Donald Trump is not the problem. We are.
If Donald Trump is the problem, so are we.
Imagine it’s 1916. We’re on the brink of World War I — three years before women get the right to vote, over a decade before the first Catholic runs for president, and fifty years before the Civil Rights Act.
Consider what would happen if you told a random passerby on the street in 1916 about what the race for president of the United States would look like in 2016:
An African American will be leaving office after twice being elected by the American people. He will be replaced by one of the following:
• A former United States Senator and Secretary of State who could become our country’s first female president
• A real-estate mogul who wrote one of the best-selling business books ever
• A Democratic socialist who grew up in a Brooklyn tenement and marched for civil rights
• Two sons of Cuban immigrants — one who championed a landmark immigration bill and the other who argued nine cases before the Supreme Court
• The first female CEO of a Fortune 500 company
• An African American of the opposite party of the current president who became the first person to separate conjoined twins
• Multiple governors — a brother/son of a former president, a former congressional budget committee chairman, and one who stood up to unions in a liberal state
We have at least one Catholic, Jew, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Baptist running to replace a (Muslim, just kidding) president.
If you told this to someone in 1916, how would that person feel about our country’s future? I, for one, would feel inspired.
Why do we not feel the same way?
It’s not because of who the candidates are, but who they become when they run for president.
I believe that Donald Trump beautifully exposes this problem. Donald Trump will say and do what he thinks he needs to say and do to win. If Trump thought he needed to be a moderate, pragmatic, compromising, compassionate person in order to become president, he would likely become that person.
Trump obviously doesn’t think that strategy will win him the Republican nomination. The fact that Trump has become a xenophobic/racist/fascist (by some accounts) says more about the electorate than it does about Trump himself. In order to win, Trump mirrors what he thinks the electorate wants to see.
It’s working — at least for now. If or when the general election arrives and Trump has sealed the Republican nomination, Trump will continue to do what it takes to win. Should Trump win the Republican nomination, expect him to slide to the center in order to win the general election. Trump is flexible.
When Donald Trump proposes a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country, he only does so because he thinks it will a.) grant him free media coverage, or b.) improve his support among the Republican electorate. Fox News has given Trump over $30 million in free advertising — more than John Kasich has raised during his entire campaign. (I don’t know if the Kasich part is true, but it sounds true.) Just look at how Trump’s poll numbers increased last year with each inflammatory remark.
Further, exit polls during the South Carolina primary showed that 74% of the state’s Republicans support Trump’s temporary ban on non-U.S. Muslims.
When you call Donald Trump fascist, xenophobic, racist, and a threat to our country, you are effectively calling out your neighbors who actually hold the views that Trump pretends to represent. When we say that Donald Trump is a danger to America, it’s an easy way to say that many of our neighbors endanger America. When we blame Donald Trump for making it safe to express the lesser angels of our nature, we absolve ourselves of taking personal responsibility for our and our neighbors’ actions.
Donald Trump puts a mirror in front of us and makes it irresistible to look away. The American people look in the mirror — at themselves and at their neighbors — and don’t like what they see. Donald Trump is a mere reflection of the sordidness of that inner soul, and only opportunistically reflects it. A consummate salesman, Trump feeds off a soul that’s full of fear and anger. He offers a quick fix to fill a deep fissure in the American psyche.
Trump is not a benign tumor that we can remove and expect everything to return to normal. He feeds off a cancer that already exists within our political system, and within us.
The people running for president are some of the best and brightest leaders our country has ever known. We just don’t let them show it.