The Ascension Of Trump, And Americas Dangerous New Normal
With President Obama leaving the White House after eight years, America feels more divided than it has been in decades. Arguments will continue in perpetuity as to whether Obama’s Presidency produced positive change, or simply pandered to coastal elites as middle America languished in economic decline. Regardless of agreement or opposition to Obama’s policies, few can argue his effectiveness as a leader. He won the popular vote both times he ran, appeared genuinely conciliatory toward his opponents, and carried himself with an combination of humility and grace.
The prospect of a Trump Presidency is a shock to America, and to the standards she has set as to the qualifications expected of her leaders. Presidents have traditionally never been movie stars or celebrities. While Ronald Reagan had a modest acting career, he left Hollywood for Sacramento as Governor of California, before being elected President in 1980. We expect our celebrities to entertain, and our leaders to lead. America has traditionally understood that a persons fame does not imbue them equally with the wisdom to govern, until now.
This would be the first time somebody has ascended to the Presidency from reality television and the business world. Typically, Presidential candidates begin as community organizers and city council members, then on to congress or governorship, then to the White House. Conceptually, the years dedicated to public service, learning to craft policy, and reach compromises, prepare one for the rigors of governance. A candidate will ideally emerge from this path with the requisite character to navigate the country through an unsteady world.
Trump brings none of this. It could be argued that he possesses a degree of business acumen, and boardroom savvy, but he clearly lacks a scintilla of humility. How can he lead a country when he can be so easily flustered by unflattering Twitter comments? An egomaniac, it would appear that, to him, the Presidency of the United States is just another thing to be won and owned. He has no experience in statecraft, or governing anything other than businesses. It is one thing to elect a beltway outsider, but quite another to elevate somebody so bereft of experience in the public arena, or lacking of basic personality traits essential to govern, that the entire country is jeopardized.
The most alarming aspect of Trumps ascension is the idea that the Presidency can now be achieved by anybody loud enough to attract the attention of the requisite number of Americans needed to vote them in. Trump did not receive votes because of any credible policies or positions. People supported him because they knew his name and recognized his face, and he shouted louder than anybody else.
Unfortunately, many aspects of American life come down to a popularity contest. Instant fame is awarded to people who have done nothing to earn it, save for behaving poorly when the cameras are rolling. Americans self-gratify via social media, and believe themselves celebrities based solely on the amount of likes and followers they can attract. This landscape, as tragic and insipid as it is, seldom accounts for any substantive social or political permutation, and the business of public policy has traditionally been left to those qualified in such errands, but not anymore.
The ascension of Trump presents a hazardous new paradigm in the path one can conceivably take to public office. America is dangerously close to relegating the highest office in the land to another reality show prize to be won. Already, talk has begun from actors and musicians, from the left and right, about running for President in the near future. Thanks to Trump, and those who ennobled him, the bar has been set at a new low. With years of public service, or any shred of humility no longer required to be President, the door is now open for anybody who can manipulate the flow of media to drown out their opponents, and promote their omnipresence.
To know the things Trump has said, and to have decades of his public life as an example, the fact that people supported him is difficult to understand. That a self-aggrandizing billionaire convinced scores of working class Americans that he cared about their plight is one of the saddest legacies of this election, and yet he did, and they believed him.
Even now, Democrats are making efforts to be conciliatory. There is a call to unify under Trump for the good of the country. Nothing could be more disastrous. Any sane American, left or right, must resist this sham of a President. What is occurring now must never be considered normal or acceptable. Regardless of how they feel about singular pet issues, Americans must right to save the Presidency from being torn down and relegated to a reality television prize. There is a path to lead and, as before, it ought to begin with the humility gained by service of others. Those everyday human moments which occur when nobody is looking, and there is no glory in it. Only those with the deference to do the right thing, regardless of personal gain, ought to be considered for the most important job in the union, not simply the wealthiest or loudest person in the room.
RUSS RANKIN is lead singer and songwriter for the Santa Cruz punk band Good Riddance and loves hockey