Ashamed to Triumph
By Alex Romano, Opinions Editor
Did I vote for Trump last November? Yes. Will I vote for him again? If things keep going the way they are now, no.
That previous paragraph warrants an explanation. People who voted for Trump are generally grouped into the following categories: Hateful Racists, Hillary’s Basket of Deplorables, the murderous thugs who dress up in ghastly white robes and masks and mow down peaceful left-wing protestors in heinous acts of vehicular homicide; Misguided Losers, the uneducated rabble of construction workers, truckers and the like to whom the president promised a gold mine and ended up giving a derelict strip mall parking lot; Apathetic White-Collars, the moderates and upper-middle-class in the Republican Party who did not have too much of a stake in the election and so just shrugged the whole thing off and voted the party line when it came down to crunch time; Turncoat Democrats, who inexplicably leapt across the gap from their own party to join the Trump Train; Protest Voters, the regular folk who are all fed up with the current era of PC overkill and free-speech suppression; and Hopeless Defeatists, who saw the corruption of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, the pair’s unappealing personalities, shady backgrounds, and moral ambiguity, saw no notable difference between the two (besides Hillary’s experience, but that will be covered later), decided that it was time for career politicians to take one on the chin, and entered their ballot for the Man with the Cornsilk Hair. These are reasonable categories; probably most people would fall under at least one of them.
However, all of these categories imply that the voter is an active bigot, a cynic, a fool, or a dupe. That is not fair. There appears to be no such thing to the president’s opponents as a Trump supporter who is entirely intelligent, compassionate, courageous, and reasonable. Everyone who chose Donald John Trump to be president has no valid reason for doing so and is critically flawed either in morality or in intellect, or both.
That is not true. There is one final type of Trump supporter that deserves notice. This is the group to which I belong, the actual Silent Majority, who took a gamble and went into the booths to vote for the man who they thought would change the Republican Party for the better, who dismissed the notion that Trump was a force of evil bent on turning the country into an anarchic war zone, and who ignored the alt-right, failing to believe that the GOP would actually yield its beliefs and guiding principles to a political sect created by misfits and geeks on the Internet.
It took a long time for the mainstream media to take Donald Trump seriously as a contender, but once the cable news networks caught on to the surging Trump phenomenon, he was already the most feared and least understood player in the GOP field. He was out of control. He was attacking party favorites, he was giving edgy interviews, he was racking up popular support. And he was doing all of this in a way that appalled Democrats as much as it appalled Republicans. Although, the American people tend to forget just exactly why it appalled both parties.
Democrats were outraged because of the usual: Trump was spouting off against immigrants, against Muslims and against protestors. His ignorance showed early on. Republicans, though, were not initially repulsed by the racial dog-whistling and tasteless verbal attacks of Trump. Rather, Ted Cruz, Scott Walker, Mike Huckabee, and company were upset by the issues that Trump touched on in the reality TV-perfect first primary: issues such as free trade, campaign finance reform, new infrastructure and internal improvements, health care, illegal immigration, and economic recovery. The Republicans onstage were confounded, incensed, even scared (Rand Paul), as if the business mogul standing beside them was a clementine peel-skinned apparition manifested out of pure space and divinely charged with the purpose of thwarting the GOP regulars’ efforts to succeed Barack Obama. In addition, he was flat-out berating them, charging them each with accepting monetary contributions from him for their campaigns, and voicing what many already thought: that the men on the platform were feeling the bottoms of their pockets for loose change to continue funding their presidential runs. All the while he was dropping hints about the ideas that would become the components of the unconventional policy agenda he wanted to use to reshape the Republican Party.
Later during the summer of the primary, Trump expanded on his political views and stirred up more dissent within the Republican Party. His ideas for tax reform and refusal to support overturning the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage, along with his relative silence on gun control and abortion rights, did not sit well with mainstream conservatives. Or, as they were called then, neoconservatives. Moderates within the party had long had problems with these neocons, who they felt were responsible for how poorly the GOP had been doing lately.
