What else do I need to say?
I have tried writing this article in one form or another several times now. I’ve written draft after draft, then rewritten them over and over but nothing felt right. Every time I’d get something down that I’d like there would be some new move by Trump or his staff that strained all credulity and made me have to re-examine and re-frame everything I’d written thus far.
What I’ve decided to is deconstruct Trump, his rise to the Oval Office, and the post-truth environment we seem to find ourselves in over the course of four articles. The first two will be an examination of Trump himself and trying to shed light on his decision making processes. The third will be deconstructing how his supporters can willingly ignore a myriad of lies and what that means for the future of journalism. The last article will be looking at the role the Evangelical movement in the US played, which for me being a Christian, was very disconcerting.
It can be very easy to demonize Trump, to make jokes about him, but I want to stay away from that as much as I can. For all the vitriol and rhetoric that’s been flying around, I do fully believe that honest, intelligent, hardworking people voted for Trump with absolute sincerity. Because of that, I want to try to deconstruct Trump, to break down how he operates to see if there’s some insight, and maybe even some hope, to be gained.
The election we just had was the culmination of a very caustic, negative presidential campaign in which Trump mocked a disabled reporter, made comments about inappropriately grabbing women, called for his opponent Hillary Clinton to be thrown in prison, made repeated public personal attacks via Twitter on anyone who disagreed with him, was caught in multiple lies and when confronted with them denied he ever said them in the first place, and had the public endorsement of white supremacist groups, just for good measure. It’s enough to make my head spin.
I’ve pondered for a long while about how a candidate who defies all political norms can do what Trump did and how his supporters can keep supporting him in the face of behavior that would have torpedoed the candidacy of, well, pretty much anyone else. It all comes down to one small fact about human nature: people will rarely vote for what’s best for their country, but rather they will almost always vote for what’s best for themselves. Whether that “best” that a politician offers really is the best for them doesn’t matter, it’s the promise of “vote for me and your lives will be better” that makes all the difference.
I understand the appeal of Trump: if the world you knew and felt safest in was gone, and someone said “I’m going to bring it back”, that would be something the majority of us would go for. His appeal was broadly based in places that have seen their local industries either become outmoded or moved somewhere else, whether that’s another part of the US or another country entirely. America has also seen a rise in what could be defined as “terrorist attacks”, and all hyperbole aside, mass shootings do inevitably shake the idea that the US, once thought inoculated against such attacks because of her ocean-wide separation from the rest of the world, might not be as safe as once thought. Add to this a growing dissatisfaction with established political figures, and it makes sense that someone from outside the political arena would seem appealing.
For the majority of people, no matter what the political affiliation they might have, their two biggest concerns are their ability to provide for their family, and their family’s safety. Trump was absolutely right to focus on those two issues. His slogan of “Make America Great Again” tapped in to that primal sense of patriotism that exists in the US in a way that almost no other country has.
There is also the darker appeal of Trump: that a predominantly white nation is gone, and he’s going to bring it back. This kind of politicking can only exist in a place where there is deep seeded unrest, and even resentment, from one group towards another. Whether it’s based on race, religion, political affiliation, personal wealth or a myriad of other difference, more than ever North American culture finds itself more fractured and seeking its own self-interests, even at a time when there are more calls then ever for reconciliation and equality. It seems that if one side calls for more self-interest, the other calls for more social unity, and this triggers a repetitive cycle between those two sides. What it all equals to is that the American Identity is undergoing a shift that hasn’t happened since the civil rights movement in the 1960’s.
This questioning of identity ties into the belief of America’s impenetrable borders being shaken to their core by the events of 9/11. It is easy to justify harsh measures by saying “they did it once, we need to take all actions necessary to prevent it from happening again”. There are some supporters that cite words like “patriotism” and “national security” to justify language that is inherently racist, and Trump does nothing to stop it because there’s no benefit to him in stopping it.
Throughout the presidential campaign he fanned the flames of racial politics, using it as a focal point to discredit his opponents and their supporters. When he talked about Mexicans, he said “they’re not sending their best… they’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists“, and referred to predominately African American inner cities as “disasters”. He questioned the validity of a judge presiding over a class-action lawsuit against Trump University because of his Mexican heritage, despite the fact the judge was born in Indiana.
