A good friend who is vacationing in Paris sent me a copy of a front-page headline in “Les Figaro” featuring Donald Trump amidst adoring crowds. She wrote, “How can this clown get this kind of copy? How has he lasted? What in the world is going on?”
Like my friend, I believed the Trump spectacle would be a flash in the pan. I could not conceive of a grandiose entertainer devoid of a shred of humility, with a brutal killer instinct, as a contender taken seriously for the highest office in our land. I watched the first Republican Debate for one reason — to understand this man’s appeal. (For full disclosure, during its 14 seasons I tried to watch his reality game show, “The Apprentice” and then “The Celebrity Apprentice” a few times, but I was just not on the Trump page and only lasted a few minutes during each attempt.) However, during this first debate, I forced myself to stay tuned and did learn a great deal from watching and then thinking. So here goes: Like It or Not: Seven Reasons Why Donald Trump is Not Going Away Any Time Soon.
1. The Appeal of Entertainment, Including Blood Sport: We are a nation on overload and unpredictable, unscripted entertainment diverts. Think about it: With all of the technological advances, we never are able to get away from the pressures of work, as well as the knowledge that others are in the wings, waiting to replace us if we do not measure up. The problems before us are extraordinarily complex, not only here, but worldwide and Trump is shrewd, dangerous, and effective in pitting people against others. There can be a fine line between healthy, engrossing competition and blood sport, and Trump has crossed it: If you dare question him he does not respond rationally, respecting your question. Rather, he ignores the question and ruthlessly, brutally attacks. Viewing these attacks offers outlets for emotional and physical overload. (Please read on, as the reasons that follow flow into this one and with each other.)
2. Culture Shock: Who could have predicted the changes we face, ones unthinkable only a decade ago, and ones that have led to complex divisions and uncertainty among us. To name a few: We now have acceptance not only of same sex unions, but same sex marriage. There is the acceptance of birthing and adopting children in myriad family settings. Our population is older, our resources less. There are more Asian and Hispanic families, and multiracial identities have grown in importance. Futures for our young and their parents are less insured. There is frustration that “political correctness,” while it brings relief to many, leaves others feeling muzzled and resentful.
3. Anger: There is anger about losing power, status, and pride. There is the rage expressed in race riots and murders due to hatred, prejudice, and sheer madness. There is the helpless rage of watching these horrors. The constancy of these realities have left us exhausted and in some cases detached from the pain of our fellow human beings.
4. Anxiety and Fear: There is anxiety and fear re potential loss of power, status, pride, and not being able to care for one’s family. There is anxiety and fear about madness on the streets, where each of our children is vulnerable. Add to this the fear of another attack akin to 9/11. Simplistic, irrational “answers” and providing scapegoats offer false and temporary relief.
5. Distrust of the Clintons and the Bushes: Watching and hearing Jeb Bush on the trail and in the last debate do not show him to be an engaging or uplifting candidate. Further, his brother’s decision concerning an unprovoked attack on Iraq remains a divisive issue for the country and an exceedingly difficult one for Jeb Bush to grapple with. Hillary Clinton undoubtedly has a brilliant grasp on issues. Yet, there is a longstanding and prevailing sentiment that the Clintons make their own rules about everything and at best distort truths. At the same time, President Obama’s obvious affection and respect for Joe Biden, and the Vice President’s eloquent and sincere expressions of mourning for his son Beau, who died of a brain tumor in May, have touched many; and talk of his candidacy and strong following persist.
6. “Enough Already” Exposure of the Clintons and the Bushes: Again and again I hear the following about both families: “I am sick and tired of reading about them all.” It is anyone’s guess how this will play itself out. Yet, again and again I also hear from those I would never expect this sentence from: “Trump is fresh and new, and I find myself listening to a lot that he says.” And also, “How terrific to be rid of political correctness and hear someone say what he really thinks, reaction of others be damned.
7. Longing for Easy Answers and Catchy Themes — Not Details: I will never forget hearing Ann Richards speak about her 1994 loss of the Governorship of Texas to Bush ’43. To paraphrase: “I kept telling my staff to give me new material for speeches. I was boring myself by saying the same things, day after day. However, my defeat showed me that this thinking confused voters, who did not know what I stood for. Voters, however, were not one bit confused by Bush, who again and again told them that he was a ‘compassionate conservative’.”
So like it or not, the times and The Donald are, in many respects, at this point hand in glove. Regardless of the millions who see his candidacy as an act, a bad dream and even a nightmare, how far Donald Trump will go in his quest is anyone’s guess.
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