Time to Smear Trump?

August Kleinzahler

Sixteen years ago, during the Republican primary campaign, John McCain went into South Carolina with a five-point lead over George W. Bush, having enjoyed a decisive victory in New Hampshire. A certain party with no official links to the Bush campaign organised a phone poll, asking: ‘Would you be more or less likely to vote for John McCain if you knew he had fathered an illegitimate black child?’ (McCain had taken his adopted daughter, who was born in Bangladesh, on the campaign trail.) It worked like a top for the Bush team. McCain lost the South Carolina primary by eleven points and never recovered. While the smear campaign was underway, during a break in a televised debate between the two candidates, Bush took McCain’s arm and assured him that he, Bush, would never countenance a dirty manoeuvre. ‘Don’t give me that shit,’ McCain told him. ‘And take your hands off me.’

When Donald Trump said the other evening that Bush dropped the ball on 9/11 and ignored serious intelligence that an attack on the World Trade Center was imminent, he was correct. When he said the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a colossal mistake and based on lies perpetrated by the administration about weapons of mass destruction, he was correct. But he was speaking in South Carolina, not Cambridge, Massachusetts or the San Francisco Bay area. The studio audience booed Trump heartily.

It isn’t easy to determine who’s the most vile or freakish of the Republican candidates still standing, but if I were an operative for Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio or Ted Cruz I would urge them to embark on a smear campaign against Donald Trump, perhaps borrowing a phrase from Jack Kerouac. In On the Road, he describes Roland Major (the character based on Allan Temko) as a ‘choleric, red-faced, pudgy hater’. Trump’s five thousand dollar suits can’t begin to hide that he’s overweight. He is certainly choleric and filled with hate, directed more at those who get in his way than at Mexicans or Muslims, who are simply convenient to scapegoat among the Republican electorate, especially somewhere like South Carolina, which is down there with Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama as one of the most bigoted states in the union, and goddamn proud of it, too.

Why does the Donald become red-faced so quickly and easily? I wonder what his medical chart looks like. Perhaps someone might ‘get hold of it’. I can’t imagine what would happen with President Trump getting on a flight to Jerusalem or Moscow and having it out in a head-to-head with Netanyahu or Putin, both of whom are at least as vile as, but immeasurably cleverer and more treacherous than Trump. Might not Trump simply explode, his dun comb-over exploding like the cap of a volcano, blood spurting forth from his skull like lava? It’s something the voters in the primaries ahead might consider when placing their votes.

Strom Thurmond of South Carolina, one of the longest-serving senators in American history, an unrepentant racist his entire career, died at the age of 100 in 2003. In his younger days, he was affectionately known by his constituents as ‘Sperm Thurmond’, I suppose for his active ‘social life’. Six months after his death, an African-American woman named Essie Mae Washington-Williams came forward and announced that she was his daughter, born on 2 October 1925. The Thurmond family did not deny it. Essie Mae had been treated with kindness – even as a family member – by the Thurmonds over the course of her youth. She was simply asked not to discuss it in public. Washington-Williams published her autobiography in 2005; it was nominated for both a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. She died, aged 87, in 2013.


  • 17 February 2016 at 4:42pm
    wascalwabbit says:
    At this point it's hard to see how you could smear Trump. Each time he gets more foul and disgusting, his support seems to increase. The people who love him do so precisely for the things that make him repellent. The people who hate him are too busy clubbing together for a hit man.

  • 17 February 2016 at 10:01pm
    trishjw says:
    You're delightful in your comments about Trump--at least to me. Trump is correct about Bush's ignorance/inaction prior to 9/11 and also to our staying out of Syria's conflict with the insurgents.Attacking Syria just puts US back at war in the Middle East that we should be trying to get out of. The various combinations of who's attacking whom is conflicting even to them. There is no way other than a truce and later a treaty signed and kept by the various groups including the insurgencies and Syria but that is not in the foreseen future. But Trump's other racist and hateful comments makes him not worthy of any political position let alone the presidency. Keep reminding others. We have 13 more states all at once in March that will vote. Hopefully, by then he will have lost some of his attention.

