In this, the most emotionally-charged political season since Goldwater challenged Johnson, it’s easy to focus on soundbites and fail to see that Hillary and Ronnie were cut from the same cloth. That’s right. In more ways than not, the darling of the left stands shoulder-to-shoulder with the darling of the right. The same can be said of Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, HW, Clinton, W, and Obama. Donald Trump, on the other hand, is cut from some other sort of cloth.
Each of the aforementioned, excluding Trump, came from a place of serving the country akin to Washington, Jefferson, Hamilton, and Adams. Most were businessmen with strong self-interests, but each cared about others as well as himself and sought to improve existing conditions. Even Nixon with all his faults cared about the country, serving first as a senator and later as president, furthering our status as a great nation and world power by creating the opportunity to engage with China.
Trump serves only himself and his family, and the occasional charity to lower his taxes. He reminds me of a client I had in Chicago—a car dealer who once threw a Christmas party for his staff. By contrast with other clients at their Christmas parties, who mingled with staff, told jokes, honored long-time employees, and handed out gifts, this client mingled only with his family at a table on a raised platform at the head of the room. Throughout the night, I watched him snicker and laugh as he leaned toward his wife and gossiped in her ear, making fun of employees he pointed at around the room. Clearly everyone in his world was merely a pawn—there to serve him on a one-way street. Finding his imperial performance nauseating, I never worked for him again. The cloth he was cut from was too troubling for me.
Each of the aforementioned, excluding Trump, sold themselves to Americans with a message of hope—Bush’s “Kinder, gentler nation,” Clinton’s “Don’t stop thinking about tomorrow,” Regan’s “Shiny city upon a hill” to name a few. Each respected what had come before, believing that an amazing nation had been built brick by brick over two hundred years by inspired leaders. Each believed as well that his vision would build upon what was already there—Hillary’s “incremental changes”—propelling an even greater nation into the future.
By claiming we need to “make America great again,” Trump implies that America isn’t great, suggesting we should return to some previous time. What time would that be? He never says, begging the question: Which presidents and the bricks they laid does he wish to eliminate by going back in time? Nixon before he introduced us to China? Reagan before he brought down the Berlin wall? Obama before he did away with pre-existing conditions?
Instead of hope, Trump peddles fear, tapping into our twisted psyches, warped by 30 years of self-inflicted wounds, the result of attending slavishly to hateful talk radio and cable TV. Peddling fear and loathing toward others, Trump makes evident that he’s cut from a different cloth—the same as McCarthy’s and Hitler’s whose big lies scapegoated political and racial minorities, making them objects of their nations’ hatred and scorn. McCarthy and Hitler had one minority apiece—communists, and Jews. Trump, who reminds us constantly that he’s greater at everything, has two of course—illegal Mexicans who are destroying our economy and Muslims worldwide who are conspiring to kill us. Those are Trumps big lies, along with his promise to return us to a time when white men ruled America, husbands ruled wives, minorities knew their place, and all was right with the world.
Each of the aforementioned, excluding Trump, understood and appreciated the fragile state of the world, knowing how easily it can unravel if not held together by relationships built carefully over months and years, treaties negotiated painstakingly over decades, and alliances formed through vital organizations—NATO, the European Union, the United Nations—that support security and stability in our ever-shrinking world of competing aims and conflicting ideologies.
Trump, on the other hand, has no use for relationships. Treaties, alliances, and organizations be damned. We can go it alone. We should go it alone. We should put ourselves first. I’ll straighten it all out; I can do everything that’s needed. I have no doubt that if Trump were elected, he’d abandon our treaties and gut alliances as promised, leaving us vulnerable and exposed in a tinder-box world. As we saw with the UK, voting to exit the EU, it takes but a second to bring down the house. One bad decision in a fragile, interconnected world can destabilize the good that took centuries to create. Apart from the human toll measured in millions, it took decades for the world to finally recover from the Germans deciding to follow a madman off a cliff. In the nuclear age, would we ever recover from following a man of similar cloth off a much higher cliff?