After a four year lapse of ethics, honesty, and basic human decency emanating from the White House, a sizable minority of Americans have decided that Donald J. Trump is a great leader and appropriate representative of our country to the entire world. What has he accomplished to convince more than 40 percent of Americans that he should be re-elected?
He overwhelms our sense of propriety. But it cannot be disputed that he gets away with things that none of his predecessors would dare to do, beginning with the day-one lie that he had the largest inauguration crowd in American history, right up to today’s lie that we’ve “turned the corner” on coronavirus when we’ve obviously just made a wrong turn onto a one-way street.
He’s paid off a porn star and a Playmate who could hurt his election chances. He cozied up to dictators while distancing himself and our country from our staunchest allies. Why? Because our allies expressed their disapproval of him, while Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un decoded his narcissism and recognized the power of flattery. Trump doesn’t necessarily want to be a dictator, he just wants to be loved. By anyone.
As historian Jon Meacham says, Joe Biden is not on the ballot, we are.
That seems apt to me. Never in our history would we have taken seriously someone who lies so easily, and is so desperate for approval. He has bragged about sexual assaults on women, denigrated military heroes and Gold Star families, overruled the military and civilian justice systems, and demanded that his political opponents be jailed. No president likes the press, but none has ever gone full-Stalin in declaring them “the enemies of the American people.”
The polls say he will not win, but the polls are only as accurate as the honesty of the people answering them. I suspect that enough people wish to deceive pollsters, or are simply too embarrassed to say that they will vote for him, that a second term seems as likely as not.
He is merely a reflection, not the source, of deep-seated resentments in our country. He is an empty vessel. Each group sees in him what they want. For their praise, he cannot help but oblige their interests. Donald Trump is remarkably simple and guileless. He has no ideology beyond the need for approval. He allows each to cast him in their image.
For anti-abortion activists, he has stacked the federal judiciary. For Big Oil, he has repealed common sense air and water protections.
He has outsourced domestic and foreign policy to the opinion hosts of Fox News, a channel that is for all intents and purposes, a cabinet secretary.
To the right wing militias that the FBI and the Department Homeland Security call violent extremists that pose a real threat to the country, he is the voice of White Nationalism (just ask the “fine people on both sides” in Charlottesville). Racist backlash from the Obama presidency has emboldened him. Overt White supremacists and closeted “I’m not a racist” racists love him, so he loves them back.
The FBI saved his nemesis, Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, from extremists. Does anyone imagine that such a plot could have taken flight without divisive cues from the White House, especially the President’s “Liberate Michigan” tweet? It’s hard not to draw a straight line from him to the right-wing conspirators who thought her public health mandates tyrannical. (Just to be clear, tyranny is when the government restricts your movements for its good; quarantine is when the government restricts your movements for the public good.) As Michigan Attorney General, Dana Nessel, noted: “This effort to have a mass uprising nationally is something that we should be very concerned about because, again, it’s not just a Michigan problem, this is an American problem.” According to the Anti-Defamation League, of the 42 politically-motivated killings this year, 38 were committed by the very right-wing extremists he loves because they love him.
If Donald Trump had a soul to sell, he would be a Faustian bargain. He will say anything to curry favor with any group. He makes no distinction other than whether they like him. He can’t help himself. If you publicly profess your love for him, he will tie himself in knots to welcome your approval while publicly denying that he knows anything about you.
A lifelong Democrat who gave money to Kamala Harris as recently as 2014, he had a late-in-life political conversion. A pro-choice advocate suddenly became the anti-abortion poster boy. A famous germaphobe, he pooh-poohed the danger of Covid-19 publicly while he privately—and on tape no less—acknowledged its terrible virulence.
A man with no natural convictions, he takes up the cause of any who love him.
He is the color of water.