Honestly, I have little to add to the sturm und drang around the release of Trump’s ugly tape. Others have said anything I could say about Trump better.
Instead, my thoughts go to how he got that far in the first place. As I’ve said, the problem isn’t that Trump is so….Trumpy, the problem is that he had enough support despite the Trump-ness. He had a not-insignificant number of people look at him, size him up, and say “Yes, that’s what I want. I’ll take it in orange.”
That is the problem we should be working to correct – the fact that so many people feel so strongly that they have been denied dignity, self-respect, compassion, and charity, that the leader they want – someone they identify with – is someone lacking all of these.
And you know, I kind of get it. They keep saying they want someone who will “tell it like it is.” They want someone who won’t smile and make promises like everyone else who’s promised them something only to take it away. Trump belittles lots of people – sometimes even the very people who support him – but he’s at least honest about his contempt. That honesty…sometimes can come as a relief.
And I know what I mean.
I was a target for bullies all through fourth and fifth grade. But not the kind of call-me-names, punch-me-at-recess kind of bullying – my classmates chose a much, much more insidious way to get to me. When we were out of earshot of the teachers, they would sidle up to me, big fake smiles on their faces (often barely disguising giggles) and with voices dripping with sarcasm, would praise me. “You’re my best friend, Kimmy,” they would hiss. “You’re so smart. I wanna be just like you.”
Their tone was absolutely unmistakeable, and they knew it. That was the whole point. Because I’d been taught that the way to respond to bullies was just to ignore them. When I asked what “ignore” meant, I was told “Just pretend they’re not there.” And so I would stand stock-still, eyes down on my book or the ground or whatever I was looking at, growing stiff while they circled me and giggled and hissed “you’re so pretty, Kimmy… you’re so smart….you’re my best friend….” For two straight years, the praise I got carried the double-meaning of mockery.It was a tactic that has left me deeply, deeply mistrustful of any praise I get. Even today, almost 40 years later, I second-guess any compliment I get – I hear the words, but I wait and analyze the tone behind them, trying to gauge whether they really mean it, or if it’s just like Donna and Greg and Tina and Nicole and Karen and Brian did way back then.
Because that’s a really subtle thing for an eight-year-old to be trying to work out in their head. Even though it was clear from their tone that they were teasing me, I would still wonder if I maybe was wrong? Did they mean what they said this time?….was I being too sensitive? Was it in my head? None of the teachers seem to be doing anything about it, was it me?….If any one of those kids had ever dropped that act and actually flat-out insulted me, though – twisted their faces into ugly grimaces and called me stupid or ugly – it would have come as a relief. Because there at long last would be no mistaking their intent – I wouldn’t have had to second-guess them. I would finally know exactly where I stood, and could move on from there.
There are people here who have been talked-down to, confounded with double-talk and broken promises and roadblocks to everything they were told they deserve in life. From the time they’ve been children they’re told that they live in the greatest country in the world, that they just need to go to school and work hard and they can do anything – but then the establishment telling them that turns around and tells them that oops, sorry, it’s just business, we need to shut down the factory your dad worked in. The establishment tells them that hard work gets good pay, but then turns around and tells them that $9.00 an hour is just fine for a minimum wage. The establishment tells them that the bravest among us will be rewarded if they sign up to serve and defend our country, but then the establishment turns around and dumps them when they get home from making their sacrifices. “You’re our best and brightest,” the establishment tells them, but then laughs and kicks them.
It is no wonder, to me, why Trump appeals to them – there is no subtext. They don’t have to second-guess whether he means what he says. He’s saying some ugly, ugly things, but he means them. They know where they stand with him.
The challenge will be to figure out how to stop people from feeling so shunned that they will turn to a leader simply because he’s honest. Not about his background – rather, Trump is doing as well as he’s doing because all the things he says he wants to do, he means them. And his followers are so bereft of security that even that small bit – that assurance that when he says he wants to throw people out of the country, he means it – is enough of a life raft that they’re flocking to him.