A friend of mine on Facebook, arguing for the necessity of supporting Donald Trump in the wake of his presumptive GOP presidential nomination “win,” urged me to disregard his primary season rhetoric and just get on board. “What is it about ‘trust’ that you are looking for?” he asked me, alluding to my anguish over the sincerity factor in Trump’s many shoot-from-the-hip remarks and his frequent about-faces since he joined the primary fray. Now he’s acting “presidential” (or promising to) and asking us to forget about the unpresidential Trump who made his campaign about personal insult and verbal intimidation.
“The man wants to win,” my friend insisted, “and, against all odds and pundit predictions, won! He’s proving how he knows how to win. That all by itself is noteworthy and something Republicans haven’t demonstrated in a long, long time and maybe that’s the kind of drive we need to change our direction.”
So the gist of my friend’s argument is that Trump did what he had to in order to win in the primaries and will now do what he must to win in the general. Whatever it takes. And this is a good thing for Republicans who have lost too many recent presidential elections because they lacked this instinct to win no matter what which Trump has now demonstrated he has to spare. What does “trust” matter in a case like this? All politicians lie anyway, my friend added. Why should we expect Trump to be different or disdain him for having lied so much better than the others and having thus gotten his message across, winning over enough Republican primary voters to drive the rest of his competitors from the field? Now he’s talking nice about Texas Senator Ted Cruz, who he habitually tagged “Lyin’ Ted” before, a simple yet earthy nickname that folks would remember, a name calculated to stick. A clever ploy, to coin such a catchy little phrase with which to paint his most challenging opponent but no different from the gratuitous (because irrelevant) “Little Marco” with which he had previously tagged Florida Senator Marco Rubio. Name calling as a new political art form, lifted directly from the pages of reality TV’s World Wrestling Federation, another Trump investment. He’s brought the WWF version of “class,” brawling, catcalls and snarling rage, to the political stage this year in a game in which the truth turns out to be mostly irrelevant. What counts is what sticks in the audience’s mind, the simplest and catchiest sobriquets you can coin. Still . . . “I can be presidential, I’m very good at being presidential,” Trump told an interviewer earlier on in his campaign. “You’ll see, I can be whatever I want to be.”
It just wasn’t time then, I guess. But maybe now, with the primary field littered with the fallen Republican dead, it is. Having savaged other Republican presidential aspirants he’s proved he’s a dangerous political street fighter and isn’t that what we Republicans want, my friend seems to be asking, what we need, against the Clintons’ Democratic machine? Mitt Romney was too nice to stand up to the Democrats’ onslaught when he challenged President Obama but Trump, well he ain’t no Romney.
No, he’s not. Romney was a gentleman, if perhaps too gentle for the political knife fight President Obama ran against him. But Trump is a destroyer and Hillary better watch her behind. Does it matter that Trump is also playing all sides of the ideological divide, whatever works? Does it matter that he insults from the hip and tells lies liberally on the political stump, that he speaks encouragingly and ominously about the violence that might come if he’s obstructed from reaching his chosen path? Does it matter that he’s told us he would change the libel laws in this country, despite the Constitution’s First Amendment which sets the parameters for those laws? Or that he would order American military personnel to commit what nearly everyone in the world recognizes as war crimes and that they would have to obey “because I’m their president”? Or that House Speaker Paul Ryan would have to get along with a newly elected President Trump “or he’s gonna have trouble”?
Trump is no Romney indeed, nor is he like any of the other typical Republican presidential aspirants or politicians. But he’s shown he can win, as my friend puts it, and that’s what matters. What is it about this thing called “trust” that I’m looking for, my friend asked? Who cares if we can trust Trump as long as he wins back the White House for us? As another politician I know once put it of his mentor, “sure he’s a snake, but he’s our snake.”
But that’s just the point. A man you can’t trust is someone who isn’t going to win anything back for anyone but himself. And given that win, he’ll do whatever he wants, not what his constituents are looking for, even if for the time being their interests and his happen to coincide. Does it matter if we can’t trust him? And what kind of trust is he supposed to inspire in us? Trust that he will do what he says once he’s in a position to do it? Or just trust that he is tough enough and savvy enough to win?
If Trump has repeatedly shown that he didn’t mean what he said before now, that he simply said what he had to in order to elbow his competitors in a crowded GOP field out of the way, and now will say what he must to win the general election, how do we know he will be any more principled once he’s in the Oval Office? Setting aside his emotionally erratic temperament and his almost obsessive narcissism, what about his trust factor? Can we believe him now when he’s already shown us we shouldn’t have taken him at his word then?