The Trump Card

Self-confidence is a good thing. Too many people give up, or don’t even try, because they think they can’t possibly do this or that – and they end up never doing much at all. Believe you can do it and you can do it – that’s what everyone says. That’s utter nonsense. You’re never going to be a movie star. The kid shooting hoops in the alley isn’t going end up a millionaire NBA hero. But you’ll never know unless you try. Those with self-confidence give it a go, and all human progress depends on such folks – or on dumb luck.

Self-delusion, on the other hand, is not a good thing. Those who think they can do anything, because they are inherently wonderful, even if others don’t see that, can expect massive disappointment when they just can’t pull off what they had always dreamed of. Perhaps they aren’t inherently wonderful. They can then adjust their level of self-confidence to the reality of things, or they can double-down. They can insist they’re wonderful anyway. They may end up institutionalized.

They may also run for president. Donald Trump has stopped fooling around and finally pulled the trigger after all these years – he’s actually running this time:

The real estate mogul and TV reality star launched his presidential campaign Tuesday, ending more than two decades of persistent flirtation with the idea of running for the Oval Office.

“So, ladies and gentlemen, I am officially running for president of the United States, and we are going to make our country great again,” Trump told the crowd in a lengthy and meandering 45-minute speech that hit on his signature issues like currency manipulation from China and job creation, while also taking shots at the president and his competitors on the Republican side.

“Sadly the American dream is dead,” Trump said at the end of his speech. “But if I get elected president I will bring it back bigger and better and stronger than ever before.”

But there’s the pesky context:

Just over four years after he came closer than ever to launching a campaign before bowing out, Trump made his announcement at the lavish Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in New York, laying out a vision to match his incoming campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again.”

The 68-story tower venue Trump used Tuesday was more than just the backdrop to Trump’s presidential announcement, instead becoming a physical embodiment of what Trump is bringing to the table and the challenges he’ll face as he formally enters politics: it’s both a sign of his overwhelming success in business and, as the site of the famous “Apprentice” boardroom, a symbol of the reality TV label he’ll struggle to shake off.

The Tower, also home to “The Apprentice” television shows, crystallized the challenge Trump faces as he looks to win over voters.

That’s pretty simple:

Many Americans now view him primarily as a reality TV star after 14 seasons of his “Apprentice” series, and his numerous flirtations with a presidential run – first in 1987, then 1999 and again in 2004, 2008 and most recently in 2011 – have left voters eye-rolling as he prompted yet another round of will-he or won’t-he speculation.

Trump has already billed himself as the “most successful person ever to run for the presidency, by far,” pointing out even that he owns a “Gucci store that’s worth more than Romney.”

That Gucci store wasn’t far as Trump made his announcement – it’s located in the lobby of the Trump Tower.

The man is superbly self-confident. He can swagger, and he can sneer at all those other pitiful losers, because he knows he is the most admired man in America, and the most respected man in America, and probably the sexiest man in America – just ask him. Others find him a preposterous buffoon. Self-confidence easily slips into delusion – but he’s damned rich. That should count for something. That’s how we keep score here in America. The man must know something. If Obama’s so smart, how come he’s not rich? And the same goes for Hillary Clinton – only slightly rich now – and all the other Republican losers.

The Washington Post’s Dana Milbank captures the essence of the thing:

“I’m proud of my net worth. I’ve done an amazing job.”

“I’m really proud of my success. I really am.”

“I have the best [golf] courses in the world… I have one right next to the White House.”

“One of the big banks came to me and said, ‘Donald, you don’t have enough borrowings. Could we loan you $4 billion?’ I said, ‘I don’t need it.'”

“I have… the greatest assets: Trump Tower, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, Bank of America building in San Francisco, 40 Wall Street, sometimes referred to as the Trump Building… many other places all over the world.”

And why, pray tell, was he reciting all of this in a presidential announcement speech?

“I’m not doing that to brag,” he said (heaven forbid!), “because you know what? I don’t have to brag.”

Now THAT is All-American Self-Confidence, or not:

If the American Dream weren’t already dead, it would have killed itself listening to Trump’s 45-minute greed-is-good speech at a time when the gap between rich and poor is wider than it has been since the Great Depression. But don’t blame Trump – the doughy showman President Obama dubbed a “carnival barker” for his role in the birther movement. This reality TV star is simply exploiting the political system as it exists.

Trump is the Frankenstein monster created by our campaign-finance system in which money trumps all. The Supreme Court has equated money with free speech (by letting first candidates and then contributors spend unlimited sums), which means the more money you have, the more speech you get. Trump may be preposterous, but there are 8,737,540,000 reasons we have to listen to him – the figure Trump claimed is his net worth.

And then there are Trump’s qualifications for office.

“I beat China all the time – all the time.”

