Legend has it that Stephen Colbert invented the red-faced, right wing character on Comedy Central in order to mock that same right wing unmercifully, and hence to defang it.
Today’s question: did Donald Trump do the same thing?
Some Trumpistas are claiming that in their experience over “decades” they have never known Trump to be anything less than generous, funny, interesting and interested in, and caring. To them, the “new Trump, on view since Tuesday last in West Bend, is the old GOOD one, while the earlier version (on view since that ignominious escalator ride more than a year ago) is the BAD one, a character invented by the man himself to make a point, i.e., the same points Colbert reputedly was trying to make on Comedy Central.
It was clear that in West Bend – before the official announcement of Kelleyanne Conway as campaign chair was made – she had leapt into the presidential fray and her words and fingerprints were all over that speech. THAT speech was the one that devoted, for the first time, nearly eight minutes of attention to African-Americans. (The speech was more notable for its trolling effect, or bald pandering, if you will. Every interest group in the country was offered goodness and mercy by Mr. Trump, better lives, better futures, safer schools, etc. Ms. Conway knows her stuff.)
Since Tuesday, we have been treated to two more Trump appearances, both notable for their self-deprecating humor, for their softer tone, for their inclusionary efforts, for what passes these days as self-control.
These three appearances on the campaign trail seem to have made the Republicans in Congress happier, and not made the Republican base any less so. Mission accomplished.
And yet, last night’s speech included the promise by Mr. Trump that he would never “lie to you.”
Which vow was torn up almost even before it hit open air, as he then claimed once more to have funded his entire presidential campaign himself. (The crowd seemed not to notice.)
All of this leads us once again into Russian waters, as we hear that members of that nation’s oligarchical class have been slipping the Donald loot on the sly. Presumably these ambitious men with too much oil money want to be able to be listed as Donald’s investors in new projects around the world. They’ve caught the same disease his followers have: he’s a deal-maker who can rack up huge profits with very little expense.
Last night Trump “admitted” he regretted some of the things he had said early in the campaign. What these might be he didn’t specify. But he also did not make any effort to either soften his bellicose, hard-nosed America first approach, or even to modify some of his outrageous claims and theories.
Which is to say his “regret” is as bogus as his knowledge about national defense, the budget, voting rights, Mexicans, and women. He is not “walking back” anything, although he’s singing more sweetly. We imagine Ms. Conway has bowed and bent to the Donald, agreeing to let him be “himself.” Which is to say, she’s no doubt counseling him that most of America will forget those lines he might legitimately have regretted and decided to forge ahead, riding right over them, and just keep going as fast and as furiously as he can hoping no one will challenge him.
Which leads us to Mrs. Clinton, who is now in deep trouble. Hillary is not as fast and imaginative as Stephen Colbert. There is only one Hillary, like her or not. And right now, under siege from Trump himself and soon, no doubt, to be bombarded by the new crowd from Breitbart with bogus scandals and diseases while still struggling with the “honest and trustworthy” deficit she has racked up over the years, the eighty days ahead look desperately depressing. True enough, she has managed to embroil herself in some very questionable enterprises, even though many will defend her by saying each error was motivated only by good will and the desire to change the world for the better. But what we see in Hillary is what we get. This cannot be said, definitely yet, for Mr. Trump.
Worse, for Mrs. Clinton, she is now up against men and women whose single goal is to win, at any price. This includes the redoubtable Roger Ailes, late of Fox News. She can hardly expect “fair and balanced” from the Hessians that the Republicans have lately seduced, from which a cadre of killers has been fashioned at no little expense. (None of this “expense” is chalked up to Mr. Trump, mind you.)
One difference between Stephen Colbert and Donald Trump is that the former has a solid bead on what is real and valuable in America, and healthy for the nation. We do not think the same can be said for the army now behind Mr. Trump. He may instinctively feel what’s good and valuable for Donald Trump. But our suspicion is that the GOOD Donald is no different from the BAD Donald. Regardless of the heat and vitality of his base, those determined to have him at any price, may have to pay an exorbitant price in American freedom and prestige, security and economics.
So, alas, would we.