  • 18 February 2016 at 1:32am
    Locus says:
    What's with the last paragraph, though? Is it some kind of hint about Trump?

  • 18 February 2016 at 2:08am
    jackmmm says:
    Wasn't a former president famously out-acted by a monkey?

    And another never quite got to grips with the pre-school story-time?

    The one you've got now seem quite bright – fat lot of good it's doing him.

    One worries that, with world leaders, a lack of intelligence is a plus point.

    It's only a finger on a button though, ay?

  • 18 February 2016 at 4:46pm
    Joshua K says:
    Trump's popularity has inevitably caused major questions to be asked about today's US. But why didn't the candidacy of Jeb Bush provoke such questions? Up to now, the only thing the rest of the world knew about Jeb's political career was that he was highly instrumental, when governor of Florida, in subverting the 2000 presidential election on behalf of his brother. In many countries, his antics would have brought serious jail time; and certainly would have ended his career in public life. Yet, for some reason, mainstream Establishment opinion in 'The world's greatest democracy'™ regards Jeb as an utterly uncontroversial candidate to be next president of the United States.

    Why does THAT say about today's America?

  • 19 February 2016 at 11:42am
    Sal Scilicet says:
    Feel better now, August? What the hell are you playing at? Do you seriously believe this sort of gutter journalism will lift the overall tenor of what is by all accounts the demise of “The Last Best Hope”. Are you saying, if Trump can get away with it, maybe he deserves some of his own sauce? Stoop to his level? To win the Oval Office? Where the buck stops? Are you saying the American version of “democracy at its best” has not yet descended far enough, to the point of total farce and infamy? Are you proud of yourself, Mr Kleinzahler, sitting comfortably at a safe distance? To excoriate South Carolina in that haughty manner, as “down there with Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama as one of the most bigoted states in the union, and goddamn proud of it, too.” Whither civil discourse? How can you even face your shaving mirror with a straight face? Condemning an entire state, more than 4.8 million individuals, each with their own peculiar set of problems as do we all, for merely being proud of being wrong? Trump is overweight? My God, are you serious? This is grounds for what, exactly? Who is accusing whom of being “choleric and filled with hate”?

    • 19 February 2016 at 3:55pm
      Geoff Roberts says: @ Sal Scilicet
      Well, I certainly take your comment with a grain of salt, Sal. Anybody who finds a single positive thing to say about that man must be a true believer. Has nicer ties than Cruz? Is half Scottish? (That must make a few million wince) Plays Golf? Sal, (if I may call you that) try to imagine the USA with Trump as President and Palin as VP and then tell us that in a democracy you get the leaders that you deserve. Nobody deserves Trump for anything.

