Today I could be writing the latest installment in My Big Fat Greek Odyssey or about the particularly New York aspect of this presidential election. I could be considering Tim Tebow’s new book “Shaken,” and how he may not have necessarily heeded God’s word – something central to his life – in resisting the suggestion of becoming a halfback as his career as a quarterback fizzled, or contrasted him with bad boy tennis player Nick Kyrgios, who has the talent for his sport but, apparently, not the temperament.
All in good time, though, for nothing is more important right now than this historic – and historically ugly – presidential election and making a case for rationality to triumph over animalistic emotions.
Of all the words expressed in these dwindling, anxious days leading up to Tuesday’s election, these featured in “The End is Nigh” – the optimistically and, no doubt, erroneously titled Maureen Dowd column in the Sunday New York Times – strike me as key:
Before he jumped into the presidential race, Trump was seen as bombastic, vulgar, a bit of a buffoon and a cave man, but there was also, as Tina Brown put it, “a cheeky brio.” He was not regarded as a bigot or demagogue. He was seen as a playboy, not a predator. And when he leveraged up to “The Apprentice,” as his biographer Gwenda Blair notes, “he was set up as the Decider and a very discerning judge of character.
Having been involved in two Trump interviews – one as a writer and one as an editor – I’ve been troubled by the disparity between the man we interviewed – the man who seemed so calm, soft-spoken and judicious on “The Apprentice” series – and the one who has spewed such hatred for most of the American electorate, feeding on that rage and contempt until it threatens to consume all of us. A couple of paragraphs later, Dowd reports:
“He’s so used to playing a role in different areas of his life,” said Donny Deutsch, the ad man and TV personality who appeared on “The Apprentice” a few times and was once friendly with Trump. “He saw the crowd’s adulation and it drove him. He started to get the biggest cheers for saying the most offensive things.”
Precisely. I think Trump threw his hat into the ring thinking it would be a lark – bolstering his brand and vindicating an image that took a bruising at a White House correspondents’ dinner. I think that even he was surprised by how far he’s gotten.
But in getting this far, he may have deluded himself – mistaking his “performance art” for real performance and failing to understand who holds power in any negotiation between the performer and his audience.
Being a reality star is not the same as being an actor. An actor understands that playing Hamlet isn’t the same as being Hamlet, whereas a reality star plays a version of himself. Deutsch is right: The latest Trumpian iteration – the “tell it like it is” guy – played so well that it fed the crowd that in turn fed it. Except that telling it like it is in this case holds no truth: Mexicans are rapists; women, playthings; Hillary Clinton, the devil; Muslims, terrorists. These are not the rational, pragmatic words of “The Apprentice” host. This is hate speech that belies the rational, pragmatic reality: The very people you demean are the ones you are going to need to win the election. They’re just not enough angry white people to create a coalition.
And why are they angry? Have they lost their jobs? If so, what role, if any, did they play in that job loss? What have they done to improve their lot (retraining, college, relocation, part-time or free-lance work, multiple jobs) – the routes that many women and immigrants I know have taken?
Are they angry at President Barack Obama? (In the words of a certain former Alaskan governor, “You betcha.”) The president who got Osama Bin Laden, saved the (now-thriving) economy, created affordable care and has, along with his family and administration, conducted himself with class and transparency?
And what of his embattled, less-than-transparent former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, the “she-devil” of this narrative, and her much vaunted emails? What crime has she committed? What secrets have been revealed to foreign powers? What, if anything, does the new email trove tell us? According to FBI Director James Comey, there’s nothing in the new email stash that supports criminal charges. Now he tells us – after kicking up a hornet’s nest.
What the emails underscore is her cool, secretive temperament in contrast to Trump’s hot, exhibitionist one. Better the devil you know, as they say. And he “tells it like it is.”
Except we don’t know him. Not really. Trump has no résumé that qualifies him for the job of president, whereas Clinton has been a lawyer, a children’s advocate, a politically active first lady, a junior senator from New York and secretary of state. In the aftermath of 9/11 when New York needed her, she was there. And where was Trump? What building – hospital, cultural center, university – has the Trump name apart from those that are in his real estate holdings? Oh, that’s right, Trump “University.”
So why has he been able to tap into the anger of so many whose median income is $72,000 a year – hardly the poverty stricken? In a piece titled “The Men Feminists Left Behind” for the same issue of The New York Times, Jill Filipovic hits the nail on the white, male head:
“…The driving force of this election is not money… It’s power, and fury at watching it wane.”
And what will happen to that fury on Nov. 9 after Trump loses – as he surely must?
“The men feminism left behind pose a threat to the country as a whole,” Filipovic writes. “They are armed with their own facts and heaps of resentment, and one electoral loss, even a big one, will not mean widespread defeat.”
But it’s possible that in being associated with one more losing situation, the supporters who puffed Trump up may turn on him in their disappointment. Indeed, he’s never understood that the mob that makes you can unmake you. You can’t control it. In Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus,” the titular Roman general is the darling of the people – until he isn’t, which heralds his tragic undoing.
But a quote from another Shakespeare play, “Richard III,” may be more apt: “Bloody thou art. Bloody be thy end.”
All the more reason to think and act rationally come Election Day.