Along with the dip in temperature and shortened daylight hours, fall and winter ushered in cooler heads and tempered hearts. And now the new year is a time of getting back to the business of living — a cold dose of reality filled with managing schedules and cleaning up after the holidays.
Summer, by contrast, is the season of ephemeral pursuits, self-indulgence, and caprice. Donald Trump was meant to be all three. Supporters were going to love him then leave him — that is, if he didn’t dump them first. He would peak then spectacularly fall away, kicking the cat on his way off the national stage. He was supposed to be a blip in the primary process, a marker of how things can go horribly wrong and whose absence releases a deep-welled sigh of relief that all is right with the world again.
Yet here we are, and here he is: still standing, still dominating, still tweeting away.
Despite every attempt to undermine Trump’s candidacy, nothing seems to shake the man or his poll numbers — not even his recent announcement about a moratorium on Muslim immigrants.
So what’s the reason for Trump’s continued success? Is he the much-feared Trojan Horse foisted upon the Republican Party by the Svengali of all Svengalis, Bill Clinton? Is he empire-building to further enhance the brand that bears his name? Is he the worst of politicians — a demagogue playing mercenary with our emotions for a few cheap giggles and grins and gobs and gobs of power? Are we mere dupes in one or more of these games?
What if he were none of these? Consider Occam’s Razor: The simplest explanation is most likely to be true. So what if Trump was just a guy — with tremendous talent, experience, and instincts — who believes in this country so much that he actually wants to do something about its precipitous decline? Trump saw Republicans lose the last two presidential elections and, with characteristic impatience, simply decided to do something about it.
The time was propitious: No incumbent, and the nation primed to elect a Republican after eight years of Barack Obama. Also, Trump could step away from his thriving company, leaving it in the capable hands of others, including his three eldest children. So with his financials in order, the support of his family, and a deep passion to succeed, this unconventional candidate threw his red baseball cap into the ring.
Examine the Reactions to Trump
No doubt the simplicity of this possibility breaks brains, especially for those apoplectic about Trump’s manner and dreaming longingly of his irrelevancy. Ignoring him won’t work. He’s a legitimate ratings machine and remains the clear frontrunner despite every effort to take him down.
Indeed, reactions to Trump have been just as intriguing — and more illuminating — than the man himself. From his supporters, it ranges from surprised glee to Messianic-like adoration (“Only you can save us!” is a constant refrain). From his detractors, it ranges from abhorence to utterly depraved. But Trump is supposed to be the boor, remember? It takes less than five minutes scanning the headlines or Twitter feeds to find the crude and the snide. Like Bush Derangement Syndrome, Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) is a real phenomenon.
One of the more interesting observations is how Trump rattles the proverbial cages of certain politicians, consultants, and members of the media. Yes, such people often sneer and sometimes fume but mostly they seem mystified, as if staring at Cerberus — the mythical dog from hell — and each of its three heads is speaking a different language. Whether the confusion is real or fake, it demands a response. Like his candidacy and message, Trump is not that complicated to understand.
The Trump Appeal
This odd disconnect between Trump and his more vocal critics piqued my curiosity. Are Republicans so unaccustomed to having a real fighter in their party that they’d rather stick with Candidate Doormat: squishy, polite, and useless? Critics tut-tut Trump’s tone and braggadocio (so mean!). They dismiss his accomplishments (pah, private sector!) and sneer at the way he talks (no gravitas!). He lives, breathes, and speaks like a successful, New York entrepreneur. His is the language of business, not politics, but the two parallel each other in many ways.
Supporters believe his policy proposals will foster the freedoms guaranteed to them by the Constitution. Trump does instinctively understand that the government’s first and most important job is to protect its people. (Maybe it was the four years at military school that influenced his thinking.) It might not be pretty, but they trust he will be effective.
Trump’s also nailed the presidential hat-trick of the modern age: common sense, spiritedness, and genius self-promotion. Not since Reagan have we seen a politician speak so powerfully to the heart and mind of the nation, and this is what scares the hell out of his more strident opponents.
The Art of The Donald
For anyone succumbing to TDS — or maybe you just have qualms about Trump, want to know what drives the man, or are curious to learn more — you need look no further than his first book, “The Art of the Deal.” Part autobiography, part advice on how to succeed, this bestseller from 1987 sounds much like one of his presidential speeches or interviews.
But it’s all about business, as that is his first true love. It’s an easy, entertaining read even if you’re not remotely interested in real estate. Here are but a few snippets to get you started.
(1) On Unpredictability
Modern politics, like business, is all about negotiation. The key, of course, is adherence to principles. But when Trump talks about “unpredictability,” he is not talking about principles. In fact, he’s explicitly promised not to compromise on his principles. Whether you like his principles or believe him is a different issue.