    • 19 February 2016 at 10:18pm
      Sal Scilicet says: @ Geoff Roberts
      [He thinks I’m a Trump apologist.] Do you mind if I call you Geoff? How do you know Trump is what he seems? Does he look like a regular Republican to you? Does this confected persona represent anybody? Does the public Trump image suggest to you he even cares what you think? Is that deliberate? Where did he come from? What is his alma mater? The Big Apple. You know, OINYK, OINY. Only in New York Kids, Only in New York. Raucous. Loud. Devil may care insolence. All to a carefully cultivated script. Think Seinfeld, Billy Crystal, Robin Williams et al. How do you know Trump is not playing to the gallery? Can’t you see how he despises his audience, mindlessly rising to his eminently predictable foul refrain? How do you know his intention is not to demonstrate that the system is well and truly fucked? That democracy has become a farce. You know what? The Internet and the mainstream media and Hollywood tinseltown and the social hyperventilating media do not actually represent the vast bulk of ordinary down-home people. Like you and me. Anywhere. It only feels that way. The vast majority of American people are straight down the middle. They don’t know what to think half the time, but they know when it rains. They know which side the butter is on. Like you and me. The vast majority are concerned with putting food on the table and getting the kids to school. That applies to Russians, Chinese, Mexicans, Africans. The vast majority of British people are not football hooligans. A bandwagon has this curious peculiarity – the more excited fellow travellers clamber on board, the more others feel compelled to jump off. The Gallup Organisation has ceased polling the Primaries. Why? Regular, decent, fair-minded Americans are firmly slamming the door. Participation rates have plummeted. What did the polls say, before David Cameron romped back in an unprecedented, unwanted, unexpected, undesirable landslide? People are unpredictable, irrational, self-interested, naive, trying very hard to stay ahead of the curve. Very like you and me. People who habitually behave abominably are not abominable people. How many times have you let your hair down? How many times have you witnessed a loudmouth in the pub, who you know holds down a regular job and has kids in college? Who are you really, when you are alone in your bed? It’s called grandstanding. How many of the publicised millions have quietly abandoned Twitter, in disgust and dismay? How do you know Trump is not determined, Samson-like, to bring the whole dysfunctional charade down?

    • 20 February 2016 at 9:17am
      Geoff Roberts says: @ Sal Scilicet
      Thank you Sal. What you see is what you get, in Walmart or at the polls. I wouldn't know a republican voter if I saw one, but there could be something in your last question that I certainly had not considered - that he is an iconoclast and wants to destroy the whole facade of politics. But I think that your inference about popular behaviour is off the target. Year after year, election after election, political parties get consistent numbers of votes - up 2% or down 3%, the figures don't change very much in most countries, which can be interpreted as gerrymandering by the conspiracy addicts or as reliability on the part of the voters to vote rationally. So self-interest is only part of the equation, in spite of elected leaders like Putin, Poroshenko (? - not so sure about him) But Hollande, Merkel, Tsipras try to get things done honestly and ethically. What can happen in the United States is that a well-meaning (!) president gets elected and then is told he can kill people in distant countries with drones even if he has been awarded (!) the Nobel Peace Prize, and the goes ahead and does just that. In that sense, the glitch is not in the system, the glitch is the system.
      And if you are correct and Trump is the man who wants a better world what does his vision of a brave new America look like? I have a naive faith in the ability of adults to take the right course in times of trouble. I have watched with great admiration how thousands of Germans, Greeks and Italians have gone out and helped the refugees pouring into their neighbourhoods with no intention to get any other benefit the knowledge that they we doing something worthwhile. In the town where I live there are as many volunteers as there are refugees. I am sure that there are many such groups in the USA as well but the political leaders have their hands in the cookie jar and the desire to get rich while they have the chance. Thanks for your answers. That is what a Blog is for.

