By Paul Malvern |
Let’s face it. There’s something about Donald Trump that makes people crazy – as seen by the large number of otherwise sane, well-balanced people who nowadays say and do the most outrageous things in public – things that would have been unimaginable prior to his taking office. And many of those who were already mentally unstable now find the needle on their ‘crazyometer’ veering so far into the red zone that any hope of their returning to anything remotely normal is simply out of the question. To make things even worse – much worse in fact - the effects of the Trump Derangement Syndrome (TDS) are no longer restricted to a few troubled individuals but can now be seen at the national and international levels as well. So we’re talking about a global phenomenon here.
Symptoms of TDS include the irresistible urge to say stupid things on camera, punch anyone wearing a red MAGA cap, and mail a hefty donation to one’s local chapter of Antifa – to name but a few. From all appearances, this contagion is now a pandemic with the media and Internet buzzing constantly with strongly held opinions of the man. On one side are his most fanatical supporters who appear to have a cult-like reverence for the man. While on the other side are those who loath him beyond measure, finding themselves tortured daily by the realization that Trump is now living rent-free in their cerebral cortex.
By way of personal disclosure, I like to think that my own perspective is a bit more nuanced – perhaps best illustrated by an underground joke that circulated in East Germany during the height of the Cold War. In this story, an American reporter was conducting ‘man in the street’ interviews with pedestrians in the heart of East Berlin. Putting a microphone in the face of one passer-by, he asked the man what he thought of East German Communist leader, Walther Ulbricht. The man turned white with fear and looked all around him to make sure no one was listening in on their conversation. Furtively, he told the reporter that it was too dangerous to speak candidly there and they must go somewhere more secluded. With this in mind, the pair went by streetcar to the train station where the man bought tickets for the two of them. After an exhausting train ride, they arrived at a station deep within a forest on the East German side of the border with Poland. Getting off the train, the reporter tried once again to get the man’s opinion. After looking around him, the man concluded that it was still not safe to express his opinion of the East German leader and so he insisted that they walk into the very heart of the forest. Hiking through the dense woods, the man finally stopped, secure in the belief that no one could overhear their conversation. At which point the American reporter, repeated his question - this time with considerable frustration. “So what do you think about East German leader, Walther Ulbricht?” Looking more than a little embarrassed by what he was about to say, the man whispered, “Frankly I don’t mind him.”
And so it is with my own view of Trump. For while I recognize Trump’s many flaws - some of which are quite significant - I must say that I don’t mind the man that much and even find him amusing at times. But I would rather not say that in public, knowing in advance the violent reaction I would almost certainly get in our increasingly “oh-so-politically-correct” world.
Trump’s Many Flaws
Of course, it is no secret that Trump has serious character flaws. One such flaw involves his rather tawdry treatment of women in the past. While his womanizing now seems to be at an end, many of his past escapades continue to haunt him – not a great surprise given that women constitute a significant share of the electorate.
Then there is the little matter of his incredibly thin skin which becomes all too obvious when slights and insults are directed his way. While no one likes personal attacks, the reality is that most of us eventually put such things behind us and move on with our lives. But not Trump! No, for him such attacks seem to touch his very core. And he hits back, hurling whatever insult comes to mind that day - a rather childish but nevertheless quite entertaining spectacle at times which probably explains why his Twitter account has some 68 million followers on any given day.
Nor can we ignore the fact that he can be incredibly vulgar and ill-mannered at times – a fault which many find unforgivable.
Then there is his impetuous nature. Need I say more?
And, yes, he does play fast and loose with the truth at times. But to be fair what politician does not bend the facts when it suits his or her purpose? And is it all that surprising that he succumbs to the use of hyperbole? Especially given that, prior to the Presidency, he swam with the sharks in the cut and slash world of high stakes real estate development, where the truth often takes a back seat to wishful thinking.
But, as egregious as such flaws are, Trump’s greatest sin in the mind of his opponents must surely be that he won a Presidential election that was supposed to make Hillary Clinton President. For in Hillary’s mind – and those of her supporters – it was her turn. And for such people losing to a ‘vulgarian’ such as Trump - voted into office by a bunch of Bible-punching, gun-clinging ‘deplorables’ - is simply too much to bear.
And the rest, as they say, is history.
Trump’s Virtues (and, yes, he does have some)
For many people, the idea of looking for something nice to say about Trump seems similar to putting lipstick on a pig. For no matter how much makeup you put on it, the pig is still ugly.
Well, maybe so. But as much as his opponents might rankle at the idea, the man does have some virtues – one of the most important ones being that he has the common touch, which is strange given his wealth. Proof positive of this are the huge crowds that show up for his rallies and appear to hang on to his every word. Contrast this with the paucity of support for the candidates seeking the Democratic Party nomination for President – one obvious exception being Bernie Sanders who does have a faithful if somewhat smaller following.
Also, like it or not, Trump is able to talk to ordinary people – and he does appear to understand what is important to them. For while the Democratic Party at times seems overly preoccupied with LGBT issues, gutting ICE (the U.S. federal government agency responsible for Immigration and Customs Enforcement), and providing free health care for illegal immigrants, Trump instead focuses squarely on what Average Americans really care about – pride of country, good jobs, being able to support one’s family, securing the border with Mexico, gun rights and being free to worship God as you see fit.
