Trump, Higgins and the political flame war

by Christiaan Mader

Whatever anger propelled Donald Trump to GOP nominee could make a congressman out of the Cajun John Wayne.

[WARNING TO READERS: This post contains foul language from congressional candidate Clay Higgins.]

There are vast differences between Clay Higgins and Donald Trump, make no mistake about it. While they march in the same insurrectionist upswell in American politics, Higgins’ policy proposals at this point amount to zilch other than his desire to meet violence with superior, righteous violence. Trump has little opportunity to claim piety or righteousness, for reasons of obvious moral depravity.

Higgins is a charismatic figure, destined for success in the age of Trump’s America. Does that make him a shoo-in in national politics? Not necessarily, but it does give reason to wonder if his reputation is coated with the same layer of high-temperature teflon that has protected Trump from all kinds of nasty gaffes. He may not win Charles Boustany's congressional seat in Louisiana's Third District, but he may remain in the public favor so long as we're playing by Trump's rules.

Obviously, the two share an outsider’s hatred of the federal government and a belief that America is in decay. Nostalgia for an America that never existed is not an uncommon outlook for the right, so that’s not particularly surprising. The chief difference here is that Trump has made actual policy statements — disgusting, vociferous, violent and incendiary as they may be. It didn’t take long for Trump to turn “Great Again” exhortations into ham-fisted policy notions like building a wall on the U.S./Mexico border and making Mexico pay for it. He’s proposed a temporary ban on travel to the U.S. by Muslims, a 15 percent flat tax, taking China to diplomatic fisticuffs and putting an end to waste, whatever that means.

To be sure, none of this stuff is fully vetted and none really makes any sense, but every single notion is one idea clearer than we’ve yet seen from Higgins.

For Higgins supporters, that’s likely not a problem. Politicians like Trump and Higgins — and Bernie Sanders while we’re at it — substitute insurgent, evangelical angst for substance. Hollow messages like theirs are resonant precisely because they rest on an uncomplicated, absolutist view of the world. If enemies can be clearly defined, then solutions can be reduced to gumption. The result is that a lack of political caution or stateliness becomes a celebrated rather than derided quality. Both men, Trump and Higgins, are able to drape themselves with an American flag that represents pureness of purpose and vision, creating a slick coat of armor in the battle of public relations.

Over the weekend, Higgins tested his armor in a Facebook exchange among several liberal millennials, who openly criticized the good captain for a statement he made about the tragic events in Orlando.

Coming fast on the heels of an endearing encounter with conceptual artist and Democratic congressional candidate Jake Hebert AKA Dorian Phibian, Higgins belittled a “young lady," who responded to his comments and told her to “shut the fuck up” in the midst of pretty standard Higginsian prose.

To be honest, the flame war seemed to be a run of the mill confusion of internet points. The “young lady” in question looked to be referencing the righteous violence that Higgins stoked in his comments, not the violence that left 49 dead outside of an LGBT night club. His response, if taken in that context, is consistent with his tone. Higgins portrays himself as an ardent and fearsome defender of the innocent. That he would be so incensed at the suggestion that a Muslim gunman’s homophobia was at all righteous is certainly not out of character or indefensible.

Still, it's not becoming of a potential congressman to silence dissent with foul language and to do so in all caps — the internet's version of shouting.

In any other election season, it would be little wonder that Higgins deleted the comment shortly thereafter. But it’s an open question if publicizing the exchange — it’s not lost on me that that is precisely what I’m doing here — would actually have benefited the fiery populism of his campaign.

It’s anecdotal, but a cursory look at replies to Higgins millennial-offending post on his official page gives plenty evidence of crossover appeal with the Trump crowd that seems refreshed rather than repulsed by disregard for decorum.

No doubt Trump supporters will likely flock to Higgins this fall. A pre-season poll shows Higgins in second behind Scott Angelle among potential voters, with 18 percent support of those polled. The poll is arguably meaningless at this stage, at least as a measurable predictor of a November election. The buzz on early polls is always that they primarily reflect name recognition more than anything else.

With little in the way of published policy, it’s hard to evaluate Higgins’ candidacy at this stage. But if the last year of national politics has taught us anything, policy details are irrelevant in the face of a cult of personality.