That remote possibility is hard to separate from the gravity of Trump's ego and his limitations as a leader or campaigner, but despite himself he still managed to secure the Republican Presidential nomination and galvanize a core of about 40% of the US electorate. While these are not exactly the most comforting parting gifts for the bridesmaid in this year's most popular reality program, Trump has still come frighteningly close to the car, plane, house and nuclear football that comprise the grand prize.
It remains hard to fathom that a candidate for US President could garner the support for the dangerous set of values - the sexism, the racism, the self-aggrandizement and the exclusion - that Trump has openly professed and voiced throughout his campaign. Apart from the shell game that would amount to his version of trickle-down economics on steroids -- that is, if he actually has an economic plan, Trump has been completely unvarnished and crassly open about his positions and his values. Given the limitations Trump imposes on himself with his lack of restraint or a deep-seated desire to merely make the 2016 presidential campaign a complete farce, a campaigner with similar values might have an easy time whitewashing his or her positions on social policy and instead of being so offensive, campaign with enough veiled suggestions and hints about policy and values to stir the blood of the 40% core that Trump seems to have and cobble together enough interest to gain the Presidency and introduce a mandate similar to what Trump has to embodied and incited throughout his campaign.
Regardless of the assessment of the man or his campaign, Trump has captured the interest and the passion of a segment of the American population that feels threatened and fearful for the uncertainties of the times. Economic and social change have stirred fear in significant segments of the population and Trump's campaign has provided the first draft of the playbook to retain that core constituency in future elections and given a budding right-wing start a solid checklist of "don't's" to guide the pursuit of the votes required to capture the required portion of the Electoral College. Just mop up a few of Trump's biggest mistakes or indulgences and polling numbers will turn upward and give the next far-right candidate the mandate required to set the United States back.
The economic anxieties will ebb and flow, but the progress toward a more open and tolerant society will not, unfortunately, proceed unopposed. There will always be people who will feel threatened by diversity and equality. There will always be people who will want the certitude of clear rules and exclusivity and there will be politicians time and again that will capture that. The next Trump wannabes are only waiting for the spotlight to beckon them. It may only be a matter of time.
However, one thing that has held Trump in check throughout the campaign has been the absence images that would compel the electorate to recognize and rally to his cause. The post-mortem on the Trump campaign is to be seen, but one significant gap has been the absence of compelling language or imagery to rally people to Trump's side. He went through the campaign cycle without a rallying cry any stronger than his instantly meme-able "Make America Great Again" and that tacky Made in China trucker hat, both of which pale and whither in comparison to the positive language and imagery that were such a compelling and appealing part of Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign.
The lasting image of Trump will be of him at a podium, distant, mugging and mocking. Such images -- whether on a dais with his opponents or with a backdrop of supporters -- merely project the flaws the man believes are his strengths and he seems to be campaigning against rather than for. He has, like a man of his generation, relied on words, which he has demonstrated only the most limited command of. At a time, when so little is read or even attended to when spoken, the sight of him railing from his distant podium all but ensures his failure.
Could a more literate, more telegenic, less narcissistic figure get further than Trump? Definitely. The one variable that would put such a figure over the top and into a position may ultimately be the power of a catch phrase or an image that would stick in the public's imagination contagiously enough to gain power. The conditions would have to be ripe for this; fear would have to overpower hope and confidence in neighbours and best intentions or the common humanity that we share. The challenge, even in a fearful environment, would be to communicate the values that Trump and his followers profess with images that inspire more than they offend. (That might be one reason why time and again right-wing politicians and parties tend to grasp at stock images that are proven false or inaccurate.) Apart from Trump's time at his distant podium, away from the cries of children, the other images that dominate coverage of his rallies and speeches display hatreds that the majority of us would be prompted to halt before we would ever regard them as acceptable collateral damage or consequence of improving our own wellbeing.
Could we be protected from this threat merely by our preoccupation with image? No, but it'll help.