Contemplating “President Trump”

Like the entire Republican Party establishment and, in a profound sense, much of the country at large, I am coming to grips with the cold, hard, heretofore unimaginable fact that Donald Trump will be the Republican presidential nominee. And having achieved that status, he is just a few more improbable steps away from the presidency in a year that has scuttled everything we thought we knew about probability.

The thought amazes and appalls. And there is more than a middling chance it will come to pass. “President Trump.”

And we, who laughed heartily at the petty, petulant, juvenile showman with the orange hair who was slated to be our comic relief for a few early months of the campaign, until he either torpedoed himself with one too many offensive absurdities or the Old Guard had him summarily removed with a show of Old Money and Influence, now wring our hands and wonder why we didn’t, couldn’t, see it coming.

In a powerful sense, we were stupid.

The polls told us he was a continuing force. The voters confirmed the pollsters in state after state. P.T. Barnum had long ago warned us of suckers born every minute. Far worse had gone much further in this world.

Perhaps the one true thing Ted Cruz uttered as he got down to the nitty gritty in his last desperate days and addressed a Trumpista in Indiana: “Sir, with all respect, Donald Trump is deceiving you. He is playing you for a chump.”

We are still a deeply religious nation, but getting less so all the time, and Cruz, unlike the largely secular Trump, scares the bejeezus out of even most religious people.


Yet all the way through, Trump kept leading the delegate count, kept getting placed in the middle of the shrinking debate stage as every person on his flanks eventually dropped away. Kept scoring what seemed like 99 percent of the headlines: Trump this, Trump that & the other.

And we were drawn to read those headlines, hypnotized, mesmerized, a drugged-out nation getting its fix of mind-bending, mood-altering, “This can’t be true, can it?”

True confession: I’m still drawn to read nearly every Trump story I come across. Conveniently, there are often several per news and editorial section of any publication I care to peruse.

Fascinated to the end.


So it is bad, yes. But amidst the deep doldrums of pondering the preposterous—President Trump astride the world’s stage—I offer a consolation. It is in the form of a truism I hear with increasing frequency at this age, whenever a friend or associate confides a health scourge, a family challenge or job trial. Almost invariably anymore, it is followed jauntily by, “Well, it could be worse!”

And so it could, and frequently enough, is. That’s both the bitch and the saving grace of it.

Yes, as bad as Donald Trump is and may yet be as our president, it really, truly, could have been worse.

Exhibit A: Ted Cruz.

Exhibit B: his short-lived running mate.

Can you imagine?

I nominate that passing hookup, that affair of two surpassingly venal hearts, as the most desperate and odious Hail Mary pass of our time. So might we at least give voters some credit for not being impressed? Even if that means they voted for Trump instead?



Cruz was always a more frightening candidate than Trump, ready to wreak whatever havoc he could on the nation with his reptilian cunning and dead-eyed focus on the prey he was seeking.

“Miserable son of a bitch,” is how fellow ardent Republican John Boehner described him. (I could have kissed him for that.)

And then, even more mockingly befitting his subject, a religious image: “Lucifer in the flesh.”

Where Trump identifies as a dealmaker, Cruz is convinced he has been anointed by God to, in words he seems to have cherry-picked from his savior and twisted to his own nefarious ends, “not bring peace but a sword.” And he is willing to wield that sword, to customize an old phrase, “on foe and foe alike,” given that from all available reports, he seems to have zero friends in the political world (his “running mate” perhaps excepted).

And contrary to the theme of humility that his savior projected at nearly every turn, Cruz regards his deep unpopularity as a sure sign of his righteousness, a badge of honor, as one more proof he is doing God’s brave lonely work fighting a world full of infidels.

But here’s the twist on the coulda been worse rubric: I don’t think Cruz had a prayer against Hillary Clinton. We are still a deeply religious nation, but getting less so all the time, and Cruz, unlike the largely secular Trump, scares the bejeezus out of even most religious people, save for the most fervent evangelicals. Has there been a more purely unlikable politician, anywhere, ever?

Trump, on the other hand, has a legitimate shot at beating Clinton, flawed and uninspiring candidate that she is turning out to be. If there is one lesson to take from this almost psychedelically weird campaign season, it is not to underestimate Trump—at least with respect to his appeal surpassing one’s wildest expectations (and fears).


He is, in a powerful sense, a new breed of celebrity politician, with his celebrityhood alone enough to garner him saturating levels of attention. And he combines that magnetizing appeal to the camera and microphone with enough nativist, low-brow, boorish charm to appeal to those who feel forsaken and unheard by every conventional politician who comes to yammer at them about 5-point jobs programs to revitalize the Rust Belt.

In his hapless, policy-free, hopelessly contradictory pronouncements on matters he self-evidently knows next to nothing about and doesn’t care to learn, Trump the Billionaire Celebrity has managed to become Everyman, mad as hell about the modern world and yearning to go back, back, always back, to a better time, before the great change, the great confusion, the great slide of a once-great nation.

“We can be that again, you can be that again,” Trump tells steadfast admirers who have stood by him through the scores of gaffes that would long ago have ruined a lesser politician. But those politicians lacked essential character traits that Trump has turned into advantages in this most remarkable electoral season of our time.

For one thing, he’s not Ted Cruz.

Lucky him.


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11 comments to Contemplating “President Trump”

  • Angela  says:

    Somehow I do not find the prospect of Trump prevailing over Cruz to be much in the way of balm or reassurance. It’s a bit like that old saw “First prize: one week in Cleveland, Second prize: 2 weeks in Cleveland!” (My apologies to any Cleveland readers out there). And the fact that Cruz might have been an easier foe to defeat doesn’t help much, either, as that is so much water under the bridge, now (my apologies to any readers in Flint, Michigan as well).

    So, what are we to do, when the Democratic candidates left standing are respectively spinning fantasies or screeching at us (why DOES Hillary Clinton yell so much??) and we know just how ugly the next few months will be, whatever the outcome. I guess it’s time to heave ho for the least worst choice and do our part to make it work. Dig deep, boys and girls, breathe deep and: get out the vote.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Yes, Angela, it is small balm indeed to suffer a severe stroke but then rejoice that it involved only one side of one’s brain. But we take the shards of balm from where we can in this bruised aching world! The fact that Cruz would have been much easier to beat wasn’t intended as balm, though—more as irony, or: “Drats!”

      You raise a very intriguing point on why Hillary appears to yell so much. It’s similar to my feeling watching Rubio and wondering why he seemed incapable of ever answering a question without vein-popping intensity, or why Fiorina’s face seemed set in a perpetual scowl. I wonder if it has something to do, at a baseline level, with Hillary being a woman who needs to yell to be heard in a still male-dominated political culture, and that even her lack of a booming male voice requires her to ratchet up the volume. All of which would likely be unconscious, I suspect. And why, looking to inspire ala Obama, her speeches usually come off as somehow flat, lacking some critical component that gets juices flowing. Are we perhaps all just tired of the Clintons, the Bushes, and all the same ol’ same ol’?

  • lindapproulx  says:

    I find the prospect of a Trump presidency truly depressing. Will we see the end of days for ourselves and our children because this shallow showman will lead us to climate disaster or a war we cannot imagine? I trust that Hilary will be a competent president if we can elect her. However, I worry that you have hit the nail on the head when you suggest that we are tired of the Clintons and Bushes. I have been wondering if Bernie might be a stronger candidate to do battle with Trump.

    So much of our problem stems from the fact that our leaders have been unable to help the country as a whole begin to come to grips with the forces of the modern age – climate change, globalization, information technology, biotechnology, income inequality, the 24-hour a day global news phenomenon, a shrinking planet where we hear about the world’s problems 24/7 and more. I think Obama had the brains to lead us to a greater understanding, but he was derailed by Republican leaders and their media empire. The outcome of their behavior over the last many years is the Donald himself. May God help us to figure out how we can help ourselves.

    It’s obvious I need help with my depression. Any encouraging thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Well, Linda, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and woes, and no, I will not even mention the situation in the Philippines that is so eerily consonant with ours, oyyy! Instead, let’s try this:

      • London just elected a Muslim mayor. Do you find that as astonishing as I do? He may or may not turn out well, but the mere fact of it is notable, London being in England rather than Pakistan, last I checked.

      • “The Human Race” started around the corner from my house this morning and it had its usual staggering number of nonprofits there to raise money in a joyous atmosphere. Whenever I read about the void left by declining church membership and civic engagement, I think, “Yeah, but those nonprofits…” I come across them continually in my work as well, and not all of them staffed by leftover 60s idealists, either, but instead by gung-ho young people who didn’t go the MBA route, or in some cases, did go that route and then came to apply that acumen to the nonprofit world. They are everywhere, for every possible cause and population, and they are networked as never before.