It would be unwise for Americans to forget the state of the Republican Party pre-Trump. It was battered, sickly, and old, withered by the collective agencies of time, impracticality, intolerance, and Mitt Romney. The neoconservatives were and are a dying group, their stilted ideology a passing trend started by the Gordon Gekkos and Patrick Batemans of the 1980s, and given righteous justification by televangelists and fundamentalist Christian pamphleteers who harangue people in front of abortion clinics and delight themselves by disrupting the funerals of gay people. No public figure belonging to the neocon faction wanted Trump in office, with Fox News and mainstreamers in Congress claiming that Trump was an ultra-liberal con man. Indeed, among Trump’s earliest critics were Bill O’Reilly and Greg Gutfeld, political analysts featured on Fox. None other than Glenn Beck published a book titled Liars in which he ranked Trump alongside Presidents Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Obama as dangerous progressive giants of the modern age.
Let that sink in: the Republicans feared that Trump was a progressive. They were afraid that he would take the party out of its comfort zone, and finally push the Republicans into a new phase of evolution. Right-wing moderates such as myself were not afraid, but relieved, even excited, to see the reactionary elements of the party not have their way for once, and to be given the chance to elect someone who would allow the conservatives to progress. Every gaffe, every inflammatory line of rhetoric, every impulsive Tweet came next to these early signs of progression in the Trump campaign.
Change in the Republican Party was long overdue by the dawn of Trump, so many moderates and centrists wanted to get on board his campaign train. He suggested tax increases on the wealthy. He voiced his approval of free advertising for political candidates. To capitalize on his public image as a master negotiator, Trump came forth with a plan for departure in conservative Middle Eastern policy. He proposed the practice of realpolitik between Israel and the Palestinians, appearing to wish for a middle road between the unquestioningly pro-Israel right and the cynical, Zionism-weary left. Media focus on Trump’s plentiful open legal cases, disrespect for women, brashness in demeanor, inexperience with regard to public office, multiple failed businesses, and insensitivity towards minorities fell right to the wayside for Republicans who had for so long wished to see the party evolve and take up a more current ideology. The bluster and vulgarity were just campaign rhetoric, the extreme policies just usual overhype for the electorate; Donald Trump was saying what the more radical elements of his base wanted to hear and, once elected, like many a candidate before him, would back off of his aggressive language and provocative speech and accept the realities of the political process, settling in as a reasonable man of business with a more moderate agenda of his own.
A yuge wall being constructed in between the United States and Mexico may not seem to be a very moderate idea, but voters like me kept in mind that Trump is first and foremost a businessman who has made his living overstating things and outraging the public. A typical business maneuver is to start from the highest demand in a negotiation and then from there work your way down to a compromise. With his suggestion to have a wall built, Trump was sending signals to get a rise out of Mexico, which materialized in the form of a profane comment from Mexican President Vicente Fox. Building the protective structure and then having Mexico pay for it was Donald Trump’s first offer, but that is all that it was: the first offer. It was not unthinkable to me and those who filled in their ballots like me that negotiations could have followed. In this way, by emphasizing his skills as a deal-maker, Trump convinced voters that his election would herald an era of moderation and limitation.
I and people like me who expected this result had reason to think so. An extraordinarily wealthy and successful businessman, Trump was not without political connections. He had observed the political scene for decades, and established his record as something of a political shapeshifter, having supported the single-payer health care system in the past; opposed the war in Iraq; spoken permissively of abortion in the past; remained friendly with the gay community through his capacity as a television persona; gained favor among African Americans and Latinos as the star of The Apprentice; supported Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign; and wrote up a document criticizing President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. For years of his life, Trump was a Democrat.
Given his fluidity with political stances and affiliations, it did not seem unreasonable to believe that he would have some leeway with his policies and that he would be open to new ideas and compromise, despite what he currently believed or what he said he currently believed. But the possibility that he was just as bad as his opponents claimed also nagged at the minds of his moderate voters. Filling out his bubble on the ballot was a gamble in that way, but it was a worthy gamble. The hope that he would not live up to the grotesque villain that liberals made him out to be outweighed the concern that he might.
