It is January 20, 2017, the day of the inauguration of Donald John Trump, casino magnate, television personality, and media provocateur as 45th President of the United States of America. Now, bad presidents come and go. The country has had plenty of liars, knuckleheads, perverts, and even a life dictator in the highest office (the life dictator actually turned out to be pretty ok, but we made sure to change the rules as soon as he was dead). Yet Trump strikes me as something special.
From now until when he keels over dead, the papers are going to be chock full of Trump’s bloviations, crimes, vulgarities, enormities, and attention-seeking behaviors (I am not sure if Trump will seize permanent hold of the presidency, if mortality will catch him before four years are up, or if he will go on to bigger better things, but I am absolutely sure we are going to hear about everything he does until he moves on to the great reality show hereafter). This success at attention seeking is the greatest source of Trump’s power. It is how he has built a cult of personality unrivaled by all but our greatest presidents (who were honorable enough to turn their backs on such dangerous and undemocratic personal style). Trump knows that outrage and hate are just as good for his aims as praise. All of the anti-Trump editorials and essays have helped him. He has discovered that fame in contemporary America is like absolute value in mathematics: it doesn’t matter whether it is negative or positive.
Therefor I am going to avoid hating further on the Donald. It only helps him. I am going to confront his personality cult indirectly by comparing him to the thing that interests me the most, but which Trump would least like to be—me! a broke nobody artist. I will look at Donald Trump as a human and see if we have anything in common.
I had this idea when I was at the Duane Reade downstairs at the Trump building at 40 Wall Street, Trump’s downtown office (which is next to the title insurance office where I work as a sad little clerk during the day). Duane Reade posts all of its prices in terms of what you would pay if you had a Duane Reade discount card (which is probably actually a vector for Duane Reade to sell all of your information to insurance companies and drug companies). Without this horrible card, everything rings up for 20% to 30% more than you expect to pay.
At the beginning of the presidential campaign, when Trump was merely one of many improbable Republican candidates, one of my colleagues ran into him shopping at Duane Reade. Trump was by himself buying an armful of hair spray (honest!), and was nice enough to take a picture with my coworker. The other day, as I paid 20% extra for my gummy bears and salve, I wondered if Trump has one of these awful cards for his hairspray, or if he too must suffer the same frustration when his goods all cost more than they are marked.
It made me think of him differently—not as a dictator come to crush America, nor as a gold-orange idol on tv, but as an actual person, and from there, in a rush I realized we share much more than I would like to admit.
Donald Trump and I both came from successful WASP families. Instead of being merchants and businesspeople, my family are scientists and administrators. But both groups made their way up by working hard.
Trump and I both went to similar colleges: The University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chicago. We are both tall and goofy looking and we both make our money in the same business—real estate– although we could not be at more different places on the ladder (and Trump has recently left for public service).
From there the similarities become more disturbing. We both have a history of failed businesses that have left us with deep scars. We are both straight but can’t seem to make relationships last. Trump and I love New York City unconditionally (even though the city doesn’t seem to love us back). Each is secretly anxious that he is not actually good enough and so desperate to appear smart that he seems foolish… each is a rather silly man who is terribly, terribly worried about what people think of him.
I hope you kin that the point of this is not that Trump and I are a lot alike (I actually think we are profoundly different). The point is we need to stop concentrating on him as a unique personality and start looking at him as another politician. And we need to stop letting him get our goat.
Trump scares me and being scared makes people do stupid things. I have been so angry when I looked at self-satisfied or annoying posts on Facebook, that I felt like breaking off my social interactions with people I grew up with. I have come terribly close to angrily denouncing everyone in rural America as “deplorables” and swearing off West Virginia. More often than I would care to admit, Trump has filled my heart with blinding rage
My family has a dark saying. It is counter intuitive (and probably stolen from a ballad or a fifties tv show), but it turns out to be disconcertingly true: “You become what you hate”. You see it everywhere: social justice advocates who hate people for the circumstances of their birth, or folks who imagine all of some different sort of people are racists. Look at Trump’s die-hard followers who lambast city dwellers for being selfish and self-satisfied! Look at allegedly egalitarian city dwellers making fun of people for poverty and a lack of educational opportunities!
If we go down the path we are on, we are ALL going to be more like Trump than we ever want to be. We will not have his wealth or his facile ability to manipulate people by appealing to their greed. We will instead have his talent for sewing discord, ruining things, and bringing hatred and fear to the United States with hyperbole and bad ideas. By being afraid and despising him with our whole hearts we will make our fears come true. We will start to hate our friends and neighbors. Look into your heart and ask how you are already like the president. I have a feeling you will find more points of comparison than you will be comfortable with.
Donald Trump has not even been president a whole day and he has already divided the country further than any time since the Civil War. Eris is stealing the crown of liberty in America. The solution is not to concentrate on how hateful he is personally. The solution is to talk about how we can cooperate to actually get things working and make of our dreams come true. Billionaires don’t dream of killing little kids on the street. Coal miners don’t want the world to cook and choke. Even Donald Trump loves his family and wants a world where his grandkids can grow up safe and healthy (to someday bate the press in their own ways). We are all more similar than we would like to admit. But that shouldn’t be a shameful admission. It should make us stronger, smarter, and kinder.