Some of this flows from his recognition of the importance of America’s working class – once the mainstay of the Democratic Party – a group whose interests have in recent years been supplanted on the Left by a growing stress on sexual and racial politics. While part of this may be just good politics – especially given the importance of blue collar voters in his 2016 election victory – there is a part of this that critics fail to see. Namely, that Trump does connect with many working class voters who appreciate his efforts aimed at fostering strong job growth by encouraging multinational companies to repatriate jobs, cutting taxes and regulations, lobbying for lower interest rates, and increasing U.S. exports and reducing imports by strong-arming America’s trading partners via his many trade wars. Judging by the results, Trump’s strategy is working – as seen by the strong job growth which is proving particularly helpful for minority workers who are seeing the lowest level of unemployment in decades.
But as Scripture points out, “Man does not live by bread alone” – even in Trump World. So it is good to note that Trump has also had a number of successes in areas not related to the economy – such as the criminal justice reform measures contained in the First Step Act, pressuring NATO partners to shoulder more of the financial burden for their collective defense, combatting ISIS, and fostering greater respect for the sanctity of life and freedom of religion.
Flip a Coin
And then there are those personal characteristics that could go either way – that is, that have the potential to be either great flaws or great virtues depending on how things turn out.
One case in point must surely be the ease with which Trump takes huge risks that would turn anyone else’s stomach just thinking about them. A good example of this is his decision to assassinate Qasem Soleimani, the former head of the Quds Force, the Iranian military unit responsible for unconventional warfare and military intelligence which has supported a number of non-state actors such as Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Shia militias in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan – to name just a few. With such a mandate, it is not surprising that a large number of people hated the man immensely – including many in the U.S. military who blamed him for the IEDs that caused significant casualties among American military personnel serving in Iraq.
While some American President’s prior to Trump – and other nations – had considered taking the man out, no one dared undertake it, fearing the reaction that would surely follow his assassination. But not Trump. On his order, four missiles dispatched Soleimani, Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and a number of other officials travelling in their convoy. At the time of writing, Iranian retaliation appears to have been limited – although the possibility of future retaliatory attacks cannot be ruled out. But even so, the elimination of such a key figure in the Iranian power structure represents a major blow to the regime and may well be a game-changer.
Thinking it all Through
Hannah Arendt, in her seminal work, Eichmann in Jerusalem, states that some portion of the evil in the world is the result of people not being able to think things through or consider the consequences of their actions.
One such area where this appears to be the case can be seen in actions of Trump’s many enemies in government, politics and the media, who seem oblivious to the fact that their constant, inflammatory attacks on the man are quite literally tearing their nation apart. One recent example being the shabby process that led to Trump’s impeachment by the House of Representatives.
While Trump’s overheated rhetoric and puerile insults are clearly a problem, the verbal fireworks of the so-called “Resistance” are at times even worse. (Were that even possible!) One such example is the notion that Trump is a Russian asset who is doing Moscow’s bidding.
And who can forget the charge that Trump is somehow akin to a modern day Adolph Hitler? Such is clearly a concern for singer, Linda Ronstadt, who in an interview with CNN claimed to see similarities between Trump and Hitler.1 In a similarly overwrought vein is the Washington Post article whose headline declares, “It’s not wrong to compare Trump’s America to the Holocaust. Here’s why.”2
Similar in tone and intent is the oft-expressed claim that Trump is promoting racism and racial violence in America – including anti-Semitism. One recent example of this line of thinking appeared in a Washington Post article in which various public figures expressed the view that Trump bears some responsibility for the recent brutal murder of Hanukkah party celebrants in a New York City suburb. This point of view was clearly present in the remarks of New York City Mayor de Blazio who declared that: “An atmosphere of hate has been developing in this country over the last few years. A lot of it is emanating from Washington and it’s having an effect on all of us.”3 Apparently, he was not alone in his belief. For in the same article, the author of the piece notes that, “He and other Democrats have blamed President Trump’s rhetoric for emboldening white supremacists and condoning hateful conduct.”4
To my mind, such charges of racism, anti-Semitism and support for White Supremacy are hard to take seriously - except by the most ideologically-minded. To begin with, racism and racially-inspired violence are hardly a new phenomenon in the United States – as shown by the 620,000 soldiers who died in the American Civil War. So it’s not as if they never existed before Trump’s election. Nor is it true that the Democrats are always on the side of the angels and the Republicans – such as Trump – are reactionaries when it comes to race relations. For it’s useful to recall that the great emancipator, Abraham Lincoln, was in fact a Republican and the KKK and a number of politicians who supported racial segregation had strong ties to the Democratic Party. So there’s more than enough blame to go around when it comes to assessing guilt for the current racial divide in the U.S. And if Trump is an anti-Semite, as some critics claim, he definitely has a funny way of showing it – given his decision to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem, his recent measures aimed at stopping anti-Semitism on college campuses, and the fact that his daughter, Ivanka, is Jewish, as are her children.
