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Neither racist, nor stupid … just brilliant

  • Published at 10:40 am October 27th, 2017
  • Last updated at 04:56 am October 28th, 2017
Neither racist, nor stupid … just brilliant

At the risk of being the odd man out in a worldwide group-think, I must take issue with two of the oft-quoted criticisms of President Donald J Trump: One, that he is racist; two, that he is stupid.

That is lazy thinking from people who are more likely to prognosticate theories than produce results. More important, for those who genuinely want to oppose politically the president’s agenda, such group-think does nothing but serve up self-soothing platitudes.

The man was born, grew up, and lived, until a few months ago, in the world’s most ethnically diverse city, New York. He counted any number of black, brown, and Asian people as his friends and associates.

Race was not much of an issue until Trump’s interest in the presidency grew during the second term of his predecessor. As to why it became an issue is a question whose answer leads to a negation of the second oft-repeated critique of him concerning his intelligence.

I’ll submit to you that in terms of pure political intelligence, Mr Trump is likely one of the smartest politicians ever to become president of the United States. Unlike anyone since perhaps the fringe candidacy of Pat Buchanan in the early 1990s, Trump -- whose political affiliations have been all over the place -- figured out that with the Obama presidency, the litmus test for the Republican Party had fundamentally changed, and nobody else worth a name had detected it.

Barack Obama’s election -- and certainly, re-election -- sent a powerful symbolic message that America’s demographics were not only changing, but that such change was slowly beginning to be felt in public policy.

The message may have been premature, but its symbolism was intense, and the reaction, though subterranean, equally vigorous. Radio talk show hosts picked up on it and ran with the lurid conspiracy theories of Obama not being a real American or Christian, his personal spending habits, his wife’s profligacy, his daughters’ attitudes, and a whole host of even more bizarre, and mostly untrue,  things whose subtext was his race. Year after year, inch by inch, the litmus test of the conservative movement was shifting under the Obama presidency.

Mr Trump did not become a billionaire by being faint-hearted, overtly nice, or stupid. His well-honed radar picked up that by the last two years of the Obama era, conservative foundational principles of national security, free trade, support for democratisation abroad, right to life of the unborn, and entitlement rollbacks had all become secondary to the very type of identity politics that Democrats had often used with some success.

Were the situation reversed and Mr Trump saw an opportunity to capitalise on black or brown identity politics as a surefire way to the presidency, I have little doubt he would have done so

Except in this case, it was the Republican Party’s base of whites in the working class and small business community that was coalescing into an electoral identity. Complement that identity with invoking the anxiety delivered by free trade, and more than a few brown faces speaking Spanish in erstwhile all white working class communities in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania, and a master politician had the perfect formula to snatch the Republican nomination from more conventional and nuanced veterans of the erstwhile pro-free trade Republican political establishment. The rest, as they say, is history.

Retail politics in democratic electoral systems is less about vision and grand philosophies than about being the right person at the right time, and seizing the proverbial day when others dither. Sure, you have to say the right things to please the right number of people and all that; but that is what savvy politicians do.

Donald Trump just turned out to be savvier than all his peers in 2016; some of it was certainly luck in that he drew a few lightweights in his intra-party contests, and a figure as controversial as Hillary Clinton in the general election.

That doesn’t take away from the sheer street smarts of a businessman who saw the need for a product of the time that others didn’t, and delivered that product in the form of his own well-packaged candidacy to a party’s base whose values had been fundamentally re-prioritised during the eight years of the Barack Obama presidency.

Were the situation reversed and Mr Trump saw an opportunity to capitalise on black or brown identity politics as a surefire way to the presidency, I have little doubt he would have done so.

He is a smart man and hasn’t survived the rough and tumble of New York City’s cut-throat real estate development market by being oblivious to emerging trends.

As the old saying goes, it’s nothing personal, it’s just business.

Esam Sohail is a college administrator and lecturer of social sciences. He writes from Kansas, USA.

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