of the United States were having a serious debate over the size of their genitalia. I don’t think it can be overemphasized how shocking it is to see this kind of behavior from presidential candidates. This contest will determine who will become arguably the most important political figure in the world. Despite the gravity of the task at hand, we are seeing some campaigns dominated by crude attacks and violent rallies rather than serious discussion of policy. All traditional barriers are being broken as politicians descend deeper and deeper into extreme tactics and further from the rationality we usually expect from candidates. This election has already set a terrifying precedent for the future of electoral politics.
One cannot deny that this problem lies almost exclusively with the Republican party. In modern democracy, one hopes that people will consider policies and ideas as well as charisma or machismo. However, the Republican primary results suggest that politics is increasingly going in the opposite direction. While Secretary Clinton and Senator Sanders debate for or against certain policies and methods to implement them, the Republican debates have descended into increasingly aggressive personal attacks.
Even leaving aside the many controversial policies being discussed, the tactics of some of the Republican candidates are a cause for concern. Several people have compared Donald Trump to Hitler, including former President of Mexico Vicente Fox, former Governor of New Jersey Christine Todd Whitman, a fellow Republican, and comedian Louis C.K. Focusing on tactics alone, this doesn’t seem too far-fetched. He focuses his campaign around massive rallies that are becoming increasingly violent. He encourages this violence, and said of one protester that he would personally ‘like to punch him in the face’. He appeals to conceptions of strength, international superiority, and a return to a mythical greatness that he thinks America lost somewhere in the past. He even recently made supporters at a rally pledge unconditional support for him, with right arms raised in the air. All these tactics are reminiscent of fascism. His refusal to condemn characters such as ex-KKK leader David Duke does nothing to help him dismiss these comparisons, let alone the claim by his ex-wife that he used to keep a copy of Hitler’s speeches by his bed.
What is perhaps most surprising about these tactics, though, is their popularity. As Trump becomes more extreme and drifts further away from succinct and legitimate policy, his popularity remains intact and his rallies have almost reached hysteria. One rally in Chicago was cancelled due to excessive violence breaking out before it even started. Meanwhile the other Republican candidates, seeing their own approval ratings slump, stooped to Trump’s level in desperation. Realising that there was little interest in their policies, during the last few debates the candidates focused on personal attacks. Senator Marco Rubio decided to go all out, mocking Trump’s ‘spray tan’ and ‘small hands’, adding ‘you know what they say about guys with small hands’. Trump hit back, assuring his fans that ‘There’s no problem there.’ The crowd loved it, apparently much more confident that Trump is a good candidate, knowing the true size of his manhood.
These sort of arguments might be entertaining to watch in a normal situation, but it is frightening that this is happening in a United States general election. Secretary of State John Kerry has said that world leaders are ‘shocked’ by the election campaigns, which are turning into an ‘embarrassment’ for the US. Others have pointed out that the proven effectiveness of such tactics is likely to make them more popular in the future. While Trump still seems far away from an electoral victory, it has already been extraordinary to see that a candidate with aggressive and incoherent views has been able to develop such a loyal fan base. One can only hope that this style of politics will not be imitated by others in the future.
- Xan Northcott