Apparently the need to be seen as unpredictable is a highly complicated concept, flummoxing many a refined establishment brain. But in his book, he explains it this way: “I also protect myself by being flexible. I never get too attached to one deal or one approach” (Kindle 670-671). And: “By retaining the right to say yes or no, I own something very valuable.” (Kindle 1663)
(2) On Believability
Trump is a one-man self-promotion band. He needs no surrogates to communicate his message or defend his positions. He fights his own battles because he’s going for the top job, and that means no one else is invested like he is. The strategic, savvy way he has run his campaign indicates how he will govern.
Put aside for the moment any misgivings you may have, and consider the way he’s unveiled his policy announcements, conducted his public appearances (including “Saturday Night Live” and “The Tonight Show”), and dominated social media. His timing has been eerily spot on, his poll numbers remain strong and continue to grow, and his message is framing the national debate. Like I suggested in a previous piece, “maybe what we need is a bull in a china shop.”
It comes down to the fact that everyone underneath the top guy in a company is just an employee. An employee isn’t going to fight for your deal. He’s fighting for his salary increase, or his Christmas bonus, and the last thing he wants to do is upset his boss. So he’ll present your case with no real opinion. (Kindle 1493)
(3) On Responding to Critics
After suffering years of near-silence from George W. Bush’s administration in the face of ceaseless attacks against his person and presidency, it is absolutely refreshing to see a Republican respond fiercely to his critics. Trump defies our inane apology culture by refusing to gratify — at least in this case — the cheaper elements of political discourse. (This is also a big contributor to TDS.)
Let’s briefly clarify something, since there’s a misconception that because Trump attacks the “weak” he has fascist inclinations. The targets of Trump’s salvos have been men and women with access to and influence over large audiences.
This is not to excuse some of the things he has said or done, but it’s important to highlight how the meaning of “weak” has become muddled. Calling Republicans “fascist” is certainly not new, as it’s the Left’s rhetorical flamethrower of choice. (See this Slate article as an example.) This definitional fuzziness, therefore, affects the larger framework for how the topic of fascism is presented and ultimately misunderstood.
So compare Trump with Obama and how his administration attacked Joe the Plumber after the infamous “spread the wealth” video that went viral. Or how Obama used the power of the Internal Revenue Service to suppress Tea Party and other right-leaning groups. In both cases, the targets were private citizens, “weak” in terms of their financial resources, influence, and access to power.
Here’s Trump’s view: “The way I see it, critics get to say what they want to about my work, so why shouldn’t I be able to say what I want to about theirs?” (Kindle 353-355) And:
I’m very good to people who are good to me. But when people treat me badly or unfairly or try to take advantage of me, my general attitude, all my life, has been to fight back very hard. The risk is that you’ll make a bad situation worse, and I certainly don’t recommend this approach to everyone. But my experience is that if you’re fighting for something you believe in — even if it means alienating some people along the way — things usually work out for the best in the end. (Kindle 769-770)
(4) On Competitiveness
Trump has shown no mercy when attacking his rival Ben Carson, who until the last couple of months consistently held the number two spot in the polls. Originally, I thought this a misstep, but perhaps it wasn’t. Trump’s sense of timing and appreciation for the power of rhetoric tend to be right. Taking this fierceness and redirecting it toward ISIS, illegal immigration, and bad trade deals would be a welcomed change from the current policies that put our lives and prosperity at risk.
I’m the first to admit that I am very competitive and that I’ll do nearly anything within legal bounds to win. Sometimes, part of making a deal is denigrating your competition. (Kindle 1297)
(5) On Tenacity
Trump not only built a hugely successful international organization — a feat in itself — but he did that by first navigating the onerous bureaucratic and political obstacles of buying, selling, and building real estate in New York City. The hurdles he overcame just to get Trump Tower built are mind-numbing and sound exhausting.
But now, like then, he seems to have the energy and drive to deal with entrenched opposition:
This is particularly true in New York real estate, where you are dealing with some of the sharpest, toughest, and most vicious people in the world. I happen to love to go up against these guys, and I love to beat them. (Kindle 647-648)
Trump’s accomplishments stem from his innate and cultivated abilities to deal with businessmen, politicians, bureaucrats, and the public. He’s handled contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. By all objective standards, the man is an absolute success.
This makes him a most intriguing presidential candidate — he’s never held political office, yet he has the most experience and is perhaps the best qualified to navigate the thorny dilemmas of our day: renegade bureaucratic agencies, national security, and the economy.