    • 20 February 2016 at 11:30am
      Sal Scilicet says: @ Geoff Roberts
      I would much prefer to dispense with the usual formalities, but hey thanks for taking the time. That is what a blog is for sounds altogether too nice. But that there could be anything at all in my last question that you certainly had not considered would worry me I think if I were you. You see, I cannot abide pontification. I’m more inclined to ask as many [absurd?] questions as possible. You never can tell and we never know enough. Grandstanding, That’s what I’m doing. Maybe that too is what a blog is for. Hollande, Merkel, Tsipras try to get things done honestly and fairly? You see. I’d put an immediate question mark behind that. [Erst heißt es, wir schaffen das? Und dann? Aber vielleicht auch nicht.] Grandstanding. Recall Kennedy and Khrushchev. Neither of them wanted armageddon. Absolute imperative was to save face. For domestic consumption. India and Pakistan? Nuclear war? Absurd. Only the sabre rattling. That’ll win votes. Iran doesn’t want the bomb to blast Tel Aviv. But to wow the mums and dads at home by being seen to be admitted to the top table. Same goes for young Kim Jong Un. Questions. What if Trump can’t lose? How many lands have a fond national hero in their collective closet? A right larrikin who dared cock a snook at authority? Hendrik van Brederode [1531-68] “le Grand Gueux” made lusty sport to wild acclaim from the peasantry and discreet burgers alike of taunting with impunity the Duke of Alva, hated governor of the Spanish Netherlands. Trump evokes exactly that kind of populist rambunctious impudence. Why, he’d make Mussolini blush. What if all the faux unanimous delicious outrage is precisely the whole point? Is Trump showing the august Washington Establishment his middle finger? Like Bart Simpson his bum? Inside The Beltway? How dare he. Is Trump about demonstrating that the Oval Office has frankly become an anachronism? Who knew? Gridlock in Congress? [Aka coitus interruptus.] That real power no longer if ever it did resides on The Hill. But in Wall Street and the Pentagon. What if he can’t lose? Should that eminently deplorable latter-day Janus accidentally reach 1600 Pennsylvania, he will have proven beyond a shadow of doubt that this whole democracy deal is plain beyond farce. [Think Ian Richardson/ Kevin Spacey in House of Cards.] Should Trump bow out on say Super Tuesday he can always play Der verleugnete Führer. [Actors Equity will be mighty proud to award him the honorary Oscar.] And excoriate to within an inch his adoring supporters for not trying hard enough. They’ll simply love it. Christ re-crucified. What’s not to like?

    • 21 February 2016 at 9:25am
      randalstella says: @ Sal Scilicet
      Say goodnight to the folks Gracie.

  • 24 February 2016 at 3:42am
    Graucho says:
    With all the focus on Mr T, folks have not really dug deep into the policies and personalities of his Republican rivals. At this point I feel bound to say that he is the least bad of the bunch.

  • 25 February 2016 at 6:48pm
    Graucho says:
    Here comes the smear ...

  • 29 February 2016 at 12:02am
    Timothy Rogers says:
    Well, gentlemen,settle down and start worrying about a far more serious matter.America doesn't have a Donald Trump problem, it has an American voter problem. If, across several regions of this country, somewhere between 30 and 40 per-cent of the registered Republican voters who participate in primary elections believe that Trump is not only acceptable, but downright admirable, then the lunatic fringe (or better, ignoramus fringe)is seriously impinging on what used to be called the "normal curve" (or distribution). Either they haven't the foggiest idea of what's in their own material and civic interest, or they are so full of spite and hate that they don't care what impact he has on their own lives, as long as he continues to give vent to their pathetic animosities. It doesn't look good, and many a rogue has come into power around the world with a plurality of 40% of voters.

  • 1 March 2016 at 4:45pm
    Pressbaby says:
    David Cronenberg's The Deadzone has a dead ringer for Trump in the Martin Sheen character Greg Stillson who is also running for president. A good place to start but just don't start asking for Johnny Smith to show up.

  • 3 March 2016 at 10:14pm
    Timothy Rogers says:
    Good movie, from the "psychic" and thriller points of view - seeing into the future rather than going back into the past to kill some nasty SOB, but the Trump comparison can only be taken so far. Trump doesn't give "apocalyptic confrontations with evil" a nod, and seems to believe that he can "do a reasonable deal" with anyone (Putin, Assad, the Chinese). This should calm some people down, though it's so vague as to be meaningless. Along similar lines, if elected, he would be even more disappointing to cultural conservatives and the evangelical crowd than Bush junior was - he doesn't seem to have a religious bone in his body, and his ethics may have only reached the stage of cartilage. There are several big problems with the man. He's a blowhard, bully, and demagogue who is willing to say anything to keep his base enthusiastic (they are the real problem), and no one has any idea exactly what he would do upon assuming office. Would he be happy being "the biggest winner" or actually try something crazy? Like I say, no one has the faintest idea, given his chameleon qualities.

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