It’s not the racism. It’s that he’s exactly the sort of unlikable rich guy that his followers should hate.
There’s a joke in the new sitcom The Good Place, which envisions a quasi-Albert Brooks sort of afterlife where your post-death destination is determined by a very careful tally of your actions. Things like “ending slavery” give you millions of points, and things like “being boorish at opera” or “committing genocide” detract points (different amounts). Very few get into the Good Place, as opposed to the Bad one (the show, by Parks and Rec and Fire Joe Morgan creators Mike Schur and Alan Yang, is more complex about the morality of this afterlife, and of course funny, but still). When asked about American presidents who have made it, the guy in charge says “Only Lincoln.”
Which, as Kristen Bell’s main character agrees, makes sense. And it does, doesn’t it, given that Jimmy Carter is still alive. After all, we’ve had some pretty miserable characters in there, some of whose only virtues can be described as “being surprisingly not under the thumb of Roscoe Conkling”. We’ve had drunks, liars, thieves, slave-holders, door-openers, genocidaires, war-mongers, toadies, dummies, and men so crooked it took a team of surgeons to screw on their pants every morning. We’ve had people who have turned the Oval Office into their own little criminal organization. Even taking away policy, for much of the Presidency, it was awarded to the rank-striver and the party man, which meant inherent ethical compromise (and I like the party system).
Still, as far as I know, we’ve never had someone who was just a completely unlikeable asshole. I don’t use that word lightly; we know exactly what it means when describing someone. Just a rude bully, the kind of brags about his bank account during dinner and gives a 5% tip after carefully itemizing the bill. “I only had iced tea, and you had a beer, so pay up”, is what you expect them to say, because they aren’t even good drinking buddies.
That’s the single most baffling part of this campaign. I get the racism, and why that’s appealing. It’s part of the anti-government, make-everyone-who-isn’t-us-an-alien act the GOP has been playing for over 40 years. I even get the authoritarian tough-guy act, as absurd as it is coming from a blow-dried fancy-lad who claim to swagger comes from hiding behind his lawyers. That’s part of it to: when all institutions are untrustworthy, go with the guy who will sweep them away.
But what I don’t get it how it can possibly be him. How it can be this guy, who is the worst? A story that came out yesterday thanks to the indefatigably great Blake Farenthold, who might almost single-handedly tip this election back to sanity, and whose prize should be more Nobel than Pulitzer, illustrates this perfectly.
In 2010, a man named Martin Greenberg hit a hole-in-one on the 13th hole while playing in a charity tournament at Trump’s course in Westchester County, N.Y.
Greenberg won a $1 million prize. Briefly.
Later, Greenberg was told that he had won nothing. The prize’s rules required that the shot had to go 150 yards. But Trump’s course had allegedly made the hole too short.
Eventually, court papers show, Trump’s golf course signed off on a settlement that required it to make a donation of Martin Greenberg’s choosing. Then, on the day that the parties informed the court they had settled their case, a $158,000 donation was sent to the Martin Greenberg Foundation.
That money came from the Trump Foundation, according to the tax filings of both Trump’s and Greenberg’s foundations.
Trump is exactly the kind of guy who would screw you out of a win just because he can, using dodges and cheats to do so, to save himself a few bucks (even though it clearly wouldn’t come out of his pocket). He lives to screw people over. That’s his whole method of doing business, and life. He’s the person who wants to make sure that he has a victory over you, even if it is petty and symbolic to him. He’ll take the last $1000 from a man and forget he even has it.
The stories Farenthold is doing about Trump’s nonsense and probably criminal charity foundation are maddening in part because they are so much worse than anything the Clinton Foundation has done (which really hasn’t been anything), without doing anything good like the Clinton Foundation. But again, I understand the narrative about Clinton, as insane and maddening as it is. That makes sense. It’s anti-Clinton And it makes sense that his followers don’t care that he uses his charity to pay off his bills, because that’s just smart business, right?
But come on. In the stories of his using his charity money (donated by other people) to buy huge paintings of himself, ignore that he used that money. This is a guy who loves buying paintings of himself. He has at least several. He loves fake-tough pictures of himself looking regal. He’s surrounded by them. They’re his favorite thing. This is the guy millions think will make a better world for them. This insecure, paranoid, preening, orange-faced absurdity of a human being. A man who would hire you for work and never pay you, because you aren’t him. Because you aren’t rich, so screw you.
On Super Tuesday, I said this, and think it holds true.
That’s sort of the point. He was the pinnacle of the worst of the 1980s, of the greed and opulence that marked our return to traditional values. In the 1990s, he was an avatar of cheating wealth, floating through a pointless time, opening and closing casinos, taking advantage of a game that was, for once and all, rigged toward the rich. In the 2000s he dominated the heightened idiocy of our reality age, all artifice and fake drama obscuring the disasters below our feet. And then of course in this decade he has been our preeminent birther, and the leader of the paranoid and hateful brigade.
In short, he’s been at the forefront of what has been the worst in American culture for four decades. He’s represented what is greedy and vulgar and dirty and stupid, what is fake and pompous and overblown and artificial. His glamour has always been the dull and lifeless sex of hostage porn, the weeping simulacrum of something beautiful. Whatever the American dream is, he’s been buying it on the cheap, packing it into something gaudy and worthless, and selling it at a profit. And now he might represent one our parties, and even if he doesn’t get it, even if they stop him, he has a following, and in a real way has already won.
Again, historians won’t be baffled by the appeal to naked racism. They won’t be baffled by how a man who knows so little can be thought to make sense on the issues. They won’t be baffled by the media’s inability to reckon with this. It’s all been coming (they may be baffled that we let it get this bad, but at this point in our history, it makes sense).
Our historians will be stunned that the population thought that this lily-fingered, greedy, amoral, reality-show narcissist was the right guy to stand atop these trends, and will wonder if we were so terminally stupid that we deserved whatever fate befell us. It’s hard to argue otherwise.