. . . that’s not a reason for making someone the President. I keep hearing about how Donald Trump has “tapped into” American anger and frustration. I hear how he has “struck a chord” with those who are disenchanted with Republicans, with government, with their lot in life. I hear how he has connected with their emotions and with their perception that stupidity and incompetence in government have conspired to leave them behind. The problem is that this phenomenon is portrayed by the fawning media as some kind of argument in his favor, something to legitimize him when his candidacy is otherwise inexplicable, nonsensical. It should, however, make Americans wary of him. It doesn’t take a genius to listen to people complain and then tell them they are right.
Do not confuse his routine for empathy or real understanding. Emotional manipulation, pandering, and demagoguery are very different from empathy. Trump is not selling empathy and understanding; he is selling crude populism. He is selling hubris. He’s alluring, tempting, and captivating, but dangerous. Trump is the guy selling Colonel Harvey’s Indian Elixir – good for what ails you – but doesn’t tell you that it only makes you feel better because it gets you wasted; it feels good temporarily, but you wake up with a hangover and an empty wallet. Trump is the new boyfriend who tells you that he loves you, even though he doesn’t, so that you will sleep with him; he is gone in the morning and never calls again, but brags to his friends about his conquest.
So Trump is not, as I sometimes hear from the fawning commentariat, “shaking things up” or “bringing something new to the table.” We have seen his likeness many times before – in politics, and in life.
Of course, we all get angry and frustrated. It’s part of being human. And yes, we have legitimate reasons to be angry and frustrated with our political leaders. But it is foolish to select a candidate to become President simply because he or she claims to offer both empathy for our anger and political solutions that simply reinforce that anger. We all have acted upon our anger and frustration. When we do so, however, we usually do so impulsively and tend to overlook the broader consequences of our actions. Almost always, we end up regretting it.
Again, it can be comforting, even alluring, when a political candidate validates a person’s emotions in the way that Trump does. He makes you feel heard. He makes you appreciate his Bad-Boy-Who-Breaks-All-The-Rules charm and energy. But beware. If you are among the disaffected, the so-called Silent Majority, seduced by his wiles, know this: Donald Trump very likely has no interest in you or your feelings. And he has no demonstrable interest in faithfully executing the office of President, or of preserving, protecting, and defending the Constitution. He is interested only in your vote and his poll numbers. Listen carefully to his speeches. They are all designed to appeal to your passions and your sentiment. But they are entirely lacking in substance or meaning, completely divorced from the reality of everyday governing and thoroughly ignorant of the limits that the Constitution imposes upon a president and our government. Presidents do not have the luxury of breaking all the rules, nor should they.
I keep hearing about how Trump is constantly “ten steps ahead.” Ten steps ahead of what? The other guys? He may be ten steps ahead in branding and marketing, but he is twenty steps behind on substance, knowledge, experience, and understanding of American constitutional government. To govern a great Nation, I’ll take the guy who is ten steps behind on marketing and twenty steps ahead on substance.
Finally, I keep hearing how Trump projects strength. This is among the worst of all of the Trump myths. This is a man who would not show up at a debate, probably because he feared having to defend his views; perhaps he feared what might happen if he was exposed as a mindless carnival barker. Sure, on one level he played it smart, but not strong. Even when he has scored points in the debates, it was never on policy or substance (e.g., his retort to Cruz on Cruz’s amateurish “New York Values” line). This is a man who, when someone criticizes him on policy or ideas, seems incapable of demonstrating that the criticism is wrong; rather, his response is only that it comes from a “loser” or a “moron” or someone who is not as popular as he is. He tries to discredit the critic, but not the substance of the criticism.
To put it in Trumpian terms, Trump is weak on the Constitution, weak on the separation of powers, weak on knowledge of government and governing, and weak on seeing weakness. On substance, he is consistently and demonstrably the weakest person in the field. Any candidate with a microphone can stand alone in front of a crowd, without anyone there to challenge him, and say he is strong, that he will drop bombs on our enemies, and keep out those who he and his followers see as the undesirables. There’s nothing strong about any of that. Imagine, then, how weak he will look when he is unable to accomplish anything as President.
It is the eve of the Iowa Caucuses. I don’t know if anyone in Iowa or New Hampshire or any of the early primary states will read this. Probably not. But if, by chance, this commentary makes its way onto the screen of one of these voters, I offer the following plea. We are not electing a marketing guru or the Ringmaster for Barnum & Bailey. We are electing a President, one who must obey and champion our rule of law and the Constitution that secures it. We cannot allow anger, frustration, and resentment – however legitimate or well-placed we think it may be – to seduce this Nation into choosing a future that it will quickly come to regret.