Critics of Donald Trump have once again underestimated a candidate whose hallmark seems to be overcoming the odds. There’s a growing chance that when the sun comes up on January 21, 2017, President Trump may be seated in the oval office, bent on making American great again.
Cruz and Kasich have conceded that neither can secure the Republican nomination on delegate count alone. Their recent alliance is an attempt to deny Trump the 1237 delegates he needs to secure the nomination. It has turned from a traditional “vote for me” campaign into an historic “vote against Trump campaign.” So why has an unlikely candidate like Trump succeeded in securing a significant lead towards the Republican nomination?
The two most common theories include Trump’s marketing skills and voter anger. Some contend that Trump is the ultimate showman, adept at working the crowd like an experienced carnival barker at the county fair. The other popular theory is that he’s tapped into the anger of the masses. The argument is that there are droves of people frustrated with a political system that seems to have forgotten they exist, promises but never delivers, and is steeped in the effete language of European diplomacy at the expense of American pride and strength. Both of these theories are probably true.
But there may be something else going on as well. Call it the Gladiator Theory of Politics: politics as a chance to witness death and destruction.
We humans have an atavistic fascination with death and destruction. The popular media market bears this out. There are limitless natural disaster shows on TV. There are programs where we can watch animals attack people. There are shows about serial killers and their victims. There are movies about the Titanic, tornadoes, killer sharks and a whole genre of torture based horror movies. And then there are all those sci-fi movies that appeal to the same phenomenon, such as the Hunger Games. Perhaps watching people suffer reminds us of our own mortality, or makes us revel in the fact that we are still alive while we watch the spark of life snuffed from some unfortunate victim. The Romans had the same forms of entertainment, but watched from the stone seats of the Colosseum rather than the easy chairs of their living rooms.
Yes, many of the people who are voting for Trump are angry. And some may also be taken in by his rhetoric and showmanship. But a good number are drawn to the opportunity to watch a political system, and a whole class of political operatives, die a slow, painful, and public death. Many will vote for Trump because they have no love for our politicians or a political system they feel is rigged. Trump is like the gladiator we root for because he slays all the emperor’s hand-picked competitors. It’s amusing. And different. And it makes us feel alive, for a little while anyway.
And it is for this reason that Hillary should not underestimate Trump if he gets the Republican nomination. Having destroyed one party, there may very well be a whole bunch of people vote for him simply to watch him destroy the other party as well. And he may very well succeed. And it will be fun to watch. Then on January 21st, the day after the inaugural celebrations are over, the sun comes up and we have to figure out what to do now that the games are over.
January 21st is a significant date for another reason as well, though this one behind us. It was the day King Louis of France was executed in front of the masses. The executioner held up his head for the crowd to see. The crowd loved it. And so began the revolution.
And it was entertaining, for a while….