BY MARTIN KICH
Let’s not beat around the bush. For the sake of argument, let’s accept that all politicians are full of shit. Why is a guy who is so patently full of shit—who repeatedly says things on camera and then very shortly afterwards denies that he said them (just today, he said that John McCain is, after all, a war hero)—any sort of an improvement over those politicians? Why is he not simply perceived as a bullshitter on steroids?
Let’s accept that the system is rigged and that no one is speaking for the average Joe, the blue-collar worker, whose job opportunities have become more limited and whose wages and working conditions have stagnated, if not declined. Why is a self-declared billionaire (though the bullshitting almost certainly includes considerable exaggeration on his actual worth) able to declare himself the “voice” of the average American without being laughed off the stage? Because he talks like a guy at the corner bar? I’d like to know exactly when he was last in a place that could by any stretch of the imagination be called a “corner bar.” More importantly, that someone speaks “on camera” as we speak when we are “off camera” does not necessarily mean that he speaks for us.
Let’s accept that Trump is a successful businessman (though the bullshitting has also involved treating a series of regular bankruptcy filings as evidence of his business acumen). How, exactly, does that make him an expert at negotiating trade deals or at creating jobs? Do his companies employ more people than companies of roughly the same size? Do they employ people in new and innovative ways? What do his thousands of employees earn, on average? What benefits do they receive and what are their working conditions? What do they have to say about working for his companies? Why has there not been a parade of employees willing to give testimonials about what a great boss he is? There has certainly been a parade of detractors with “inside” perspectives—including the guy who was the ghostwriter of the much ballyhooed The Art of the Deal and who described Trump as someone with the attention span and the ethics of a gnat.
Let’s accept that Trump has managed to get the GOP nomination without soliciting contributions from other wealthy people or corporate interests. Let’s accept even that he may manage to get elected president without accepting those kinds of contributions to his campaign. How does that make him any less of an “insider” with an insider’s self-interest? Beyond his asserting that his primary objective will be to help the average worker, what evidence is there that the assertion has any truth to it, any substance to it whatsoever? If the workers at your plant were trying to unionize, would Donald Trump be able to make a convincing case for joining a union? Or if your workplace is already unionized, would he be the kind of person whom you would elect as a union leader? I am not presuming that all workers wish to unionize, but I am asking whether he would have any credibility with average working people on a smaller stage: On a more local level, would people take him at face value and believe him? Could he get elected to the city council, the school board, or as dogcatcher?
Let’s accept that illegal immigration and an Islamic fifth column—ISIS infiltrators—are the “huge” and almost overwhelming problem that Trump has declared them to be. In the jet age—in any age–how, exactly, is building a wall along the border with Mexico going to be the keystone to addressing those problems? The Great Wall of China could not keep a whole succession of invaders out of that empire. At great cost in treasure and human lives, Chinese emperors spent a millennium making it longer and taller and thicker and the invaders kept finding ways through it. After World War I, the French built the Maginot Line to defend themselves against another German attack, and the Nazis managed to run tanks through the supposedly impassable forest of the Ardennes and simply outflanked it. Complex problems require sophisticated solutions, and even the “hugest” and most elaborate wall is a simpleminded solution.
We have many reasons to be concerned about the problems that we face. They are very real and serious problems. But solutions that are incubated in an atmosphere of fear and near-hysteria will not be solutions that we can live with long-term because fear can so very easily be stoked all out of proportion to the actual threats that we face.
I recall reading about a town in northern Ontario that finally got cable television. The town was very rural, even remote, and had almost no history of crime, never mind violent crime. On one of the cable stations that originated in Detroit, the nightly news naturally featured stories about the all-too-routine incidence of crime and often violent crime in that (and just about any other) large metropolitan area. When a sociologist interviewed residents of that town in Ontario a year or so later, he was very surprised at how focused they were on issues related to public safety. The crime rate had not risen at all—that is, there still was no actual crime in their small community–but the residents’ awareness of criminality had been considerably heightened, to the point that they were discussing it as if it were a problem hanging over their community.
Although no one should wish for or be satisfied with the blissfulness of ignorance, we all sometimes need to measure what’s in our minds against what is actually going on around us and then separate the two things. This is especially necessary when the issues that we face do need to be addressed in a decisive way.
And decisiveness is not simply bluntness—someone having the audacity to say what we’d sometimes like to be able to get away with saying.
If the opposite were true, then we would be arguing about the legacies of our former presidents Don Rickles and Sam Kinison.