Look in the Mirror, America

Who is Donald Trump? Look in the mirror, America.

I have been struggling to figure out why Donald Trump continues to appeal to voters. He doesn’t offset the fear and hatred he evokes with a positive vision like Ronald Reagan did. He contradicts himself (although it’s hard to say for sure since he is so vague). Four short years ago this was called flip-flopping, which arguably killed Mitt Romney’s candidacy. Trump offends not only the usual scapegoats; he attacks people and institutions most Americans revere. He has no political experience and lacks character.

Those who view our job as voters as being similar to hiring someone for a job would certainly choose someone else or declare a failed job search. Trump does not have the right qualifications and does not seem capable or even interested in learning how to be a good president. So, the conclusion is obvious. A large percentage of the American electorate, according to the polls, campaign events turnout, and his victory as the Republican nominee, do not see the job of voting as choosing a candidate who meets the criteria for the job of president. They do not see themselves as trying to hire someone for a job. If they are not trying to evaluate Trump as a job applicant, how do they see their role as voters? Why do they continue to support Trump?

I am no longer satisfied that viewing him as a protest candidate paints a full picture of his appeal. His ability to tap into the fears and frustrations of white middle class males doesn’t frame the portrait entirely either. Voting against Hillary Clinton and the Democrats is undoubtedly a motivation for some, but that is just one broad brush stroke. If this was just about all of these negative reasons to vote for Trump, I think his photo would have been deleted from memory long ago. There must be something remaining, some part of the picture, that everyday people like in order to hang Trump’s portrait on the wall and vote for him.

Here’s the part of this post I don’t like, and I hope you won’t like it either. Trump represents himself as the ideal businessman, and he is right about that although it’s for the wrong reasons. He is exactly the kind of person we teach business students to become. Be selfish. Be ruthless. Compete. Bend the rules whenever possible. Win at all costs. Act like a corporation is supposed to. We love Trump even when we don’t agree with what he says because he is the boss. We admire him, just as we admired the iconic businessmen of the past: the Carnegies, the Rockefellers, the Vanderbilts. Never mind how they treated their employees. Forget about their customers. Look at how they crushed the competition. Look at how much money they made. They were superhumans–people above everyone else.

Image over substance is today’s mantra. Use the media, not to sell a product, but to get people to embrace a dream. Want a degree from Trump U? Money and fame are the measures of success; they determine value. Trump bullies people to get what he wants. That’s okay; selfishness is a virtue. Tell the truth when its convenient; otherwise, get people’s attention, sell them something expensive that’s really worth nothing, then close the deal. Buyer beware. Use people. How do you think we harvested the cotton, built the railroads, and fought the Halliburton War? Don’t worry about offending people. Focus on yourself and on how much better you are than everyone else. Get yourself on TV. If you do, you’re a star. We will love you.

We love the teams that break the rules in sports, as long as they are OUR team and they win. We admire TV stars, even if their characters lie, cheat, steal, and slander. What they do in real life is all about promotion. Talent is not necessary. Selfishness is a virtue, right Ayn Rand? The viewing public seeks extremes. Conflict sells best. Trump supporters don’t want to analyze someone’s fitness for duty; they aren’t thinking about selecting a commander-in-chief. They want to pick someone who is popular. They want a winner; someone who makes life more interesting. They prefer not to think about the complexities of the problems we face. They just want someone who promises to fix things. Don’t bother telling us the details or the plan–our attention span is not long enough anyway.

I am generally optimistic about the American People’s ability to make good judgments. But our culture has shifted. We’ve seen hints of this in previous senate and gubernatorial elections when newly minted politicians, having little more than star power, have been elected. Nothing earth shattering happened as a result, did it? The American people aren’t concerned about the consequences of their votes as our culture has become more immersed in living a life removed from reality: life is now largely lived watching television, listening to music on the headphones, surfing the Internet, watching movies, and playing video games. Live for today. Be bold. Try something new. Buy this Trump Tonic to solve all your problems. It’s marketing. When was the last time you watched an advertisement on TV that gave you reasons to buy something? Image Trumps reality.

What I really don’t like about this cultural shift is that rational arguments against Trump may not work at all to convince his supporters and the undecideds. If I like the Oakland Raiders, you won’t change my mind about supporting the team by pointing out its shortfalls. Everyone cheats, we rationalize. Kim Kardashian, whose only talent, as far as I can tell, is attracting attention, may have more followers than the Pope. (I’m not going to check that claim.) It matters little what Kayne West does as long as he continues to keep the spotlight on himself by being controversial. Conventional wisdom suggests that everyone is pursuing the dollar nowadays, so acting outrageous is cool as long as it pays off. The dollars earned are a rough guide as to your worth.

Trump has lots of dollars. We don’t care how he got them. Trump is a TV star. It doesn’t matter that it was a show about firing people. Trump has written a best-selling book, the Art of the Deal. Who cares if it was ghostwritten? His bankruptcies, multiple marriages, affairs, disgruntled consumers, unpaid contractors, divisive remarks, poorly considered proclamations, and so forth, do not matter. He is the Republican nominee for the president, the most powerful job in the world. That’s success. He’s a winner so far. He has our attention. We will reward him by liking him. He will reward us by fleecing us. We will admire him for doing so.

Who will win? The debates between Donald and Hillary will be critical. People will be watching, even those who have been playing Pokemon. Can Hillary become perceived as a star? Can she draw some blood and dim Donald’s star power in a head-to-head? The events happening in the world at the time of the election will be another important factor. Remember Reagan v. Carter and the Iranian hostage crisis? If things that are happening in late October and early November generate fear, Donald’s world view will be validated. But if things remain much the same, I expect Hillary to win in a landslide.

The Donald could win in a close election if conditions are right. If he does win, a world-wide panic would probably result the day after the election. Scary. If he does not win, I worry about what happens if our culture continues down the same path. Kayne West indicated he planned to run for the presidency in the future. No joke. Taylor Swift for VP?

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