“I have so many websites. I have them all over the place.”

“I have lobbyists that can produce anything for me. They’re great.”

“I did a lot of great deals, and I did them early and young. And now I’m building all over the world.”

“I just sold an apartment for $15 million to somebody from China.”

“We’re building on Pennsylvania Avenue, the Old Post Office… It’s going to be the best hotel in Washington.”

“We need a truly great leader now. We need a leader that wrote ‘The Art of the Deal.'”

And there’s this:

“I give a lot of money away to charities and other things. I think I’m actually a very nice person.”

“I love my life. I have a wonderful family.”

“I love the Saudis. Many are in this building.”

“I love China. The biggest bank in the world is from China. You know where their United States headquarters is located? In this building, in Trump Tower!”

“My fellow Republicans are wonderful people. I like them. They all want me to support them.”

“I will be the greatest jobs president that God ever created.”

“Nobody would be tougher on ISIS than Donald Trump. Nobody.”

“Rebuild the country’s infrastructure? Nobody can do that like me.”

“I would build a great wall, and nobody builds walls better than me… on our southern border. And I will have Mexico pay.”

“I know the smartest negotiators in the world… Believe me, folks, we will do very, very well, very, very well.”

That was the sales pitch, with these details noted by Reuters:

In highly provocative comments, Trump accused Mexico of sending rapists and other criminals to live in the United States.

“They’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing their problems,” he said. “They’re bringing drugs, they’re bringing crime, they’re rapists, and some I assume are good people, but I speak to border guards and they tell us what we are getting.” …

He urged Saudi Arabia to be more appreciative of the military and diplomatic support it has received from the United States for decades. “Saudi Arabia without us is gone,” he warned.

Now those two governments are pretty pissed, and the Republicans have a problem:

Republican strategists and officials cringe at the thought of Trump grabbing attention away from the party’s more serious candidates as it tries to win back the White House after defeats in 2008 and 2012.

“Donald Trump is a great entertainer and developer, but his ideas of what to do as president won’t grow the economy,” said David McIntosh, president of the influential Club for Growth, a conservative group which advocates for small government.

Trump’s first big challenge is to make it into a Fox News debate of Republicans in August that will be open to only the top 10 candidates in national polling.

As it stands, Trump languishes in 12th place, ahead only of former New York Governor George Pataki, in a Reuters/Ipsos online poll of 13 Republicans who have either declared their candidacies or, like Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, are likely to. Bush leads the poll.

In other surveys, Trump has high negative ratings, with more than 50 percent of Americans saying they will never consider voting for him.

But he has massive name-recognition, so he may be in the debates, and later in the day he was off to Iowa:

It was classic Trump, as he showcased his business success and what he described as his instinctive ability to predict the future. He also showed an eagerness to criticize his fellow Republicans running for president.

“He can’t even put on a tie and jacket and he’s running for president?” Trump asked, noting Jeb Bush’s casual dress Monday for his presidential campaign announcement.

But it wasn’t just Bush’s clothing that drew Trump’s criticism. He also cited the former Florida governor’s support of Common Core national educational standards, a turn-off for many conservatives. “I’ll give him credit, he sticks to it,” Trump said of Bush.

He also called out Senator Marco Rubio for supporting a failed bipartisan effort at immigration reform in Congress, a point of skepticism about the Floridian among many conservatives.

“I’m more disappointed with the Republicans because they are gutless,” Trump said, after he asked how his party can beat Hillary Clinton, the Democratic front-runner.

“There is nobody that’s going to beat her except Donald Trump,” he added later.

On the battle with the Islamic State, Trump said U.S. air power should be used to destroy the oil fields in Iraq that provide the terrorists with resources. “What we should do right now is go blast the hell out of that oil,” he said to big applause.

He’ll be in the top ten soon, or is already in some polls, and on stage in the debates, which appalls Chris Cillizza:

Trump on a stage with nine people who are serious about being the Republican nominee against Hillary Clinton is an absolute disaster for the GOP. …

People like Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee and everyone else on that debate stage will be playing by one set of rules. Trump will be playing by another. Or, more accurately: Trump won’t be playing by any rules. He won’t be bound by time constraints put on the candidates. He won’t be bound by the generally accepted rule that you try to offer policies that might have a chance of becoming law. He won’t feel the need to strictly adhere to, well, the truth.

That lack of rule-following (or even an acknowledgment that rules exist) will ensure that Trump is a big part of any story written off of the debates or any other forum where multiple presidential candidates are present. And that’s indicative of the bigger problem that Trump presents the media and why he’s so bad for this race: He is the car-accident candidate. You know you shouldn’t slow down to look but you know you will.

It’s a virtual certainty that Trump’s announcement will draw more attention – particularly on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter – than Jeb Bush’s did Monday. Hell, it’s possible that Trump’s speech – and the 30 plus minute off-the-cuff riff that followed it – will be the single most attention-getting/buzz-creating event of the 2016 race to date.

Yes, the man will say just about anything:

“Nobody builds walls better than me,” he said at one point today. “I will never be in a bicycle race,” he said at another. I could give you some context for those quotes except that there is no context. That’s what makes Trump such great copy. That’s what makes Trump so irresistible to write about and read about. It’s also what makes Trump so dangerous to the political process. (Sidebar: I simply don’t buy the idea that Trump’s high-profile somehow brings a lot of new people to the political process and winds up being a sort-of good thing.)

Trump is not now and almost certainly never will be a credible candidate for the presidency. His polling numbers are among the worst I have ever seen; his unfavorable rating outpaces his favorable score by 42 points (!) among Republicans.

A candidate with numbers like that is not the sort of candidate who commands live coverage on all the major cable networks when he announces for president. And yet, that’s exactly what Trump got this morning. He’s irresistible because he drives eyeballs and clicks — and we live in a media world aware and incentivized more so than ever before by those metrics. We get Trump because, at some level deep down, we want Trump. And the media, at least in some sectors, is in the business of giving people what they want.

But attention doesn’t equally credibility. Entertainment value doesn’t equal electability. Being famous isn’t the same thing as being respected.

No one told Donald Trump about that last bit, not that he would believe it anyway. That’s why everyone asks the Kardashians about trade and monetary policy. That’s why everyone asks Justin Bieber about North Korea and climate change. What, they don’t? In this culture they just might.

Charles Pierce, however, says this is more than a media problem, something more than confusing being famous with being respected:

Trump’s vaguely paragraph-like globs of words were shot through with magical spells. There’s this doctor he knows who doesn’t like the Affordable Care Act. There’s this manufacturer he knows who’s having trouble with China. They all call Trump – perhaps through his bridgework, perhaps not – and unburden themselves on him because they know that Trump is the person who can solve their problems because he is a problem-solver on the art of the deal, the four bankruptcies notwithstanding.

That means there was a more basic confusion:

Trump is the inevitable result of forty years of political conjuring, mainly by Republicans, but abetted by far too many Democrats as well. He is the inevitable product of anyone who ever argued that our political institutions should be run “like a business.” (Like whose businesses? Like Trump’s? Like Carly Fiorina’s Hewlett Packard?) He is the inevitable product of anyone who ever argued why the government can’t balance its books “the way any American family would.” He is the inevitable result of the deregulated economy that was deregulated out of a well-cultivated wonder and awe directed at the various masters of the universe.

Sooner or later, all of this misbegotten magical thinking was going to burp up a clown like Donald Trump.

Steve M at No More Mister Nice Blog suggests even more:

It’s also the inevitable result of the decades-long backlash against the 1960s, which has been cultural as well as political, and which reached critical mass in the Reagan 1980s…The 1980s were the decade when we decided that we hated both the impractical and the needy, and overcorrected for the 1960s and 1970s by declaring that we loved businessmen – the nastier the better. (A bestselling advice book in 1989 was titled – I kid you not – Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun.)

The cultural aspect of this was that we started to see what we liked about rock stars in SOB CEOs. Before, we’d been in awe of the work musicians did under the influence of drugs; now, we cheered on coke-sniffing corporate chieftains. We’d believed it made sense that musicians got all the babes; now, we drooled at whatever arm candy accompanied Trump.

One thing leads to another:

We’d decided that the heroes of the 1960s and 1970s were unkempt and shaggy and smelly; everybody was suddenly crazy ’bout a sharp-dressed man. Many sharp-dressed Ubermenschen later, we’re broke and the sharp dressers own everything. And a certain percentage of Americans would trust another one to run the country, even if he is a buffoon.

One of those is Jeffrey Lord with Donald Trump and the American Dream:

The other day, Trump took a stroll outside of his iconic Trump Tower with Fox and Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade. Not surprisingly there were everyday folk instantly swarming to Trump. They wanted a picture, they wanted a handshake, they wanted to have a word. At one point, standing on Fifth Avenue, Trump is flagged by the driver of a lumber truck. “I know you!” the driver says with a laugh and a grin.

Why? Why this Grand Canyon-size gap between media and political elites and average Americans when it comes to the subject of Donald Trump? Why is it that he is consistently underestimated whether the subject is his financial worth or his political viability?

