Hail to the Chief: What Donald Trump Teaches Us About the Presidency
My Israeli father always says the following about Americans: when it comes to politics (and many other things), we are simplistic, binary and positive. Take the elections, for example.
When watching presidential debates, how often do we actually hear a straight answer from any of the 17 Republican candidates about their plans for immigration or health care reform? The answer is almost never: they give us a soundbite, they tell us what we already know. They speak simplistically and say nothing, causing the American who is ignorant about politics to become even more ignorant. But those of us who actually want to hear more get frustrated.
Even more frustrating, is trying to get a straight yes or no answer out of these politicians. A simple question at a debate could turn into three minutes of skating around the main point; whether in regards to Iraq, abortion, or marriage equality. Americans are binary, we want a yes or no answer, and we want it now; nuance is not in our nature.
On the question of whether Americans are positive, I might disagree with my dad. Sure, we all want to hear Obama tell us how we are moving in the right direction at the State of the Union address, but when it comes to the elections, we turn on the television and watch a slew of negativity at every debate. We eat it up, watching the candidates deflect responsibility and point their fingers at each other and the President. We accept negativity in the form of criticism of others--and not necessarily the constructive kind. Positivity is only allowed at the inauguration speech.
Enter Mr. Donald Trump. The man with “no time for political correctness”. Many have speculated as to how a businessman with a not-so-cheery disposition suddenly became the frontrunner for the Republican primaries.
While many (myself included) may have found his comments about Mexicans, Megyn Kelly, and Rosie O’ Donnell vulgar and offensive, it is possible that he has managed to create a perception of himself as the first authentic candidate that America has seen for quite some time. Americans are frustrated with the vague and obscure sound bites they are used to hearing from our senators and governors. Trump may be many things; vague and obscure he most certainly is not.
In addition to his supposed authenticity, Trump is, as the saying goes “the man of the hour”. Every election has that memorable moment that we all point back to and laugh. Take Sarah Palin’s entire political campaign in 2008 (which SNL wasted no time capitalizing on), or Mitt Romney’s 47% zinger in 2012. So in 2020, when we’re all either mocking or applauding Kanye West’s campaign, our memories of Trump will suddenly be triggered--even before we remember who actually won this election.
So, unlike the more credible candidates this election season, Trump is our entertainer. He is so blunt and unapologetic that it is almost laughable. And as part of his routine, he capitalizes on the American tradition of pointing fingers at others. Only he does it so much better than the other politicians, in a less “politically correct” manner.
So what’s the issue here? Why can’t we have a presidential candidate who (supposedly) tells it like it is, someone who is a little bit more entertaining than usual?
Because watching the Republican primary debate felt like watching a comedy show. It was almost too ridiculous to actually be taken seriously. It may be shockingly ridiculous to hear Trump rant about Mexican rapists for now, but we are still early in the game. Come November 2016, we will all be eating our words about how fresh and necessary and exciting Trump was because, no matter who we all vote for, it will still be a politician (rather than a businessman), who we may not entirely like or trust, but who will certainly be a lot more credible than Trump. Trump may be funny now, but his rhetoric is not exactly Oval Office material. Whether we like it or not, being in the public light requires having some sort of filter, and it seems unlikely that that is something that Trump will suddenly develop by Inauguration Day.
I think that we might be taking Trump seriously for now because we seem to no longer take the position of President seriously. If you have missed the fact that Obama is not the president who, as a country, we Americans have treated with the most respect, then you have probably been living under a rock. Whether its Congress, Fox News, or your doctor ranting about how Obamacare will ultimately bring about the apocalypse, our Commander-in-Chief has his fair share of critics, but respectful, they are not.
While Obama may be the target of this criticism, it seems that the position of the President of the United States is no longer as revered as it used to be, both worldwide and nationwide. And nothing highlights the downgrade of that seat in the Oval Office like the current election. Barring Trump, the Republican Party has become so divided that it has another 16 candidates vying for the position of nominee. And things haven’t been too pretty for the Democrats either, with Hillary once again in the midst of a scandal.
So whoever wins this election, I hope that we can all see through the simplicity and vagueness of the promises made by our candidates in order to make the right decision. I hope that as a country, we learn how to once again look up to and respect the President of the United States. And I hope that we can all vote for someone who gives us a reason to respect them.