Reflections Blog

The Rise (and Fall) of Donald Trump

You can’t turn on the news these days without hearing about Donald Trump.  As I write this, one poll has him favored by 28 percent of Republican voters, far more than the gaggle of other Republican candidates.  Trump’s genius for self-promotion, coupled with his brashness and disregard for anyone else’s opinion, is creating a media firestorm and effectively blocking coverage of the other candidates.  Has anyone heard anything lately about Bobby Jindal,

 Rick Perry, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum, Marco Rubio, George Pataki, or . . . well, the list goes on?  If Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination, he will be the first candidate to win through controversy, confrontation, and sheer bluster.

In fairness to Donald Trump, his bombastic claims and assurances have struck a chord with one segment of Republican voters—those who are sick of the same old politics and politicians, who are worried about their eroding place in American life and the changing complexion of the country, and who feel threatened by the seemingly endless tide of illegal immigrants crossing our borders, many of whom, Trump proclaims, are murderers, rapists, and thieves.  Trump promises to make our country great again by kicking the illegals out, bringing jobs back to America (he has no specifics on how he’ll do this) and making better deals with other countries (e.g., the current deal with Iran).  He promises to build a 1,900-mile wall along our border with Mexico—and make Mexico pay for it.  Wow.  What a guy!  And he claims that through better management, he will make the government work again.  It would be hard to find Americans who wouldn’t find that outcome appealing.  Our government is a dysfunctional mess, and Trump vows to fix it.

Trump’s current popularity stems in part from the agonizing dullness of the rest of the Republican field.  When you hear some of them speak you want to take their pulse to see if they’re breathing.  The Republican establishment is apparently putting its support behind Jeb Bush, but Bush couldn’t ignite a campfire with a flame thrower.  That said, he is still more charismatic than most of the Republican contenders.  As of today, we still have more than 400 days until the election, and a lot can happen in that time.  If Trump remains true to form, he will make more grandiose claims without having the facts to back them up, attack more people who dare to challenge him, and make more controversial statements that alienate segments of the population.  He can’t help it.  He’s Donald Trump. But when the  novelty of his narcissistic sideshow passes and people start thinking seriously about who should lead the country, more promising candidates will need to emerge from the thicket of Republican contenders—one or two who are capable leaders, have command of the facts, know how to build coalitions, and can excite the hopes and dreams of the voters.

Something needs to change because if Trump became president, heaven forbid, it would be disastrous for three reasons.  Trump portrays himself as a strong, capable leader and cites his business success as proof, but being CEO of a company you own is vastly different than being CEO of a nation.  As CEO of his own empire, Trump wields absolute power, and if his people don’t do what he wants or achieve the results he expects, he can fire them.  But President Trump could not fire Congress or the Supreme Court.  He might wreak havoc among the bureaucrats who work for the executive department, but he would quickly learn the limits of his power when tried to bully his political opponents in the legislative branch of government, and he would find members of the judiciary maddeningly independent—as our Constitution expects them to be.  One of the finest politicians we’ve had as our nation’s president was Lyndon Johnson, who had consummate skill at building coalitions, coaxing opponents to work with him, and managing the political process behind the scenes with a degree of finesse that has rarely been seen since.  It’s abundantly clear that Donald Trump is no Lyndon Johnson.  Trump doesn’t compromise.  He bullies rather than inspires, and he alienates the very people he would need to forge lasting agreements.

Trump would be a disastrous chief executive, too, because his response to being challenged is to attack challengers ad hominem, which means responding to an argument by attacking a person’s character.  When Trump called Fox News’ Megyn Kelly a bimbo after the first Republican debate he was being demeaning and inappropriate—but more than that he was trying to deflect attention from her observation that he can be mean-spirited in the words he uses to describe some women.  Ironically, labelling her a bimbo was sufficient proof of the point she made, but it still doesn’t answer the question about why he feels compelled to label people who oppose him “bimbos,” “idiots,” or “losers.” 

Name-calling is one form of bullying.  Schoolyard bullies do it to hurt others, intimidate them, and impose their will.  Name-calling is an expedient method of intimidation because it requires little thought and is often effective—at least on the schoolyard.  I think Trump resorts to this tactic because he lacks a reasonable, well-thought-out response to the arguments his opponents make; because he has a monumental ego and can’t tolerate threats to it; and because bullying comes natural to him.  He’s used it for decades to build his empire.  However, it would be inconceivable t

 

o have the chief diplomat of our nation labelling foreign leaders “losers” and “idiots,” as he surely would when they didn’t act the way he wanted them to. 

Finally, Trump would be a disaster as president because of the character flaw Megyn Kelly exposed.  The leader of a privately owned real estate empire can think whatever he wants about his employees, customers, partners, and whomever else.  But the leader of the United States must have, in my opinion, a magnanimous view of the entire spectrum of our citizens—blacks, whites, Hispanics, Asians, men, women, gays, lesbians, transsexuals, Jews, Protestants, Catholics, Muslims, agnostics, atheists, white collar, blue collar, and so on.  We need a leader who is proud of our diversity, and not just diversity in terms of ethnicity, race, creed, or gender, but diversity in opinions, aspirations, and values.  We need a leader who not only understands the value of differing points of view but welcomes them as an opportunity for unity through open-minded acceptance of difference and consensus built on dialogue and mutual respect.

As of the end of August 2015, Donald Trump’s star continues to rise, but it must eventually fall—for the sake of ourselves and our country.  He would be an awful choice as the leader of the free world.

 

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