And now, back to Trump.
In interviews and on the stump, the Donald often brags about being able to speak for hours sans notes or teleprompter -- and it shows. He rambles and gets repetitive, like that relative who tells you the same story over and over -- which was semi-entertaining the first time around, because he makes faces and acts out voices and gets unexpectedly mean and competitive about other family members.
But when you actually call him on anything, like why he got divorced or lost his house, then he changes the subject and starts getting slightly telethonic, like Jerry Lewis with his bow tie hanging low after 48 hours on stage.
Still, Trump supporters eat it up. After all, they know him from “The Apprentice”! And with them, Trump speaks conversationally, with all the rhythms and idioms of Queens, like “Let me tell you!,” “You better believe it!” and “I kid you not!” Those kinds of phrases personalize the performance, and seem soothing to angry crowds looking for a powerful celebrity friend, not a politician.
While he’s all over the place, he is very clear on a few things, including his strong anti-terrorist and anti-immigrant leanings -- and that in the Middle East, we should “take the oil.”
But now, with the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries less than one month away, it seems Trump is acknowledging that he can’t just rely on free media, his obsession with polls, or his rambling stand-up sessions to get the nomination done. It’s crunch time, and he is acknowledging that he has to be more disciplined and strategic -- perhaps like an actual politician. Thus, the king of free media has announced that his campaign will spend upwards of $2 million a week on TV ads, the first of which debuted earlier this week.
I was shocked by this initial spot. For whatever reason, I didn’t expect it to be so hate-filled and obviously demagogue-ish. Imagine if the ghosts of early Lee Atwater and Goebbels cobbled something together. Seems like someone’s been brushing up on “Mein Kampf.”
The spot opens and closes with soaring shots of DJT literally raised on stage, behind a podium, speaking to cheering (white) throngs in living color. (Plus whatever golden/orangey stripe you consider his head feathers to be.)
He’s the appetizers and dessert. The spot’s main dish is a big pot of major nasty, either ominously darkened or leached of color. It starts with a a grainy surveillance-like photo of Obama and Hillary, standing together like a couple, looking stressed and upset. They are followed by mug-shot-y, frontal photos of the San Bernadino killers, the dead-eyed young man and his wife in hijab, in the exact same left-to-right, male-female position. The message seems to be, one of these couples is just like the other.
The most artful part of the ad's set-up is what appears in a box on the bottom of each frame: the words (in all caps) work as subtitles (or literal text as subtext.) Phrases like “Radical Islam” and “Cut the head off Isis,” jump off the screen. And meanwhile, each of the boxes is designed with stars on the top to suggest military messaging, and Trump’s name in caps, on the bottom, so that every frame is branded, like one of the billionaire’s buildings. This is Trump Country, and we’re just living in it.
The Donald tends to view things from on high -- and some of the shots are even seen through the actual cross-hatchings of a scope, as if we are the hunters, viewing people from a great distance, and as such they become dehumanized targets.
The most contentious part comes halfway through the spot. The narrator (who sounds terribly average, while Trump sounds forced and tinny) gets into familiar territory with "He'll stop illegal immigration by building a wall on our southern border that Mexico will pay for.”
The video is indeed an aerial shot of migrants trying to cross a border. But it’s taken from such a distance that these people look like microscopic little black bugs, scuttling around in a garbage dump. The distance, the separateness, and the lack of context is especially desensitizing. That’s why Nazi propaganda often referred to Jews as rats or vermin.
Politifact immediately labeled this footage “Pants on Fire,” (their highest liar rating) because it has nothing to do with “our southern border.” It’s actually video that appeared on Italian television showing migrants trying to enter a small Spanish enclave on the mainland of Morocco, 5,000 miles away.
When called out on this lie, Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski told NBC News, ‘No sh-- it's not the Mexican border, but that's what our country is going to look like. This was 1,000% on purpose.’ "
The only tiny moment of non-fascistic levity, for me, came when the narrator, talking about the suggested very tough ban on Muslims, repeats the Trump line, “Until we can figure out what’s going on.” That seemed awfully weak and seat-of-the-pants for a commercial that otherwise aggressively views the world through the barrel of a gun. Imagine if Obama made such a statement?
Otherwise, this is high propaganda, with low, almost hysterical, Willie Horton-level, subliminal fear-mongering in its visuals.
I wonder what will follow when he actually takes the gloves off. Given this level of discourse, Trump must be terrified that he won’t win.