The truth is, for the scattering things I’ve said about and the unwavering stand I’ve taken on the person, (or the persona,) the Devil’s errand boy that is Donald Trump, I’ve said without much due diligence. I must concede that I have hitherto not learned a single complete speech, address, or interview given by Donald since his announcement, the beginning to America’s demented downward spiral towards its lowest possible vices, dimmest possible wits, and ugliest possible outlooks. I learn him of course, everyday, from news, from soundbites. I am unfortunately familiar with every single one of his infamous tweets and one-liner foreign policy suggestions. But I’ve been avoiding anything more than that. I didn’t want to know it, nor seriously talk and write about it. As a young citizen who once took pride in herself for being anything but apathetic, I’ve been a thorough coward. Anger or disbelief aside, I think I’ve been scared to find out just how frightened I would be if I read it all and heard it all – both his preachings and his fanatical fans’ chants – and how helpless that fear would implicate of me.
My cowardliness was at first camouflaged as incredulity – the state in which too many of us got stuck for too long. We kept thinking, endlessly, ‘Wait, did he just say that?’, ‘He did not just say that’. After more than enough gasps and disbelieving-head-shakes took place, we then conveniently confused wishful thinking with reality. We made predictions on Donald’s fall that was to happen any minute, any second. We dismissed outright the person that is shattering the world and reality as we know them. We engaged mental defensive mechanisms to help us cope with this suffocating incredulity.
Then we got slapped in the face. I got slapped in the face. His rallies were growing bigger, his fans getting wilder, his boasts becoming brasher, his ratings climbing higher. That period – his initial success – was a time in which I was most confused, my perception most clouded, my reasoning most hampered. But I also felt traces of fear. My confusion contained a premonition for danger. That was a period in which my cowardliness was most direct and undisguised – I could make out a monster (though in time to come I would of course learn that he is at best an imposter), but I couldn’t understand his strengths nor detect his weaknesses. I tried to turn my back on him, as any incapable would, and wished for his destruction by something as high-handed as maybe the Law of Nature.
But he marched on, ever more recklessly and virulently. His tactics so unconventional (or rather, in the philosophical playbook of power, very much conventional), he swept past all resistance and opposition with seeming ease. Some chanted, some protested (some didn’t care). I began to finally cool down, to replace certain emotions with a few observations. Because the thing is, the louder a creature howls, the more often it bears its teeth, the bigger a following it gathers, the clearer one gets to really see it. In broad strokes of arrogance and grandiose, it always reveals its secrets.
And the secret to the whole Trump machinery is that it is reductionism at its boldest. That is its impossible strength. It is also its fatal flaw.
The strength part is easy to see – he’s become the nominee. The flaw part, however, does not mean the kind of campaign tactical flaw that will ultimately make Donald trip over himself on its own. It could do that, but that’s talk for later. First and foremost, the most emphatically important point of understanding in dissecting Trump’s humongous unfitness for the job that is the President (of any country for that matter), is that this cunning reductionism that he’s utilized as stratagem for power makes him a criminal worse than those who steal, who corrupt, even who murder. He’s subjugated exemplary virtues of mankind – rationality and reasoning – to the worst kind of humiliation and disrespect. We used to belittle those who pretended that they are smarter than they really are. Donald Trump has taken it a step further. He lacks the caliber, but scorns those who have it, and along the way, urges, bullies everyone else to label right as wrong, compassion as softness, tolerance as ineptitude, intelligence as obstacle. He urges people to stop thinking, to stop discerning, to instead blindly believe in his incendiary ten-word slogans which are at best detached from reality.
Donald Trump is a horrific presidential candidate not because he suggests that Muslims should be banned from America, or that Hispanics are rapists and murderers, or that running a country is really much similar to or likely even easier than running a business organization that is fraught with hidden books and sour deals. Or that wall along the border thing. No. That is not it. It is that he treats every single national or international problem, the complexities and subtleties of which exceed the imagination of average people and challenge the capacity of our greatest minds, as binary and simplistic situations much like the ones you see in romantic comedies or action thrillers.
‘If someone hits me, I hit back ten times harder.’ ‘If I make a dumb decision, I still stick through with it – ‘cuz that is what men do.’ ‘A guy looks down on me, I will make sure he gets showered in my pennies.’ ‘I am no one to judge – I just want you to be happy.’ ‘Well, a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.’
Well, at the apex of power, sometimes you take a hit. Sometimes you compromise. Sometimes you lift up your enemy who’s been dealt a deadly blow – because respect for one’s strongest opponent is character and class. Sometimes you don’t get to strike a deal. Sometimes, you have to take the loss and blame for everything that is entirely out of your control. To lead, is to accept all the pain and struggle that comes with it, that for certainty overwhelm the joy and privilege. It is to be willing and to be able, among else, to remain cautious, disciplined, thorough. It is a duty to think about and ponder over the most attenuating questions, philosophically, morally, that no one else dares to or wants to take on.
But then of course, Mr. Trump would disagree. He says ignorance is pragmatism, and inexperience equates populism. He shall exterminate whomever person, whichever group, that does not align with his taste. He shall attack his opponents as lowly and as ruthlessly as the task at hand demands. He shall not be held accountable for his words.
In Season 4 of the West Wing, Jed Bartlet prepares for his debate against the Republican nominee Robert Ritchie. In talks with the Ritchie campaign regarding debate format and frequency, Press Secretary C.J. Cregg worries that the Ritchie campaign has lowered the public’s expectation of its candidate so devastatingly, that if Ritchie were able to utter a grammatically correct sentence he would have won the expectation game against Bartlet, who would actually be doomed for being many calibers above in the public’s eye.
For a campaign whose loud and bold slogan is to ‘Make America Great Again’, Mr. Trump has at least shown brilliance in lowering American people’s expectations for and definitions of greatness. Melanie Trump commits plagiarism at the Republican National Convention. Internet memes go crazy, major news outlets break the story. But the Trump campaign brushes it aside as something unimportant. A meaningless apology from a nonessential person inside the campaign as a mere gesture. His supporters accept that. The public moves on.
In CBS Morning, Ivanka Trump defends her father’s tweeting the Star of David by saying that he was obviously unaware that this was the Star of David.* The look on Ivanka Trump’s face made us thoroughly embarrassed of our assumption that a presidential candidate of the United States of America should be able to recognize the look and significance of the Star of David. Perhaps Nora O’Donnell should be called to resign for her outrageous stupidity and rudeness.
Partners reflect on each other, so do parents and children, so do mentors and students, so do people and their leader. Dr. Stephen Hawking got blasted for calling Mr. Trump “a demagogue who appeals to the lowest common denominator”. I’d be quite livid as well if I were described as the lowest common denominator fervently in love with a demagogue. Except the anger wasn’t directed towards what Dr. Hawking had said, but the way he said it. The public had a problem with Dr. Hawking’s inclination to use annoyingly big words, which by the standard of Mr. Trump’s campaign manager Mr. Lewandowski, do not count as English at all.**
I daresay it would not only be a personal pain but humanity’s tragedy for anyone to live in Mr. Lewandowski’s world and interact in his kind of English. But it seems that we are coming so close, almost unacceptably close, to a catastrophic eclipse of a country many love, a country I respect, by everything that it has fought to be not.
I am frightened. As I think, should we all.
***Image: New Yorker Cartoon, March 2016. “Tell them to call back – I’m meeting with my advisers.”