Monday, May 22, 2017

The astonishing appeal of candidate Trump

Personal factors reflected in many mirrors

By Moristotle

It appears certain now that Donald Trump wouldn’t have been elected President without help from Vladimir Putin of Russia and James B. Comey of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. But even without winning in the Electoral College, Trump would still have gotten many millions of votes. How was that possible?
    How did Trump get the many votes he would still have gotten even without Putin & Comey?

Whatever substantial, objective reasons voters might have had for voting for Donald Trump (more jobs, fewer illegal immigrants, better national security, more favorable taxes, less-onerous regulations, fewer abortions), they will still have had to overcome his many negatives. How might they have done that?
    The short answer is that they had to be able to identify with Trump – to be able to rationalize the fantasy that, but for the lack of his luck, or selling skills, or daring, or “genius,” they too could occupy his golden penthouse, have a sexy spouse, enjoy a measure of celebrity, ride in private airplanes, even be a candidate for high office without any particular qualifications.

Most men – men being what Nature made them, and whatever their public (or private) morality might be – have fantasized groping for a woman’s private parts, sliding a hand between her legs, fondling her breasts, stroking the curve of her backside, “having” her. In acting on fantasy, Trump was only being bolder and more self-assured about it. Maybe another man would have groped, too, and sometimes succeeded, if he had been more like Donald Trump?
    And what taxpayer hasn’t wanted to report a larger deduction to reduce the amount of their income tax, if it could be made to appear justifiable? Trump was only doing the same thing, but as a millionaire to start with, on a vastly larger scale. Wouldn’t it have been nice to have similar advantages? And isn’t it natural to kind of envy someone who had?
    Though the physical life style of virtually everyone else in America is humble by comparison to that of Donald Trump and “the 1%,” who among us wouldn’t like an upgrade, if only by association or referral? Aside from maybe a little guilt that we didn’t deserve it, wouldn’t we still like to have some of that?

Can you honestly say that a non-PC term has never escaped your lips before you realized – too late – what you had just said? Or that you then had a sense of regret that times had changed and the term was no longer acceptable in the situation you had just unthinkingly uttered it? Donald Trump was showing that you might once again be able to utter all sorts of “unacceptable” things, and not have to regret it. How could a person be censured for wanting not to be burdened by that anymore?
    And who hasn’t experienced some level of bullying? Maybe you weren’t literally bullied in school, but has a supervisor never run roughshod over you simply because of the chair he or she occupied, or because the human resources department of the company you worked for routinely took the side of management over the employees? It could be liberating to give the same thing back to all of the people who have treated you unfairly, or even just to push back against someone who was making things difficult for you. Oh, to be able to afford to sue them, the way Donald Trump does! That has to be nice.
     Haven’t we all outed people who are “different from us” from time to time? Trump’s outing people appealed to many Americans who felt vulnerable to one attack or another – violent, economic, cultural, religious. We’ve all been there. Evolutionary adaption has all but guaranteed that humans divide people into “us” and “them” – our family and friends, the people we think we can count on to help us make it, and other people, who may be out to get us. If you are finding it hard to get along with someone, perhaps you have discovered that you can form a bond with them by joining them in hating people who are different from both of you? This might even be what sports fanaticism is all about. We certainly feel a commonality with people who cheer for the same team. During the electoral campaign, voters developed a bond with others who supported their candidate (and were highly critical of the other candidate).

Who hasn’t wished they didn’t have to work so hard to comprehend a thing, didn’t have to read difficult books, didn’t have to consult experts and do other things that took time and painful effort? Oh, to be able to just read some headlines or view a television show and instinctively know what it was all about! Oh, to have Trump’s famous genius, to just know things without having to make a study or look at all the angles! Even though you might suspect it really can’t be that easy, for anyone, who can condemn you for wishing it were so?
    Who hasn’t been saddened by slights, by being overlooked or undervalued, by having their contributions go unnoticed? Wouldn’t it be great to just trumpet them yourself, the way Trump does, so that no one can fail to notice how valuable you are, how worthy, how deserving of credit? It’s hard to hold blowing his own horn against Trump when a part of us would like to be able to blow our own horn a little more than we do.
    Don’t we all want reality to be the way we like it, and not foisted on us against our will? When Donald Trump painted a picture of how tremendous things would be if he were in charge, he always spoke in vagaries that left it to us to imagine what “great” was – it could be anything we wanted. Some of us even pray to God that things will work out the way we want. (I seem to remember saying such prayers myself, years ago.) And who hasn’t read a book or two about the power of positive thinking? Trump’s certainty appealed to millions who were desperate for greatness that was guaranteed with such reassurances.

