THE NEW YORKER: It was all so funny once. For a long time, Trump, with his twenty-four-karat skyscrapers, his interesting hair, and his extra-classy airline, was a leading feature of the New York egoscape. The editors of the satirical monthly Spy covered him with the same obsessive attention that Field & Stream pays to the rainbow trout. Trump never failed to provide; he was everywhere, commandeering a corner at a professional wrestling match, buying the Miss Universe franchise and vowing smaller bathing suits and higher heels. You could watch him humiliate supplicants on “The Apprentice” and hear him on “The Howard Stern Show” gallantly describing the mystery of Melania’s bowel movements (“I’ve never seen anything—it’s amazing”) and announcing that, “without even hesitation,” he would have had sex with Princess Diana. As early as 1988, Trump hinted at a run for the White House, though this was understood to be part of his carny shtick, another form of self-branding in the celebrity-mad culture.
And now here we are. Trump is no longer hustling golf courses, fake “universities,” or reality TV. He means to command the United States armed forces and control its nuclear codes. He intends to propose legislation, conduct America’s global affairs, preside over its national-intelligence apparatus, and make the innumerable moral and political decisions required of a President. This is not a Seth Rogen movie; this is as real as mud. Having all but swept the early Republican primaries and caucuses, Trump—who re-tweets conspiracy theories and invites the affections of white-supremacist groups, and has established himself as the adept inheritor of a long tradition of nativism, discrimination, and authoritarianism—is getting ever closer to becoming the nominee of what Republicans like to call “the party of Abraham Lincoln.” No American demagogue––not Huey Long, not Joseph McCarthy, not George Wallace––has ever achieved such proximity to national power. […]
Pull the camera back, and Trump can be viewed as part of a deadly serious wave of authoritarians and xenophobes who have come to power in Russia, Poland, and Hungary, and who lead such movements as the National Front, in France, and the Independence Party, in the United Kingdom. Vladimir Putin and Trump have expressed mutual admiration. It’s not hard to see why. Putin has obliterated the early shoots of Russian democracy as evidence of weakness and obeisance to the West; his eighty-per-cent popularity rating is built on arousing nationalism and a hatred of minorities (ethnic and sexual), the suppression of dissent, and a bare-chested macho image. Trump says approvingly, “At least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country.”
Yet how has Donald Trump, the coddled scion of a New York real-estate baron, emerged as a populist hero? How does the beneficiary of a draft deferment due to bone spurs on his feet get away with questioning the military record of John McCain, who endured five years as a prisoner of war? Trump believes that his appeal is based largely on what he calls his heroic lack of “political correctness” but which is more accurately described as a breezy penchant for race-baiting, war crimes, and content-free policy pronouncements. At rallies, Trump gets some of his loudest cheers when he calls for the expanded use of torture (methods “a hell of a lot worse” than waterboarding), for the construction of a walled-off southern border (it will be “a beautiful wall”), and for the immediate replacement of Obamacare with . . . “something terrific.” MORE