The comedian Rodney Dangerfield used to complain, “I don’t get no respect!” Donald Trump frequently offers a similar lament, but in his case it’s no joke. His foundering campaign for the presidency seems more and more an indulgent quest for personal validation – and will likely yield exactly the opposite result.
Trump’s love of flattery is so extreme that when the Russian dictator, Vladimir Putin, says something nice about him, he immediately becomes a fan and defender, in defiance of facts, logic and American interests. One can only imagine what the wily old KGB operative thinks of someone whose head is so easily turned.
The Donald’s bragging about his success with women as well as his virtues as a devoted family man has put both claims in doubt and exposed him as either a liar or a sexual predator. His efforts to explain his braggadocio as mere “locker room banter” is dismissed by professional athletes who actually spend time in locker rooms.
Widely targeted insults
Insults are Trump’s stock in trade. He has hurled his barbs at fellow presidential contenders, women, African-Americans, veterans, disabled persons, the media, Gold Star parents, Muslims, Hispanics, Republican Party leaders, and countless others too numerous to count. They all love him anyway, he assures us, with the usual lack of evidence to back such off-the-wall assertions.
Few members of groups he’s demeaned or dismissed will actually vote for this candidate – or embrace him as their president. But then, Trump has shown no sign he wants to be a president for all Americans – just those who tell him how wonderful he is as he panders to their fears and prejudices.
The real estate mogul says our country is going to hell in a hand basket and only he can “make America great again.” Though he borrows that slogan from Ronald Reagan, he has none of the Gipper’s sunny disposition, belief in America, or faith in democracy. Instead, to provide himself an excuse, he undermines confidence in our bedrock institutions by proclaiming that the system is rigged. As his own words and actions increasingly marginalize him, his rhetoric becomes even more dangerous, bizarre and borderline seditious.
Showmanship, not leadership
To his credit, Trump has shown a certain genius for dominating the news over the past year. Turn on cable TV and odds are the screen will be displaying him or people talking about him. This is brilliant showmanship. What it is not is political leadership. While he has given voice to some legitimate complaints, he has hurt rather than advanced their case in the monumental ego trip that is his campaign.
Take the famous promise to “build a wall, and make Mexico pay for it!” We do need a more secure border, but such over-the-top statements do nothing to get us there; anyone who believes Mexico is going to pony up might also be interested in buying a bridge in Brooklyn – or Trump’s failed Atlantic City casino. The wall would do nothing about the estimated 12 million people now living here without documents; it is a wall that leads nowhere.
Terrorism is a genuine threat, but Trump gives such concerns a bad name by implying that the problem is with Islam itself. Do we really want to go to war against one of the world’s great religions and its 1.5 billion followers? How would we win such a contest? And why would we try? The vast majority of Muslims are peace-loving people, and they are the main victims of religious fanatics.
Erratic words, actions undermine his causes
It is similar with other issues: Trump’s erratic words and actions undermine the causes he champions – or, better said, exploits. On trade, for example, there are real victims of trade deals and globalization. But Trump offers only overheated rhetoric, not real remedies for individuals who lost jobs or regions hurt by shuttered industries. Empty promises will not get it done; they only raise false expectations that an easy solution exists.
For most Americans, this campaign has been a year of living dangerously. The world watches in horror as we flirt with the prospect of electing a person who clearly lacks the character, temperament, discipline and vision to lead our great nation. In the end, God willing, our better angels will prevail. And Donald Trump will be left with the label he scorns most: loser.
Dick Virden is a retired senior foreign service officer. He lives in Plymouth.
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