The 45th President of the United States will be Donald Trump, the first bona-fide modern celebrity elected to lead the most powerful country in the world. He will also be the first president never to have held an elected public office before. Both improbable and thereby impressive feats.
His greatest attribute in his election was his total lack of political experience. For ample reason, he stood out from the crowd as the maverick, the new sheriff in town, the guy who was free “to tell it like it is.” Americans, fed up with a purposely gridlocked government, craved change and he was the only candidate positioned to deliver it. The baggage he will bring into the White House in January will include no political debts.
He is truly and refreshingly neither a real Republican nor a Democrat, though he has called himself both. He alone is the ultimate ”outsider” in a place where the money and power in politics come first, and the nation’s well-being is a distant second.
But his great asset – being a non-politician – could also become the nation’s Achilles Heel. Of all the political stages in the world, the White House is the worst place to make a bluster blunder. Trump’s nature is bluster, so he is likely to make several.
His honeymoon may be short lived. The back room political powers and the monied interests that fuel them have not left our nation’s capital. Donald Trump has promised to “empty the swamp” single-handedly. If we believe he can and will do it, however, we are naive. He is far more likely to fall under the influence of the established politicos than they are to accede to his. When one looks at his transition team rife with lobbyists, one sees the swamp critters already climbing aboard and taking premium seats on his boat.
Donald Trump was elected for what he isn’t. Who he is will lead this country for at least the next four years. So what do we know about him?
After meeting with the President-elect for 90 minutes just days after the election, President Obama diplomatically observed that Donald Trump has no ideology, but is the consummate pragmatist. Obama was smiling at the time, but his words carried a serious warning.
History has shown time and again that a man or woman with no ideology who is empowered to lead a nation is dangerously unpredictable. In fact, Mr. Trump has cultivated a well deserved reputation of unpredictability. He considers it to be one of his greatest assets. For a celebrity that makes sense; it’s entertaining and grabs the spotlight. But as the President, if the Donald lacks dependability his reputation will become America’s as well.
To what degree can anyone count on Donald Trump in any respect? He’s certainly not the first politician to lie. But lying appears to come easy to him and is necessary at times to serve the pragmatist. Witness the birther diatribe, claiming President Obama wasn’t born in the US. Donald held on to that false claim obsessively for as long as it was convenient, despite all proof that he was shouting a lie. It was only when it was beneficial to him that he recanted the claim based on the same evidence he pragmatically ignored for years.
The discomfort and worry felt by the majority of voters who cast their ballots against Trump comes from a legitimate fear of what extreme and dangerous roads he may lead us down while promising not to.
Here is the key to understanding Trump. When dealing with him, always remember that Donald Trump has never done, and will never do, anything that was or is not intended first and foremost to be to his personal benefit. He is the poster child of malignant narcissism (See Beware the Malignant Narcissist: April 15, 2016). It’s not always easy to find “what’s in it for him,” but keep looking lest it is realized when it is too late to matter.
Never upstage him and don’t ever think that you can count on what he says any longer than the time it takes him to say it.
Like all narcissists, Donald Trump values loyalty, if not fealty, above all other qualities in those around him. The danger is his loyal minions may not include folks with quality diplomatic, or statesman-like experience to draw on when called upon to represent the United States effectively on the national or world stage. (Witness Rudy Giuliani, whose only qualification to be Secretary of State is that he was involved in security planning for the United Nations Building while Mayor of New York. That he was even on the list of potential candidates for this hugely important assignment is absurd. But on the Trump loyalty scale, he’s off the charts.)
In the end, no one loves Trump more than Trump. The reason he is a pragmatist is that when conditions change he can change with them, uninhibited by ethics or conscience, in order to assure his personal benefit. A look at the crooked road behind him will reveal an astounding number of Americans and others who made the cardinal mistake of depending on Donald Trump to:
- honor a contract,
- pay undocumented immigrant workers for the dangerous and off-the-books demolition work he hired them to do
- keep manufacturing jobs for products with the Trump label in America
- protect investors’ interests as CEO of the spin off corporation to which he sold his bankrupt casinos
- create and contribute to a charitable fund in his name and under his roof
- provide a meaningful and useful education to those who took government loans to pay him their tuition to enroll in Trump University
- show any sign of ethical restraint in his business conduct
- refrain from further victimizing those who were victimized by others
In all of these cases it proved pragmatic under Trump’s personal financial interest to:
- tie his contractual obligations up in the courts and watch his creditors’ legal fees force them to give up, or to
- withold the meagre payment he owed hapless undocumented workers he knowingly hired, and threaten to report them to Immigration for deportation, or to
- keep the margins on his products high by avoiding expensive American labor, or to
- sell off his failing casino businesses to investors as hidden gems and then pay himself $44 million as CEO of the investors’ new company, which he tanked (as he knew he would) or to,
- fail to donate any of his own money to the Trump Charity fund but to use the contributions of others to buy an immense portrait of himself, or to
- bilk thousands of Americans, many poor and looking to better themselves, out of their government loaned tuitions in return for a two-bit real estate seminar. The hayena laughed all the way to the bank at how easily he grabbed their loan money while dashing their hopes. When he agreed to pay a $25 million settlement of that case he tweeted he paid it only because his presidental responsibilities now prohibit his agressive defense of the case, which “he would have won.” (No ethical apology, just a statement to satisfy his enormous ego with the notion he would have won, despite having been caught red handed), or to
- exploit an opportunity to cash in on more Federal tax payer (a category he does not inhabit) funds in 9/11 rehabilitation government aid to small businesses because it was “smart” to funnel funds away from 9/11 victims.
We have to ask, what are Mr. Trump’s American values that can be depended on as he “Makes America Great Again?” As President Obama pointed out, it is truly hard to tell. He’s a pragmatist. “It depends.”
Donald Trump told 61,201,031 American voters exactly what they wanted to hear. Despite whatever he may have espoused to the contrary before, he now firmly believed all they did. Drain the swamp, build the wall, provide relief for the working lower and middle classes, lower their taxes, prosecute Hillary Clinton, remove support for the fallacy of climate change, take big money out of politics, deport 11 million illegal aliens, strengthen our borders, destroy ISIS and “Radical Islam” etc., etc. Now that the election is over, he has begun backing out of several of these “promises,” calling them just “campaign talk,” a.k.a., the pragmatic lies it took to get him elected.
For the sake of the country and the world, let’s hope that his pragmatic needs do not lead to the destruction of America’s role and reputation in the delicate global balance of power, because he’s now playing in a different game than he’s ever played before. The stakes are higher and it is now America’s chips that he has to manage. The survival of the greatest nation the world has ever known is in the balance.
When crises explode, and they will, we better hope he can find solutions in the mirror, because that is the only place he is likely to look.
©2016 James C. Ash