There’s more than a little of Trump in all of us. Something of myself is reflected in every one of the preceding paragraphs. I have come to see clearly that we all really can, if we are willing, see a bit of Trump in ourselves when we look in the mirror. If I hadn’t had substantial policy and ethical reasons for opposing his candidacy, or if I had had reasons to be dissatisfied with Hillary Clinton, I, too, might have found myself rationalizing a vote for Donald Trump (or have rationalized it unconsciously). But that was not rationally possible for me – I found Trump’s exorbitant behaviors, on so many fronts, utterly beyond the pale.
    Other Presidents were excessive in some negative regard. But to have a President with so many inordinate personal negatives as Donald Trump is unprecedented. And we haven’t had to wait long to see how it would turn out. We have even begun to understand what it is about Trump that has made it possible for him to become the bundle of highly charged, unstable, erratic impulses that define him: he seems to lack an “inner regulator” – or the moral conscience that Freud termed the superego. Trump seems “all-id,” with an immature ego seemingly incapable of negotiating between his powerful drives and his emaciated self-awareness. It truly is sad.

A neighbor gave me this red cap the other day. Because the “T” stands for Top-Flite, a manufacturer of golfing equipment, he asked me whether I played golf. I told him I no longer played. The last time I hit a bucket of balls at a driving range – over twenty years ago – I got terrible blisters and aggravated my back. He still gave me the cap.
    It was only after reading about the acceleration of Trump defections after the Comey firing that it occurred to me my neighbor might no longer want to own anything that could be taken as suggesting he was a Trump fan.
[I wrote the first draft of this piece shortly after Trump’s inauguration in January, intending to revise and publish it soon. For reasons I don’t really understand (including a debilitating case of procrastination), I sat on it all this time. Occasionally I’d make an “inspired” note and think that revision and publication were near. I never acted on those, however. And when I finally did act, it seemed more out of consideration that Trump’s end might be drawing near, and publication after that might not make much sense.
[But in finally doing the revision, I was surprised to discover that my attitude had changed. While the first draft had included a sentence beginning, “How did this non-disclosing, cheating, lying, vulgar, pussy-grabbing, hate-mongering, violence-inciting, impulsive, bullying, prancing, demagogic, narcissistic confidence man get the many votes...,” I found that I no longer needed to say that, and not only because everyone should be familiar with the whole list now anyway, but also because I had discovered a sense of compassion for the man Trump. What if he  d o e s  have a soul or an “inner voice,” and is, after all, capable of self-awareness? Wouldn’t that mean that he can suffer?
     [What if Trump allowed himself (or were allowed by his protectors) to see some of the unrelenting nightly ridicule he is subjected to? (I assume that though he seems to be aware of Alex Baldwin’s Trump impersonations on Saturday Night Live, he has not watched The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, or The Daily Show with Trevor Noah – or read any of Andy Borowitz’s satires in The New Yorker, or any of Charles M. Blow’s or David Brooks’s or Paul Krugman’s op-eds in The New York Times.) Would he be able to mostly “lie” them away (like the relatively small crowd size at his inauguration), or would he suffer an epiphany? Is he capable of an epiphany? If he is – and not truly insane beyond the possibility of self-recognition – I think it’s more likely he will resign than be impeached. Or might he kill himself? (That’s really hard to imagine.) Whatever, I think we need to be prepared for Donald Trump to astonish us yet again.]

Copyright © 2017 by Moristotle


  1. I wish I could agree with all this. I feel, though, that Trump is such a dispicable character that I hope he is reading what the NYT columnist say, and taking it to heart. Yes, I am vindictive. There are some people so vicious, so destructive, that forgiveness is morally wrong.
    The Trump voters are a different sort of problem. Some of them doubtless did so because they are as bigoted and as ignorant as he is, but I can't (and don't want to) believe that of most of them. That, though, leaves questions I just can't answer. Trump has been in the public eye for decades, and throughout it has been obvious to many of us that he was mentally and morally unfit for public office of any kind. How did all of these people miss that? Many of them are by no means stupid. How did they so catastrophically decieve themselves? And, given that so many are capable of such terrible error, what hope is there for democracy?

  2. You are absolutely right, Morris, that we each have a little bit of Trump in us. That bit is called our "inner five-year-old," the person we were back when we were each the center of our own little universe. The vast majority of people grow past that phase. A few don't. CNN has voiced some interesting observations on the impacts of a five-year-old president. As for how this child got elected, I have been trying to understand that. I don't want to feel divided from nearly half of my compatriots. To that end, I have been reading "Hillbilly Elegy" by J.D. Vance. He is a sweet man telling a sweet story about breaking out of the limited horizons of his demographic. It has not produced the epiphanies I had hoped for, however, although Vance is more enlightening than, say, Ann Coulter. As for the future of democracy, I hope it is finished. In a democratic society, people only vote for their individual self-interests. We will never get anywhere with that system. We need to return to the concept of an enlightened monarch. True, it's impossible to find a human being who can live up to the requirements of that job description, and life expectancy limits even the best candidates to only a decade or two. But that's where artificial intelligence comes in: we can now fabricate the ideal monarch who will be a pleasant balance of innovative and conservative agendas, be programmed to respect all races, genders, religions, cultures, ages and orientations, and live forever. All that the rest of us will have to do is obey. It's a sad sign that this actually seems better to me than the current political situation we're in. The only long-shot hope I have is that Trump continues to irritate and derail his own GOP colleagues until the end of 2018 (but not enough to be impeached), and that Pence is found guilty of enough lies and/or other crimes to be prosecuted (but not before 2019), and that the Democrats take back the house in 2018, and that sometime in January or March of 2019, Trump is impeached the same day that Pence is prosecuted and Nancy Pelosi automatically becomes President. A bit of a stretch, but my inner five-year-old needs a dream too.

