America May Have Forgotten Schwarzenegger 2003, but Donald Trump 2016 Has Not

tags: election 2016, Trump, Arnold Schwarzenegger

Let’s look at it from the nosebleeds, where we can hear the melody but can’t make out the lyrics. At any given Republican debate, you will see a stage full of people who obviously code as candidates for president, and this other guy. He mugs for the camera like a silent-film comedian. He doesn’t seem to take the questions seriously. He yells. He calls people names. Where his competitors treat this like a formal ceremony, full of unspoken strictures, he treats it like he’s trying to gather a crowd at a dive bar. The cognitive dissonance is jarring.

You keep expecting this cognitive dissonance to vanish, for this outlier to be disqualified. You can’t quite reconcile what Donald Trump is with what he’s doing: consistently maintaining his position as Actual Republican Front-Runner for President. It’s easy to be in denial, but count your blessings: you’re not in $10 million of denial.

We weren’t trained to anticipate this. The man runs counter to all the rules we thought we had. On some level, we harbor the idea of an inner high school, that if somebody keeps ruining class by throwing money in the air and calling people losers, he’ll be suspended and made to take summer classes. And by consistently winning national polls, Trump is saying high school’s over. It’s hard to believe him.

When cognitive dissonance is overwhelming, you try to ignore it. Me, I actively denied it. I pretended Donald Trump didn’t exist for months. It made my life easier. But finally there was the phone call. That hushed conversation with a confidant where you both acknowledge the tornado warning. “Can this guy . . . is this guy . . . can he win?”

But it all felt vaguely familiar. For weeks I had déjà vu—not déjà vu the rhetorical device, but the bone-deep, overpowering sensation that I had felt this already, dreamed it maybe. Then it hit me. It was absurdly obvious and I had forgotten outright. Donald Trump already happened in California. I had been saying “Donald Trump is running for president” with the same systematic lack of conviction with which I said “Arnold Schwarzenegger is running for governor.” ...

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