His power is that he says what he thinks. He says what people say when they’re sitting on their couch watching TV with their family. But as you may burp at home on your couch but you would not in public, is it a virtue to say what you think?
One of the biggest controversies of Trump’s campaign, which might in hindsight mark the beginning of the end of his remarkable campaign (which since 5 August when this was written appears to be coming true), is his running battle with Mr and Mrs Khan whose son was a US soldier who died in Iraq.
Mr and Mrs Khan appeared at the Democratic National Conference challenging Trump to identify what sacrifices he had made for his country – their Muslim son having made the ultimate sacrifice when serving as a US soldier in Iraq. Mr Khan talked throughout with Mrs Khan standing by his side, a bit forlorn looking, identifiable as a Muslim women as she was wearing a Hijab.
Donald Trump’s response to this credible, and therefore threatening challenge, was to side step the question and raise the issue of ethnicity and culture particularly in regard to Mrs Khan’s behaviour during the speech. He suggested that Mrs Khan stood silent because she wasn’t allowed to say anything, because she was a Muslim women under the thumb of her Muslim husband. Thereby raising the question of the treatment of Muslim women in the Islamic world and therefore the question of how compatible Islam is with Western values; a question which is integral to his campaign.
Now right there is the power of Trump’s campaign, often showing its insidious nature and a power which will likely be its downfall. He says what people think. He voices stereotypes that while most of us may not share as opinions, we are certainly well aware of. Stereotypes, being a sort of social currency which we exchange and are aware of, which flash across our mind given the correct stimulus.
Mrs Khan later stated she didn’t speak because, she was upset and saddened by her son’s death which is eminently understandable. But the power of the image of an obviously Muslim woman standing meekly beside her husband not saying a word, lead to perceptions of a silenced Muslim women forbidden to speak. I think that would have crossed the minds of many of those watching that speech. ‘Oh, she’s probably not allowed to say anything’.
And although the concept of the stereotype is much maligned, there is probably some truth in the stereotype of Muslim woman being silenced to some degree. It is at least a stereotype that one is obliged to investigate further – it cannot be so immediately dismissed.
But apart from whether or not that stereotype is true, the fact is a lot of us think it. Even if we don’t think it we live in this culture here and now, and we are subject to the waves that ripple through our group consciousness. Therefore even for the most diehard progressive liberal the stereotype of the silenced meek and oppressed woman likely flashed through their minds as her image flashed in front of their eyes on the night of that speech in Philadelphia.
Trump taps into that. He says it. He dispenses with the ‘responsibility’ and ‘maturity’ that a senior politician, statesman and world leader should have and talks… and he just talks. And people love him for it.
We have come to a time where people are sick of the slick suits, the empty promises and the appeals to our apparent nature: hope, fairness, democracy, equality, even community. Where people see a world where there is not reflected and has not been reflected for a very long time (if it ever was) and they are being drawn in by someone who is telling the truth, or at least their truth, or more to the point, what he is thinking… which is what they’re thinking.
Maybe it’s not right (or maybe not right to say out loud), but he just said what everyone was thinking, and there’s big power in that.