  3. Thank you, Chuck & Eric, for unloading your anger (in Chuck’s case), your doubts, your dream (in Eric’s case).
        Yes, Chuck, those voters who voted for Trump....I wrote nine paragraphs devoted to that many of [all of] the Trump characteristics that a voter would need to identify with in order to give Trump a pass. But even though I admitted to having a bit of each characteristic myself, I could not give Trump a pass on any one of them, let alone all or most of them. (Of course, it is highly likely that most voters in Trump’s camp weren’t aware of all nine, or even most, of the characteristics, partly because they exercised the Trump characteristic of believing only what they want to believe.)
        Eric, your sketch of an enlightened monarch evoked for me philosopher John Rawls’s theory of justice (as fairness), with its “original position,” in which legislators legislated without regard to the effect of the laws on themselves personally. That’s my quick layman’s summary. Here are three paragraphs from the Wikipedia article on it:

    “The original position (OP) is a hypothetical situation developed by American philosopherJohn Rawls as a thought experiment to replace the imagery of a savage state of nature of prior political philosophers like Thomas Hobbes. In the original position, the parties select principles that will determine the basic structure of the society they will live in. This choice is made from behind a veil of ignorance, which would deprive participants of information about their particular characteristics: his or her ethnicity, social status, gender and, crucially, Conception of the Good (an individual's idea of how to lead a good life). This forces participants to select principles impartially and rationally.
        “In social contract theory, persons in the state of nature agree to the provisions of a contract that defines the basic rights and duties of citizens in a civil society. In Rawls's theory, Justice as Fairness, the original position plays the role that the state of nature does in the classical social contract tradition of Thomas Hobbes, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and John Locke. The original position figures prominently in his 1971 book, A Theory of Justice. It has influenced a variety of thinkers from a broad spectrum of philosophical orientations.
        “As a thought experiment, the original position is a hypothetical position designed to accurately reflect what principles of justice would be manifest in a society premised on free and fair cooperation between citizens, including respect for liberty, and an interest in reciprocity.”

  4. Thanks, Eric. "I don't want to feel divided from nearly half of my compatriots" is what I started out trying to say. And failed. I've been trying to understand this through books about "confirmation bias", tribalism, and other failures of rationality - which I, of course, also commit.
    The thing is, though...we at least recognize these as failures, and struggle to do better. I fear that many don't even see them as failures. They are proud of their certainty on matters they know little about. It is this that makes me wonder if democracy is viable.
    No, I think an enlightened despot, or even an enilightened Mechanical Turk, is even less likely to work.

    1. Chuck, I too have thought about being “divided from nearly half of my compatriots,” but I don’t see any possibility of coming together with people who are alienated from a fantasy. However, I think (or hope) that events are going to shake enough of them into seeing the error of voting for a fantasist that they will be overruled by more realistic voters the next time. The question then will be whether the resulting leaders of our government will govern more equitably, more fairly. David Brooks’s article in today’s NY Times, “<a href="”>The Alienated Mind</a>,” bears on this:

      Alienation, the sociologist Robert Nisbet wrote, is a “state of mind that can find a social order remote, incomprehensible or fraudulent; beyond real hope or desire; inviting apathy, boredom, or even hostility.”
          The alienated long for something that will smash the system or change their situation, but they have no actual plan or any means to deliver it. The alienated are a hodgepodge of disparate groups. They have no positive agenda beyond the sort of fake shiny objects Trump ran on (Build a Wall!). They offer up no governing class competent enough to get things done.
          As Yuval Levin argues in a brilliant essay in Modern Age, “Alienation can sometimes make for a powerful organizing principle for an <i>electoral</i> coalition.…But it does not make for a natural organizing principle for a <i>governing</i> coalition.
          Worse, alienation breeds a distrust that corrodes any collective effort. To be “woke” in the alienated culture is to embrace the most cynical interpretation of every situation, to assume bad intent in every actor, to imagine the conspiratorial malevolence of your foes.
          Alienation breeds a hysterical public conversation. Its public intellectuals are addicted to overstatement, sloppiness, pessimism, and despair. They are self-indulgent and self-lionizing prophets of doom who use formulations like “the Flight 93 election” — who speak of every problem as if it were the apocalypse....
          The events of the past four months illustrate that we do need a political establishment in this country, or maybe a few competing establishments. We need people who have been educated to actually know something about public policy problems. We need people who have had gradual, upward careers in government and understand the craft of wielding power. We need people who know how to live up to certain standards of integrity and public service.
          But going forward we need a better establishment, one attuned to Trump voters, those whose alienation grows out of genuine suffering.