In the age of the smartphone it’s too good an analogy to pass up. Increasingly, as his presidential campaign flames out, Donald Trump is the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 of US politics — a phone so hurriedly assembled that it spontaneously combusts. That would make Hillary Clinton the iPhone 7. She’s essentially the same as your current president but harder to connect to and with inferior email security.
When I tried out this joke on Twitter last week, someone mentioned that it had already been made on the television comedy show Saturday Night Live.
This came as no surprise. SNL and the presidential election have been essentially fused ever since Alec Baldwin was brought in to parody Trump. Most people now prefer Baldwin’s masterly spoof to the original. Indeed, this may be one of the many reasons why Trump is sliding in the opinion polls. Once you’ve seen the comic version, the original is disappointingly unfunny.
This blending of politics and comedy is not new, but with Trump it has gone to the next level. “Are you not entertained?” Baldwin’s Trump asked last weekend, a day after the video tape of the real Trump’s sexual bragging — sorry, locker-room talk — had been released by The Washington Post. Well, yes and no. The American public is fascinated by Trump, but in the way people are fascinated by a really gruesome car crash.
For a growing percentage of undecideds and independents, whose votes Trump needs if he is to win this election, he has stopped being a laughing matter.
It is bad enough to boast that you have groped women. It is fatal to deny that you did it — as Trump did in the second of his debates with Clinton — only to have numerous women appear within days to state that oh yes you did.
In March on this page I observed that Trump’s “caveman politics” was based on a deeply phoney machismo. “A man who has to reassure the world about the size of his genitals is not macho,” I wrote.
Teenage boys quickly figure out that the guy who boasts the most about his sexual conquests is, in reality, the last to lose his virginity. Increasingly I wonder what particular insecurity it is that Trump suffers from.
Yet it will be tragic if the history books record that Trump lost the 2016 election because he confessed to, and was then accused of, sexual assault that he then denied. Because there is a much better reason why he deserves to lose. After all, we have had sexually hyperactive presidents before. Quite apart from the dalliances of Bill Clinton, recall the priapism of John F Kennedy, still among the most revered presidents in American history.
No. The reason we should pray for Trump to lose is not for the future safety of female air travellers or beauty queens, but for the future security of the western world. It is a less salacious topic, but the most shocking aspect of the Trump campaign is not the revelation that he is a serial sexual harasser, but rather the revelation that he is the dupe, if not the pawn, of the Russian president, Vladimir Putin.
That the Russians are meddling in this election is now official. According to the Department of Homeland Security, the Kremlin “directed” the hacking of email accounts associated with the Democratic Party, and the intention was “to interfere with the US election process”.
It is also widely believed in Washington that Moscow is behind the release by WikiLeaks of emails to and from Clinton, the most recent of which were purloined from the Gmail account of John Podesta, her campaign chairman.
Oddly enough, the Russians don’t seem quite as interested in the Republican candidate’s emails. I wonder why. The obvious answer is that Trump says nice things about Putin (“in terms of leadership he’s getting an A”). The more exciting answer is that Trump is himself a Kremlin operative.
Writing in Slate magazine in July, Franklin Foer argued that Putin has “a plan for destroying the West — and that plan looks a lot like Donald Trump”. In The Washington Post my old friend Anne Applebaum called Trump the “Manchurian candidate”. A day later, in The New York Times, my old foe Paul Krugman opted for the “Siberian candidate”.
Is it a conspiracy theory cooked up by the Clinton campaign? Masha Gessen has persuasively argued that Trump’s bromance with Putin is more fantasy than reality. In the words of the historian Timothy Snyder, “Putin is the real-world version of the person Trump pretends to be on television.”
Still. When he hired Paul Manafort as his campaign manager, Trump can hardly have been unaware of Manafort’s work for the Kremlin’s crony Viktor Yanukovych, the corrupt Ukrainian president between 2010 and 2014. Another former Trump adviser with suspiciously close ties to Moscow is Carter Page, a vocal defender of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
Then there is Trump’s openly stated desire to do a “great deal” with Putin if he is elected, combined with the aspersions that he has cast on Nato (“obsolete and expensive”) — not forgetting his refusal to accept that Russia is behind the cyber-campaign against his opponent, a campaign that he himself incited back in July.
Wait: there’s more. Last Monday, at a rally in Pennsylvania, Trump read out a leaked email that he claimed was from Clinton’s confidant Sidney Blumenthal. It suggested that, in Blumenthal’s view, the 2012 terrorist attack on Benghazi, in which four Americans died, could have been prevented (by the then secretary of state Clinton). The crowd lapped it up.
In fact, the words Trump read had been lifted from a Newsweek article by Kurt Eichenwald and falsely attributed to Blumenthal by Sputnik, a Russian news website.
In short, even if Trump was a transgender tree-hugger with an unblemished record of consensual monogamous relationships, he would still deserve to lose this election. Think about what you have just read. Then reflect on what the Russian government has spent the past week doing in Aleppo. The Putin regime is bombing that city to rubble, killing hundreds of innocent people to keep a murderous tyrant in power. And this is what Trump admires?
Let’s leave aside why Syria has been allowed to descend into this maelstrom. Suffice it to say this will be the biggest stain on Barack Obama’s presidency when its history comes to be written. (On foreign policy, what kind of phone has he been — a Nokia someone dropped in the bath?)
Focus on the fact that this election is still 23 long days away. To some it has become a comedy, but it’s actually a matter of life and death. As November 8 approaches, the mud-slinging will intensify. So will the cyber-warfare. And the more complicated the allegations become, the more voters will tune out and make their decision on the basis of feelings, rather than facts that they no longer trust.
The scariest thought of all is that if they don’t like the ultimate result, they won’t trust that either. For proof that this election is rigged, download the Sputnik app to your smartphone today.