When it comes to experience, Hillary wins out over Trump. She has been a major player in the political scene for decades. That does not mean that the value of experience can be, and in the 2016 election cycle, was not, overstated. What good is a person with experience if that person has no vision? We must remember that our absolute worst president, James Buchanan, spent 40 years of his life as a public servant, in capacities as varied as Clinton’s. He was a Pennsylvania state legislator, senator, minister to Russia, ambassador to the UK and secretary of state, and he learned much from his service in those fields. He even turned down an appointment to the Supreme Court. But he lacked the vision of an America united and at peace with itself, of a harmonious North and South and a freed African American people who had been granted their basic human rights and dignity. While it is a long shot to argue that Clinton would have supplanted Buchanan as the country’s worst leader, it serves as the prime example of experience meaning little without a grand plan to back it. Being With Her is not a vision; Making America Great Again is. Though of course Trump could have been a great deal clearer during his campaign with regard to how exactly he was going to go about fulfilling his vision, but that is an unwelcome digression from the main point of this article. At least he offered something on which the public could chew.
Anyway, so far Trump has not turned out to be the president that I thought he would be. Hindsight is 20/20, and it is still early in the game, but Trump seems to have decided on a solidly alt-right course for his term of office. I was initially excited that the first candidate for whom I had ever voted in a presidential election won, but looking back on that long gray day in November, I feel less and less a sense of triumph.
Trump decided long ago that his relentless publicity, tabloid-stealing overexposure, constant gimmicks, and public appearances at various nationally televised events are not the means to the end of running a successful business or, with respect to the presidency, leaving a lasting and indelible mark on human history. Rather, he decided that the means are the end. Much like how Clinton and Cruz’s opponents view the two as living for politics for politics’ own sake, Trump is living for publicity for publicity’s sake. He is the embodiment of a public relations vehicle, a man who has spent his life feeling out the next big thing in order to attach his name to it and so never go out of style. Public housing, casinos, USFL teams, steaks, airlines, bottled water, reality game shows— all mere trends, the popularity of which ebbed and flowed with public sentiment, and Donald Trump was never far to cash in. Given his shrewd eye for the faddish, it only follows that Trump would tap the alt-right to launch him into the White House, as that fringe group has used the cold, callous, and uncaring channels and chat boards of the Internet to work its way into the minds of its users and establish itself as the latest craze.
That is where we are. No longer do policymakers, educators, charitable organizations, intellectual think tanks, news analysts, or political scientists convince the electorate how to vote, or inform the public, or provide the common American with motivation to join a party or become involved in a cause. Screw that. Today the course that our governing bodies take is determined by meme addicts, Reddit fiends, 4chan freaks, petty Internet trolls, unmerciful spammers, illegitimate pseudo-political fringe Website hacks, and the occasional self-righteous talk show host. We have to take these people seriously now, which is as painful for me to write as it is for you to read. But what can you do?
If I were able to go back in time to the day when I mailed in my absentee ballot, I am still not confident that I would have voted for Clinton. I am positive that I would not have voted for Gary Johnson, even if it tickles me that he reminds me of James Woods. But it is also highly, highly unlikely that I would have voted for Trump. No. Instead of all three of those names, I would have gone for John Kasich, who I admire for his moderate Republican philosophy and deep human compassion. For Democrats who point to Kasich’s straight conservative record as governor of Ohio as evidence that he is just as bad as the rest, they should remember that he is nonetheless more moderate than most, and he may not have been such a hard-liner as president. For, once you take the moderate course, you accept the need to compromise, which is a lost art that Kasich could have revived. Oh, he stood no chance of winning, not that time around. But at least I would have sent out that ballot and felt good about contributing to my country’s political process. In these times, it is very difficult to do just that.