Blow and Kristof

Gail Collins is off on book leave.  I sure hope she’s back in time to cover the Clown Car debates…  This morning, in “Trump Builds One Brand and Damages Another,” Mr. Blow says that his true gift is an ability to exploit other people’s emotions, even those whose response to him is revulsion. It’s the art and craft of a demagogue.  In “Dalai Lama Gets Mischievous” Mr. Kristof says the Dalai Lama has a suggestion for China’s Communist leaders: Take up reincarnation.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Donald Trump is exactly what the Republican Party deserves.

The Republican Party has nurtured anti-immigrant, xenophobic nastiness for years, but it has tried to do so, at least at the national level, in language that disguised it as a simple issue of law and order.

Trump has blown all that to bits.

Trump is now leading in the polls as measured by support of likely Republican primary/caucus voters, according to a USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll released this week. Although, it should be noted, he leads with only 17 percentage points in the crowded field, just three points ahead of Jeb Bush, a gap that is still within the poll’s margin of error.

But Trump leading in the polls is all the media needs to allow Trump to also lead the debate. There is nothing a television camera likes more than spectacle.

Let me be clear: Trump will not be the president of the United States. But I firmly believe that Trump not only knows that, he doesn’t want to be president. Trump is brand-building. This is all free publicity for a salesman in the business of selling himself.

In the same USA TODAY/Suffolk University poll, Trump has a staggering unfavorable rating among all voters, including Democrats and independents. According to the newspaper: “In the poll, 61 percent have an unfavorable impression of him and 23 percent a favorable one.” In comparison, “Bush’s favorable-unfavorable rating is 35 percent-42 percent.”

But Trump is milking his moment.

There is a cottage industry among some public people that is breathing new life into the adage “all press is good press.” These people use ignobility as an elevator; they inflame their way to infamy. They get the country talking and their names trending, then they turn that cultural currency into hard currency.

Every minute Trump is on your television screens, it’s good for Trump. Every time Trump’s name is mentioned on social media, it’s good for Trump. Every time someone writes about Trump, it’s good for Trump. This column is good for Trump.

But Trump is an egotist. He is at the center of his own universe. He’s not so much concerned about politics, or his party or the presidency. Trump is good for Trump.

But, what’s good news for the Trump brand could prove disastrous news for the Republican brand.

Trump recently boasted, “I’m, like, a really smart person.” I believe that’s true — not necessarily in the erudite, intellectual sense, but rather in the instinctive, people-reading sense.

When Trump made his campaign announcement last month, he said:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

Set aside the fact that he provided no evidence of the Mexican government’s “sending” anyone to this country. Set aside the fact that, asThe Washington Post put it, “data show that new immigrants — including illegal immigrants — are actually less likely to commit crime, not more.”

Facts are not the point for Trump. He spouts so much unsubstantiated idiocy that trying to correct it all would drive any respectable fact-checker mad. Indeed, taking Trump seriously enough to attempt the appropriate fact checks, in a way, only serves to elevate his obvious provocations to serious rhetorical argumentation.

Some corporations distanced themselves from Trump in the wake of his comments, but Trump seems to be making the calculation, probably rightly so, that the business he loses by being in the news is worth less than the free airtime that doing so affords him.

The whole point of Trump’s perfidy is provocation, which is itself a way of positioning him for more profits. Republicans get excited; Trump gets richer. Detractors get angry; Trump gets richer.

This is where his true gifts are on display, this form of emotional intelligence and business acumen, the ability to tap into and exploit other people’s emotions, even those whose response to him is revulsion. This is the art and craft of the demagogue.

You have to see Trump’s statement for what it was: A naked attempt at Willie Horton-izing Mexican immigrants, and thereby the exploiting of the image, substantiated or not, of the brown-bodied predator destroying our country and taking the virtue of our women.

It provides language for people to hide their racism and nativism inside the more honorable shell of civility and chivalry. It allows Trump to tap into anger and call it adulation.

Trump knows how to get a rise out of people, and he’s doing it.

On Sunday, Senator Lindsey Graham, another of the gaggle of Republican presidential candidates, said of Trump on CNN:

“I think he’s hijacked the debate. I think he’s a wrecking ball for the future of the Republican Party with the Hispanic community and we need to push back.”

But the Republican Party isn’t innocent here. Trump isn’t imposing a poisonous view of Hispanics; he’s voicing it. And he’s voicing it in precisely the blunt and noxious terms that a sizable portion of the party feels it and in which they want to hear it discussed.

While some Republicans have sought to distance themselves from Trump, if not completely condemn him, the terrain of those responses has been wobbly. This allows all the more weight to Hillary Clinton’s charge that Republican candidates are “on a spectrum of hostility” when it comes to immigrants.

But there are also Republicans who outright applaud Trump. As Senator Ted Cruz, another Republican presidential candidate, put it:

“When it comes to Donald Trump, I like Donald Trump. I think he’s terrific. I think he’s brash. I think he speaks the truth.”

As long as portions of the Republican Party laud the divisive, fact-challenged Trump as a terrific truth-teller, the party’s brand will continue to sustain incalculable damage, particularly among the vital immigrant population.

There is no need for anyone to have one ounce of sympathy for the G.O.P. Its chicken has come home to roost.

Now here’s Mr. Kristof:

The Dalai Lama, who may be the only octogenarian spiritual leader with a profoundly mischievous streak, has a suggestion for China’s Communist leaders: Take up reincarnation.

I’m interviewing him in his hotel room in Manhattan, at the end of an overseas tourmarking his 80th birthday, and we’re talking about what happens after he dies. He is the 14th Dalai Lama, each considered a reincarnation of the previous one, and usually after one has died a search is undertaken for an infant to become the next. But he has said that he may be the last of the line, or that the next Dalai Lama might emerge outside Tibet — or might even be a girl.

This talk infuriates Beijing, which is determined to choose the next Dalai Lama (to use as a tool to control Tibet). So, startlingly, the atheists in the Chinese Communist Party have been insisting that Buddhist reincarnation must continue.

“The Chinese Communist Party is pretending that they know more about the reincarnation system than the Dalai Lama,” said the Dalai Lama, laughing. “The Chinese Communists should accept the concept of rebirth. Then they should recognize the reincarnation of Chairman Mao Zedong, then Deng Xiaoping. Then they have the right to involve themselves in the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation.”

The Dalai Lama hinted that he would hold some kind of referendum among Tibetan exiles, and consultations among Tibetans within China, about whether a new Dalai Lama should succeed him. The issue will be formally resolved around his 90th birthday, he said.

One reason to end the line, he suggested, is that a future Dalai Lama might be “naughty” and diminish the position. His biggest concern seems to be that after he dies, China will select a new pet Dalai Lama who may act as a quisling to help the Chinese control Tibet and to give legitimacy to their policies there.

“Sadly, the precedent has been set,” he said, referring to the Panchen Lama, the second most important reincarnated lama in Tibetan Buddhism. After the 10th Panchen Lama died in 1989, China kidnapped the baby chosen by Tibetans as his successor and helped anoint a different child as the 11th Panchen Lama. Nobody knows what happened to the real Panchen Lama.

I admire the Dalai Lama enormously, and in 2007 he bravely used my column to send an important olive branch to Beijing — only to be criticized by fellow Tibetans as too conciliatory, and rejected as insincere by China. But I told him that I also thought there were times when he had been too cautious and had missed opportunities for rapprochement with Beijing. My examples: In the 1980s, when the leaders Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang sought compromise on Tibet; after the 10th Panchen Lama died; and in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics.

The Dalai Lama was having none of that — he doesn’t think he missed opportunities. But he acknowledged that Zhao had been sympathetic and added that if Zhao and Hu had not been ousted, “the Tibetan issue would already be solved, no question.”

To my surprise, the Dalai Lama was also enthusiastic about Xi Jinping, the current Chinese leader. He spoke admiringly of Xi’s anticorruption campaign, said Xi’s mother was “very religious, a very devout Buddhist,” and noted Xi himself had spoken positively of Buddhism.

So, President Xi, if you’re reading this, the Dalai Lama would like to visit China. How about an invitation?

I had asked my followers on Twitter and Facebook to suggest questions for the Dalai Lama, and here are his responses to some of the issues they raised:

On the Myanmar Buddhists who have murdered, raped and oppressed Muslims: As he has before, the Dalai Lama strongly condemned the violence. He added: “If Buddha would come at that moment, he definitely would save or protect those Muslims.”

• On eating meat: The Dalai Lama said he had been a pure vegetarian for 20 months but then developed jaundice, so his doctors told him to start eating meat again. He now eats meat twice a week and is vegetarian the rest of the week, he said, but added that he thinks vegetarianism is preferable.

• On Pope Francis: “I admire his stance,” the Dalai Lama said. “He dismissed one German bishop [for too luxurious living]. I was so impressed. I wrote a letter to him. I expressed my admiration.”

• On gender: The Dalai Lama says he considers himself a feminist and would like to see more women leaders because he thinks women are often innately more sensitive and peaceful. “I insist that women should carry a more active role,” he said. “If eventually most of the leaders of different nations are female, maybe we’ll be safer.”

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One Response to “Blow and Kristof”

  1. Bottom Line Sell Says:

    So the Times columnist takes umbrage with the media for creating a brand that entices customers to buy? Say no more. I’ll keep reading.

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