Pandering and preaching on the campaign trail

This story appears in the Election 2016 feature series. View the full series.

by Colman McCarthy

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He slimes Mexicans, vulgarizes women, degrades Muslims, taunts opponents, simplifies complexities, mocks reporters, lies, crosses lines and, in a late December campaign rant in Hilton Head, S.C., slammed Hillary Clinton as "horrible," Obamacare as a "catastrophe," the nation's leaders as "stupid," Bernie Sanders as "a total disaster" and the media as "the worst" and "crooked."

And after all that bile, Donald Trump sugars himself: "I'm actually a nice person. I have a big heart."

As never before, worshipers in the church of American politics are having a crisis of faith. What's left to believe in if a mouthy outsider who's never run for office is packing the halls, leading in the polls and posing as the messiah, vowing to restore to the homeland a "greatness" that he has yet to define and only fantasizes ever was?

To be appalled by Trump's style of electioneering is to push aside the weightier appallment that marks contemporary campaigning for the presidency.

Start with deceptiveness. Conspiratorially, Republican and Democrat patriarchs successfully dupe voters that America has a two-party system and no fecundity beyond that.

The Green Party and its candidate Jill Stein have no ideas or plans worth considering? Nor does Gary Johnson of the Libertarian Party, Bob Whitaker of the American Freedom Party, Emidio Soltysik of the Socialist Party, Monica Moorehead of the Workers World Party, or Chris Keniston of the Veterans Party?

Their ranks have no one able to confront macho man New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who would shoot down Russian planes? Or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz when he blusters that he will keep America safe from Islamic State militants: "We will carpet-bomb them into oblivion. I don't know if sand can glow in the dark, but we are going to find out."

Or that other toughie, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, chest-thumping: "It's time that we punched the Russians in the nose." Or Sarah Palin hailing Donald Trump as the man who can "kick ISIS's ass."

However high Trump's venalities may be piled, he is hard-core honest on the matter of personal wealth: "I'm really rich." Raised in Long Island's Brahman Jamaica Estates, he was given what he calls a "small" start-up loan of $1 million by his father. He relishes money and lusts to make gobs more of it. His road to the White House has no traffic cones hiding lobbyist checks inside.

As they grovel for lucre from corporate PACs or heeled donors, Trump's opponents are opposites in another way: repeatedly toasting themselves on their ever-so humble working-class origins — presumable qualifications for the presidency.

Commoner Kasich unctuously says, "My father carried mail on his back for 29 years," while he himself delivered newspapers. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio crows that his father was a bartender and school crossing guard, while his mother was a maid and K-Mart stock clerk.

Cruz tells of a father who fled Cuba in 1957, and hopped a Greyhound bus to Texas to find work as a dishwasher earning 50 cents an hour. Ben Carson's mother toiled as a housekeeper. Carly Fiorina, once a lowly secretary, has a husband who drove a tow truck.

As tears flow and heartstrings are tugged, what's not heard from these bilious characters are demands to raise the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour. Nor, except for Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul when he's fired up in moments of clarity, do any of the Republican candidates call for cuts in the war budget. Its bloat is a major cause of an economy mired in debt and it excessively enriches military contractors and their shareholders.

The stock of Lockheed Martin, the world's largest arms peddler, has been consistently bullish. At the start of 2016, it reached $218, a comfortable rise from a low of $181 in 2015. On Jan. 21, Vetr, a stock analyst firm, upgraded Lockheed Martin from a "buy" to a "strong buy." Its brother in arms, Northrop Grumman, had a 2015 low of $141 a share to a year-end $188.

Let the good times roll. War-making means money-making. As Trump and the Republican cabal have roamed through Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina and beyond, pandering and preaching, their message resounds: We are in a state of permanent war.

Drop the bombs, slay jihadists and cash the dividends. Trumpet the news: America is great again.

[Colman McCarthy directs the Center for Teaching Peace in Washington, D.C. His recent book is Teaching Peace: Students Exchange Letters With Their Teacher.]

A version of this story appeared in the Feb 12-25, 2016 print issue under the headline: Pandering and preaching on the campaign trail.

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