Several months ago, a Rotarian friend was discussing Donald Trump’s surprising results in some popularity polls among prospective Republican voters. His comments were made before any of the primary voting had begun. At the time, I quickly dismissed Trump’s candidacy. “It’ll never happen,” I said with great disdain. “He’s just a celebrity whose getting lots of play because more people know his name than, say, Ben Carson.”
After a slew of primaries, my friend asked me about it again. “What was it you said about Trump? That he was a flash in the pan?” I admitted my surprise at how well Donald Trump was doing in the primaries, but I told him I thought North Carolina voters would, at least, have more sense than people in some of the states who had already voted. Nope. Wrong again. North Carolina Republicans followed suit and put their support behind Trump too.
It’s not uncommon, of course, for candidates to bemoan the current state of affairs and, in political terms get downright mean when they castigate their opponents. But I don’t ever recall a candidate who was so openly dismissive of his or her constituents. Trump has been mean to all sorts of different people groups, from gays to Hispanics.
That kind of vitriol seems out of place in the political world, to me. Do we really want a president who is so openly mean to people? Candidates can be opposed to gay rights legislation and they can be opposed to opening the doors wide on immigration. Those are reasonable positions to take whether voters agree with them or not. But to do so in such a mean-spirited way strikes me as off-putting. Most of us, in our personal lives, don’t like being around mean-spirited people. They tend to drag us down and make us look at things from a cup half-empty perspective instead of a cup half-full point of view.
But Trump has managed to survive his mean-spiritedness. Why is that? I suspect it’s because, as Americans, we are becoming more mean-spirited too. The halcyon days of the 1950s, when soldiers were returning from World War II and going off to college on the GI Bill and people were building and buying homes in record numbers have gone away. The divide between the haves and the have-nots has grown considerably. Even America’s vaunted middle class is falling down the social ladder.
And politicians and candidates of both parties have failed to enact policies that help people climb the social ladder at all levels. The rich have gotten richer and everyone else has gotten poorer and “everyone else” has just about had enough of it. So an everyman alternative looks pretty good to them right now.
But make no mistake. Donald Trump is not an everyman. He is a rich man. His business interests are diverse enough that he’s able to overcome bankruptcy and remain a part of the jetsetting crowd. His pockets are deep enough to support much of his own campaign to this point and that’s something most of us can’t afford to do.
If Trump wins in November, voters will expect him to turn his bombastic oratory into concrete policy changes that help that group of “everyone else.” But to do that would mean hurting people in his own class. Most people aren’t willing to do themselves damage in the name of helping others. So it would be a great surprise to see Donald Trump return the White House to the days of Andrew Jackson, when parties on the lawn were a common occurrence. Everyman will have no greater access and no greater sway with a President Trump than they would with President Obama or President Bush or a President Hillary Clinton.
I fear that, if Trump wins the White House in November, Americans will be facing four years of what Minnesotans faced when they elected wrestler Jesse Ventura to the Governor’s mansion: An around-the-clock serving of embarrassing humble pie.