Even after his election every day seems to bring with it a new fight he’s started with someone, most notably of which has been his heavily contested travel ban, which he claims is not directed at Muslims but with which everything seems to point otherwise, keeping in mind he did say numerous times on the campaign trail that he would ban Muslims from entering the US if elected.
From going over article after article written about him, from the 1970’s to now, one thing that is safe to say is that Trump has always divided the world into “winners” and “losers”, with himself being the biggest winner of all. To divide his world that way creates, by default, an “us versus them” mentality, one where you’re either with him or against him. He plays into our psychological need to be “winners”, to be successful, and by extension “worthy”, and to feel worthy is a deep-seeded human need.
There is a light at the end of the tunnel, even if that light might belong to an on-coming train: Trump is, to me at least, woefully predictable. It’s easy to divide things to what he does care about what he doesn’t, based not just on his several weeks in office, but his 40 years in the public eye. What he doesn’t care about are people, human rights, “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free“. These things are intangible. You can’t put a price on them. You can’t buy and sell them on an open market.
What he does care about is business, money and power. In terms of a litmus test for his decision making process, “can I profit off this” would be a good way to go. His decisions in office so far have been almost entirely business-oriented. They’ve been about jobs and the economy, but Trump isn’t doing it out of patriotic pride. He’s doing it because a better economy will, ultimately, line his own pockets because of how wide-ranging and diverse his business interests are.
He’s already shown no problem mixing the worlds of politics and business. A prime example of that is a recent meeting he had with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe at his Mar-A-Lago retreat in Florida. Not only did Mar-A-Lago recently up its membership fee from $100,000 to $200,000 a year, but at the meeting with Abe, Mar-A-Lago members expressed openly they were there in the hopes of getting a few moments of one-on-one time with Trump himself.
If you look at things he’s considering cutting funding for, they include programs to end violence against women, arts programs, minority business development agencies, Justice Department initiatives such as community policing and anti-racism initiatives, and renewable energy research. Why? There’s no money for him to make in any of those areas based on his public business portfolio.
When he issued a ban on travelers from seven predominantly Muslim countries, citing terrorism as the cause (despite no terrorists coming from those committing an act on American soil in over 25 years), it was quickly noted that the Trump Organization does little to no business in those countries. More tellingly, countries that were not affected by the ban, despite having terrorists from these countries having committed acts on American soil, are all countries where the Trump Organization has considerable holdings and investments.
This has led to many discussions about whether or not he’s in conflicts of interest between his presidential duties and his business interests. Many have cited the foreign-emoluments clause as why Trump needs to divest himself of all business interests and put them in financial arrangement known as a “blind trust”. The emoluments clause forbids any “person holding any office of profit or trust under the United States” from accepting any “any present, emolument, office, or title, of any kind whatever, from any king, prince, or foreign state”, unless Congress specifically says otherwise.
In reference to this, Trump has stated “I can be President of the United States and run my business 100 percent, sign checks on my business” and “the law is totally on my side, meaning the president can’t have a conflict of interest.” The blind trust he agreed to is overseen by three of his children and his chief lawyer, which is far from the intention of it being a trust run someone completely divorced from Trump’s interest so that he has both no knowledge and no say about how the Trump Organization is being run while in office.
For now, I’ll end this blog here, with part two coming soon. I will say this, though: for those who find Trump’s behavior confusing, his use of power frightening, and the sexist and racial fires he stoked infuriating, he is predictable. Sometimes far too much so. That’s the downfall of being governed by an overwhelming self-interest: it becomes easy to determine the areas where that self-interest is limited to, and to use that self-interest against Trump.
The key to doing that is never letting go of the Truth. Truth doesn’t need to be defended as it is, by intrinsic definition, beyond our abilities to change it. It exists separately from ourselves, and can not be tarnished by opinion, lies, or deliberate misinformation. It can not be controlled, either, and because of that it is beyond Trump’s grasp to do anything about.
As Charles Caleb Cotton once wrote, “Truth can hardly be expected to adapt herself to the crooked policy and wily sinuosities of worldly affairs; for truth, like light, travels only in straight lines”.
The Truth will set you free, but only as much as you allow it to and are willingly to pay the often high price for its illumination.
More on that in part two…