We cannot blame Donald Trump for his own absurdity. His behavior and visage have been consistently preposterous for his entire, self-centered public life. The fact that he has been rewarded for that by the media and the public absolves him of some responsibility for his continuing clownish behavior.
Every society needs a court jester, and Trump has served that role more than adequately. The court jester is not supposed to rise to the level of king, however, and his alleged quest for the presidency (since we can’t be sure if he’s uncharacteristically serious or characteristically masterminding yet another publicity stunt) would change that long-held assumption. [Vote now: Will Trump seriously run for president?]
How can we explain Trump’s relatively strong showing in GOP primary polls, given some of the utterly ridiculous things he has said? He wants to take over the oil fields in Iraq to make sure Iran doesn’t get them—a danger, he said on the Today Show, since Iraq’s military has been "de-neutered" (whatever that means). He added that he "doesn’t believe in foot soldiers," and imagines that he can win the wars he wants to wage without any U.S. casualties.
He’s joined the birther brigade, and claims to have sent investigators to Hawaii to find out what’s really going on with President Obama’s birth certificate. Never mind that the state of Hawaii long ago produced a document proving that Obama was born there. Trump’s team is on the scent. "And they cannot believe what they’re finding," Trump told Today. Well, that’s true, anyway. [Vote now: Is Trump's birtherism just a stunt?]
Still, it is not Trump’s fault. It is the fault of a country that has so denigrated not only government, but the whole idea of public service, that the standard for serving in government has dropped to dangerously low levels. It’s healthy to question the government, and certainly those elected to office. But that skepticism has led to the American Idol-ization of politics, whereby simply being famous or infamous can catapult an otherwise unsuitable candidate into public office.
There’s a great line from the television show The West Wing that brilliantly foreshadowed the decline we are now experiencing. The trouble with the demystification of the presidency, said one of the White House senior staff characters, Toby Ziegler, is that "the impression was left that anybody could do it."
Anybody can’t. That’s why we have campaigns and elections, and hopefully, the American fascination with celebrity will be trumped by a more serious assessment of people seeking public office.