      • A year and a half ago I wrote a post on the work of Max Roser, an economist and stats/data guy in England who makes a habit of piling up reams of evidence that by all statistical measures, the world has never been in better shape. Long, long way to go to solve a whole lot of problems, but compared to where we’ve been as a species, we’re living in Shangri-La, with all the good measures steadily going up and the bad ones just as surely going down. But that data finds it very hard to compete with the 24/7 news cycle that you cite as having so transformed our world.

      I think you’re also right, by the way, that our leaders have not kept up, not measured up, to what we need with the dramatic rate and complexity of change we face. It’s unnerving, so we want to crawl under our blankets, call for a bottle or needle, or a dictator, or heed nostalgic calls to rid ourselves of our worries just by flexing and preening and making ourselves “great again.”

  • lindapproulx  says:

    Thanks Andrew. Some good news always help to put things into perspective.

  • joan voight (@shapelygrape)  says:

    What a great discussion, folks. Thanks, I needed that. As a media type, i always felt the story isn ‘t Trump. It is Trump supporters. What really makes them tick? How can we reach them?

  • Jay Helman  says:

    Darn, I hate coming to this party (blog) late. So juicy, so rich, so real. First, a couple points of agreement: Andrew, right on about Cruz being much more dangerous. Joan, most disconcerting to me about Trump is the vast swath of the populace supporting him. This makes me feel that our nation is not quite what I thought; and far worse than my cynical side has long believed. Reaching them? It appears that only Trump and his like can do that. Two other thoughts: in addition to “it could be worse” is that “this too shall pass.” Surely those of a certain age during the riots in Chicago and the Vietnam protests believed that our country and the world was coming to an end. Hippies and Black Panthers did not end the world, but somehow adapted and integrated into a more functional world. JFK, Martin Luther King Jr. assassinations, Watergate, Lewinsky, etc. It all passed. And then there is the reality of the power of the President; particularly in the base tribal machinations of contemporary Congress. Can any person in the Oval Office, Trump included, lead the dysfunction of a Congress hell bent on impasse?

  • Alan Proulx  says:

    I propose that the Democrats nominate Jon Stewart to be their candidate for President. Funnier (and deeper) than Hillary, able to avoid being tagged a socialist which (excepting the younger crowd) has associated that label with the worst government one could have.

    Jon is also entertaining but in a serious way.

  • Andrew Hidas  says:

    Joan, indeed, Trump filled a vacuum of voters who have long felt disenfranchised and hoodwinked by (mostly) the Republican Party that had talked the talk & yacked the yack about addressing their economic concerns but had never delivered. It has resulted in a full-scale—and astoundingly successful—insurrection that virtually no one in the establishment party saw coming. And there is of course the nativist, racist element as well: the world doesn’t look like it did, and when that change happens alongside your diminishing economic circumstances, it is scapegoat time in a major way. “Human, all too human,” which I think is a line from Nietzsche, if I remember correctly…

    Ah, Jay, I am reminded of all those river & ocean metaphors, the passing stream, the relentless tides washing everything away…Still, I do wonder about the changes in the river’s channel begotten by the quakes of history: the Watergates, the assassinations, the terrorism. Is there a cumulative coarsening, a hardening and jadedness that grows from such epochal events in the national psyche, affecting our very identity, our ways of being and relating to each other? Resulting in a bailout from the hard slog of reality to the safe and vapid “reality television” and related phenomena that have brought us the likes of Trump as a leading politician of his age, rather than leading entertainer?

    Speaking of which!: Alan, I believe you’re not the first one to toot that Jon Stewart horn—talk about the conflation of entertainment with politics! The difference with Stewart, though, is that there’s serious policy and scathing critique of our politics not even concealed in its entertainment package. Trump, on the other hand, has never been funny in his life, a fact that should give us more pause than it does, I think. Anyway, if you can come up with a few million bucks to seed Stewart’s campaign, I’m all in! (Though I’m not sure he would be…) One thing I know: it would send ratings for State of the Union speeches right through the roof!

  • Jay Helman  says:

    For Jon Stewart fans: see “The Axe File” hosted by David Axelrod and interview with Stewart. Jon gets Trump phenomenon.

  • lindapproulx  says:

    How I miss Jon Stewart’s Daily Show! Jon for President! I’m all in.

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