The answer in this corner is that Donald Trump is seen by many Americans as the very embodiment of the American Dream. Someone with vision and drive who settles down and focuses, working hard day in and day out to make his own dreams come true. And succeeding! When millions of average Americans look at Donald Trump – they see – shocker! – themselves. …

His life experience and business success is an anchor to his understanding of America. Well aside from Trump’s breezy easiness with voters – the kid from Queens grown up – there is something else. He – and they – believe in the American Dream. He – and they – see the ability to make their dreams come true under direct assault by an out-of-control culture of government run amuck. He and they see a government intruding into every last crack and crevice of American life at the same time it is hatching secretive and/or seriously bad deals on everything from trade to Iranian nukes. He and they think America is getting a bad deal on everything from the war with ISIS to Vladimir Putin and, yes, illegal immigration. He and they admire people who back up words with action – and know how to get things done. And pointedly, he and they hear politicians talk and feel instinctively that many of them are simply not believable – incapable if not unwilling of getting the job done when it comes to carrying out campaign promises.

This may be a minority view. Others see a buffoon with delusions, and Sean Davis offers this:

This man doesn’t need a presidential campaign; he needs a hug. Look, Donald. We know you’re rich. Everybody knows you’re rich. Congratulations. You’re rich. We’re all very proud of how rich you are.

But you’re never going to be president. That’s okay. It doesn’t make you any less of a success or any less of a person.

Still, back in 2011, David Brooks said this:

There has always been a fan base for the abrasive rich man. There has always been a market for books by people like George Steinbrenner, Ross Perot, Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, Bobby Knight, Howard Stern and George Soros. There has always been a large clump of voters who believe that America could reverse its decline if only a straight-talking, obnoxious blowhard would take control.

And today, apparently, Donald Trump is that man. …

Trump is no joke. He emerges from deep currents in our culture, and he is tapping into powerful sections of the national fantasy life.

Perhaps so, but that only means that Donald Trump is once again tapping into our delusions by offering his own – and delusion is never a good thing. Self-confidence is. There is a difference.

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About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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2 Responses to The Trump Card

  1. Rick says:

    I’m no geneticist but I often conjecture that it’s not that the people who do obviously stupid things, like jumping off buildings and then opening their chutes at the very last second, are born with a “dare-devil” gene that the rest of us lack, I’m fairly sure that we were born with a “don’t-do-that” gene that they were not. And I think this also explains Donald Trump.

    Okay, yes, David Brooks can claim that “Trump is no joke”, but then again, David Brooks was famously born with no discernible sense of humor.

    Still, I’m one Democrat who’s a little worried about what Donald Duck does to the Democrats in this race. Being the zaniest of all the clowns in the clown car, he, by comparison, makes the rest of them all look like — well, maybe not Rhodes Scholars, but at least serious statesmen — so instead of comparing all those Republicans on the stage with whatever Democratic candidates, voters will find it that much easier to say about Carly Fiorina, for example, “Well, hey, at least she’s not Donald Trump!” — without ever realizing that’s a pretty low standard for a presidential candidate to meet.

    Or am I, like most people, reading him wrong? Jeffrey Lord talks about Trump taking a stroll around outdoors with that Fox guy:

    Not surprisingly there were everyday folk instantly swarming to Trump. They wanted a picture, they wanted a handshake, they wanted to have a word. At one point, standing on Fifth Avenue, Trump is flagged by the driver of a lumber truck. “I know you!” the driver says with a laugh and a grin.

    Lord is impressed, but I guess he’s never been over to 48th and Rockefeller Plaza to see all the laughing tourists engulf Spiderman and Elmo, demanding they pose for pictures, although I reckon they would never think of voting for any of those guys for president. And this being New York City, I don’t think it’s totally out of hand to suspect Trump’s crowd might have assumed this was just another doofus in a Donald Trump costume.

    But Lord continues:

    Why this Grand Canyon-size gap between media and political elites and average Americans when it comes to the subject of Donald Trump? Why is it that he is consistently underestimated whether the subject is his financial worth or his political viability?

    I’ve never heard anyone really doubt Trump’s financial worth, but the answer to his political viability might be found in his latest poll numbers:

    In an ABC/Washington Post national poll released at the beginning of June, Trump had amazingly low favorability numbers — by far the lowest of any candidate. Only 16 percent of all respondents (not restricted to Republicans or likely Republican primary voters) said they viewed Trump favorably, and an overwhelming 71 percent said they viewed him unfavorably.

    Trump’s explanation, when George Stephanopoulos asked him on GMA this morning about his 71 percent negative vs 16 percent positive ratings, was that the poll was taken before all those people knew he was running! Apparently he believes the reason they disliked him so very much was because they didn’t know yet that he was running for president.

    I can only imagine that’s the kind of reasoning typically found in people who do stupid things because they were born without a “don’t-do-that” gene.

    Rick

  2. i believe The Donald, if he gets close to getting the nomination, is smart enough to exit the scene, gracefully. He’ll probably make money in the exit. This is all a PR stunt and sadly, the media take it seriously- as required. He knows how to play, but it’s all a game to him.

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