31/10/2016 4:38 PM IST | Updated 31/10/2016 4:55 PM IST

Decoding Donald Trump's Real Secret Weapon

Here's what the candidacy of Trump has taught us.

Carlo Allegri / Reuters
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump arrives for a campaign rally in Greeley, Colorado, U.S. October 30, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Salman Rushdie is shaking his Twitter head.

So, to recap. Donald Trump will go on trial in November accused of racketeering, and again in December accused of child rape. He is a sexual predator, hasn't released his tax returns, and has used his foundation's money to pay his legal fees. He has abused the family of a war hero and... oh, but let's talk about some emails Hillary didn't send from someone else's computer, that weren't a crime anyway, because that's how to choose a president. Come on, America. Focus.

But Donald Trump makes it hard to focus. If there's one thing politicians around the world can learn from this is the secret to political Teflon is not to be scandal-free but so controversy-prone that nothing actually has time to stick.

This, it seems, is the fiendish secret to the enigma that is Trump. Keep the scandals coming fast and furious, a new one every other day so that media really cannot focus on anything for too long. If it's not new Trump Foundation dirt, it's Twitter fight about a beauty queen, or using America's hallowed ground of Gettysburg to vow legal vengeance on the women who have accused him of sexual harassment. It has been so dizzying it is hard to keep focus. Trump is literally an embarrassment of riches.

"Trump is literally an embarrassment of riches."

Meanwhile Hillary Clinton has been hit over and over again with variations of the same darn scandal--about her emails and her server. Out damn spot, she says, but to no avail. As a result, this scandal looms larger than life. It leads to a shadow over her candidacy that will not go away even though this is not Radiagate. Or Bofors. Or Gujarat riots. She is being accused of carelessness in handling State Department information. It turns out there are indeed laws that can be broken in mishandling such information. Hillary-haters hate her for many different reasons--for being Bill Clinton's wife, for political U-turns, for being too left, for being too right, for being neoliberal, for being a hawk, for being an ambitious woman, for being corrupt, for making too much money, for warmongering, for her secretiveness, for hypocrisy, for Benghazi. But make no mistakes, they do not hate her for how she handled her email server. The email-management is the scandal they think they can get her on. And they are happy for anything that can trip her.

Brian Snyder / Reuters
U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks at a campaign rally in Daytona Beach, Florida, U.S. October 29, 2016. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Trump, on the other hand, is beset with problems many of which shock propriety but skirt the borders of legality. The letter of the law was not broken in not releasing income tax returns, perhaps not paying any income tax for years, casting aspersions on the character of sundry groups of people, doubting the foundations of American democracy, or just old-fashioned garden variety vulgarity. Thus ten days before the election the narrative that is being shaped by his apologists or Hillary-haters is better a vulgar Trump than a corrupt Clinton.

Of course, the truth is Trump is hardly Mr. Clean. As Jonathan Chait writes in New York Magazine, "Trump has not merely intermingled campaigning with his business interests; the two are one and the same." While the Clintons and their foundation have many instances of an "appearance of conflict of interest", Trump, writes Chait, is "the definition of one." Everything is about the promotion of his personal brand. Even Brexit was measured in terms of its impact on his golf course in Scotland.

Here's what the candidacy of Trump has taught us. Vulgarity, especially vulgarity this flamboyant, can eclipse everything else. Who can pay attention to Trump's conflicts of interest in the face of that kind of that kind of garish display of boorishness?

"Vulgarity, especially vulgarity this flamboyant, can eclipse everything else."

Now in the last leg of the campaign, Hillary Clinton fights off a new variant of the same email scandal while all of Trump's scandals are deemed old news. Polls tightening is not the worst news for Clinton. It could in fact push those wavering in their support for her, or more inclined to a third-party candidate to get off the fence and vote for her as an anti-Trump vote rather than a pro-Clinton vote. A larger gap could easily breed complacency that could be fatal for her candidacy. Trump meanwhile hopes that a Brexit-like result will surprise pollsters, that in the secrecy of a voting booth, people will vote for the vulgarian even though in public, even to a pollster, they might not admit to supporting him.

But the country that prides itself as a beacon of democracy to the world has to live with this spectacle--of a man caught on tape bragging about grabbing the crotches of women is the Republican nominee for President, and the woman running against him might come undone as the result of an FBI investigation into what was essentially a tabloid scandal of her staffer's husband sexting with women. In the end, sex remains the Achilles heel of American politicians and if Trump loses he will do so, writes Neelanjan Sircar of the Center for Policy Research, "because of his character", not of his rhetoric or his lack of respect for the institutions of American democracy. "A Donald Trump that isn't so abhorrent to women, and who does even a little bit of homework on relevant political issues, is an eminently winnable candidate in 2016," writes Sircar.

However, it's also equally true that as Chidanand Rajghatta writes, "if Hillary Clinton had been married thrice and have five kids rom three men and faced as many charges of inappropriate behaviour she might not even been able to run for a school board, forget the White House."

Food for thought as election day approaches but let's not hold our breath that Americans will focus on that double on election day. Clinton can win but in a country laid to waste in this most deplorable of elections.

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