Editor’s Note: This has been a really interesting election season, and the primaries haven’t even started yet. For months, we’ve all been hearing about how Donald Trump is ready to plateau, and his campaign is just a mirage. I think it’s time we all realized that, not only could he be the Republican nominee (he really is the guy most in tune with what conservatives believe), he could actually be President Trump in 2017. If that sounds far-fetched, I think you’re giving the American people too much credit for good sense.

Electoral Truthiness in the Trump Era

Jerry, just remember. It’s not a lie ... if you believe it.”

George Costanza

By the end of their Comedy Central runs, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert were considered America’s “most trusted” news sources by many Americans. During his tenure, Colbert coined a term that defines our political campaigns: “truthiness.” This idiom denotes those things one feels are (or should be) true, but for which there’s no data, evidence, proof or even logic. In theology, it would be termed an “article of faith”; skeptics call it “magical thinking.”

Donald Trump debuted his personal brand of truthiness by opining, without evidence, that President Obama was foreign-born — hence, constitutionally unqualified for office. Trump refused to apologize for his birtherism, even when Obama produced his birth certificate. Because he never admits error, The Donald went with what has become his standard practice — doubling down on the lie.

Pundits constantly predict Trump will eventually say something so silly, bigoted, hateful or dishonest that his campaign will implode. But this won’t happen, because his base is so enamored with the truthiness of his rants — for example, they share his horror that Obama was twice freely elected. Trump’s positions aren’t out of the GOP mainstream — they represent the positions much of his party either believes or wishes were true.  

Because he’s not technically a politician, The Donald is given credit for being the only candidate with integrity, so it doesn’t matter that he says things that are irrational or simply content-free. Nor does it matter that this lifelong Democrat has flip-flopped 180 degrees on many issues to endear himself with a conservative base.

Trump initially called invading Afghanistan a mistake; now he doesn’t. He was once pro-choice; he’s now pro-life. He was for gun control; now he’s “a big Second Amendment guy.” He’s backed Hillary Clinton, and, with characteristic hyperbole, he now calls her the worst secretary of state in history. Bottom line: Trump doesn’t need to believe what he’s saying to keep his followers happy; it’s enough that what he says sounds truthy.

Trump burst onto the scene in 2015 with his comments on immigration. The issue itself was the epitome of truthiness. He’s calling it a crisis at a time when net immigration has been declining for years (by 2014, more Mexicans were leaving the U.S. than arriving). But many Americans fear the crisis is accelerating, and maybe most Mexicans really are rapists and drug dealers anyway. So now we’re hoping Mexico will pay for the wall, and that rounding up and deporting 11 million illegals will be a fiscally profitable enterprise.

Steve Schmidt, who managed the McCain campaign, has called our time “a post-fact era,” and GOP strategist Karl Rove asserts that “Trump’s substance is completely void.” Trump promises to repeal Obamacare, but when asked what he’d replace it with, the best he could come up with was “something great.” Trump isn’t good at follow-up questions. Luckily, his fans seldom ask follow-up questions and don’t care about his answers.

Although no footage exists, Trump claims to have seen “thousands” of Muslims in Jersey City celebrating 9/11. N.J. governor Chris Christie denies it happened, and the reporter of the article Trump cited (Fred Siegel of the New York Post) claims The Donald has conflated West Bank Palestinians with a handful of American Muslims. Because it’s what he wants to be true, Trump has doubled down on this illusory assertion as well, claiming his “memory is perfect” — more magical thinking.

Following the terrorist attack by a pro-life killer in Colorado, members of the Republican press willing to report the story began painting Robert Dear as a lone nut, who wasn’t pro-life, and hadn’t been influenced by the right-wing media, conservative Christianity or the GOP presidential candidates’ slanders against Planned Parenthood. Fox News dismissed the effects of the pro-life hoax that aired doctored videos, despite the terrorist’s own statement that there would be “no more baby parts.”

At the same time, in the social media (e.g., Facebook), the Left began posting memes on every wacky fundamentalist/evangelical who’d ever proclaimed that those killed by pro-life terrorists have gotten what they deserved. Like the Muslims who celebrated 9/11, these Christians probably represent a small minority; however, the Left’s truthiness was the belief that millions of evangelicals wish that supporters of reproductive choice could be murdered. Truthiness isn’t solely the province of the Right.

Trump’s truthiness makes the bigots happy. When The Donald suggested a travel ban on Muslims (which even Dick Cheney opposes), what made it truthy was that it sounded proactive; however, passports don’t have the bearer’s religion on them, so the whole exercise is merely Trumpian hot air. And, as a member of a religious minority here in the U.S. (i.e., I’m not a Christian), I’m a bit frightened by this sort of slippery slope.

And most of us are reluctant to stand up to the playground bully. Particularly revolting was Trump’s vile impersonation of a handicapped New York Times reporter, which his followers cheered as a thumb in the eye of political correctness. Far too many of us applaud simple nastiness when it comes disguised as honesty and political courage.

Initially, I thought the 2016 GOP candidate would be Marco Rubio, but I’ve since changed my mind. It’s likely Trump will be at the top of the ticket, and there’s a good chance he’ll be president. We Americans are suckers for truthiness.  

The bit of truthiness I accepted for months was that the best thing about Trump was that he won’t take contributions from the fat cats in the business and political establishment. There’s something a little distasteful about billionaires like the loathsome Sheldon Adelson buying politicians, as happened with Newt Gingrich in 2012. (In 2016, Adelson hopes to be Marco Rubio’s “special interest.”)

In contrast, Trump insists that he can’t be bought. But think about it for a minute. Trump was born a millionaire, and is now a stereotypical billionaire fat cat himself. Wouldn’t electing him just be handing the Oval Office to one more entitled special interest, and merely cutting out the middleman? In what universe is that an improvement?  

By 2020, a lot of us may be wishing Jon Stewart was back on the air amusing us, because four years of a Trump administration doesn’t sound like a laughing matter.

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