And the notion that Trump is another Hitler – as cited above – is equally ludicrous. But it is hardly unexpected since it is an unfortunate fact of political life that most conservative leaders in the industrialized West eventually get accused of being another Hitler, a racist or having anti-Semitic sympathies at some point in their career. For example, back in 2006, I worked in the Prime Minister’s Office, where I was the Head of Prime Ministerial Communications and the lead speech writer for the Prime Minister, who was at the time Stephen Harper. During this period, Harper also faced accusations of racism and God-only-knows-what-else. But, as with Trump, if Harper was a racist, he certainly had a strange way of showing it. For throughout his entire time in power, he made it a priority to build strong connections with Canada’s many ethnic communities. And he was by any measure the most pro-Israel Prime Minister in Canadian history.
But that never stops people making wild claims, does it? Especially if doing so might garner some political advantage. The joke here is that, once they leave office, most conservative Presidents and Prime Ministers invariably become ‘good chaps’ once again. That is most definitely the case with the previously reviled Stephen Harper who was recently named to the Order of Canada (during the second term of Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau no less). And I presume that something similar will happen in the case of Donald Trump as well. For once the man is safely out of office, many of those who currently claim to despise him will once again become his best friends – just as they were years back when he was a Democrat. This is the way of things in human affairs. And only the very naïve fail to recognize this fact of political life.
Digging a Bit Deeper
But while the behaviour of Trump leaves much to be desired, that of his political opponents, the mainstream media and America’s cultural institutions is no better -which suggests to me that the roots of the current crisis in American governance lie much deeper than most suppose. For this current malaise isn’t about the personality flaws of Donald Trump, Nancy Pelosi, AOC, or the many other dysfunctional individuals who currently populate America’s media and political universe. Rather it’s about a nation that, having gutted the spiritual foundations upon which it was established, is now floundering, very much as happens when a ship has lost its ability to steer. For, in such a situation, the ship continues to move forward, but it is not clear where it is headed. Will it stay on course or will it veer onto the rocks? No one knows for sure. And in the meantime, we remain helpless observers of the train wreck which currently is American government and politics.
And as much as we might like to deny it, the leaders of any nation are to a great extent a reflection of the moral and ethical state of their people. So it is hardly surprising that an America, which has abandoned its Judeo-Christian roots, is now in serious trouble. And the current ugly battle between Donald J. Trump, the Deep State and the so-called “Resistance” is in all likelihood simply a reflection of a more profound sickness that has existed in American society, largely undetected, for decades.
President Donald J. Trump is a very complex man – with both good and bad angels fighting for his soul and guiding his actions. This means that he cannot be easily slotted into the one-dimensional picture of him which his political opponents and their allies in the media and cultural institutions seem determined to portray. For while it is true that that he is highly emotional, unpredictable, and has a gift for getting under people’s skin, he does have his virtues – such as his love of country, his success in improving the economic lot of many of his fellow citizens, and his commitment to fostering greater respect for the sanctity of life and religious freedom.
Then too, short of some dramatic and unforeseen incident, he almost certainly will continue to be President of the most powerful nation in the world until November - and quite possibly for another four years after that. Many people are horrified by such a possibility, while others relish it. Even so this is our reality for now and we have to deal with things as they are, not with how we would like them to be. That being the case, I offer the following counsel for those readers wishing to keep their sanity during the age of Trump.
For those readers who have not as yet lost their sense of reality, please continue to do and say rational things in spite of the efforts of opinion leaders to get you to do otherwise.
For those who are currently blind to any of Trump’s flaws and who embrace absolutely everything the man says and does without reservation, I strongly suggest that you grab a Bible and look to the real Messiah – the one who does not have character flaws and who will never disappoint you.
And for those readers who think Trump is the Antichrist or Hitler, I strongly recommend that you get a grip on yourself, pour yourself a stiff drink, sit back and relax. Nothing lasts forever – nor do Presidents.
For as the great Christian mystic, Julian of Norwich notes, speaking to us from the 14th century, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” And so they shall – as long as we don’t throw our brains away.
1. Brook Seipel. “Linda Ronstadt: Trump is 'like Hitler, and the Mexicans are the new Jews'” The Hill. 12/31/2019. Retrieved from: https://thehill.com/homenews/media/476417-linda-ronstadt-trump-is-like-hitler-and-the-mexicans-are-the-new-jews
2. Waitman Wade Beorn. “It’s not wrong to compare Trump’s America to the Holocaust. Here’s why.” The Washington Post. July 16, 2018. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2018/07/16/its-not-wrong-to-compare-trumps-america-to-the-holocaust-heres-why/
3. Shayna Jacobs. “Acts of anti-Semitism are on the rise in New York and elsewhere, leaving Jewish community rattled.” The Washington Post. December 29, 2019. Retrieved from: https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/acts-of-anti-semitism-are-on-the-rise-in-new-york-and-elsewhere-leaving-jewish-community-rattled/2019/12/29/f8c20578-2a7e-11ea-bcb3-ac6482c4a92f_story.html
Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay