Sydney M. Williams
Thought of the Day
“Trump – An Enigma?”
April 24, 2017
“It is apparent that almost equally marvelous concealment devices,
in one shape or another, are general throughout the animal kingdom…”
Abbott H. Thayer (1849-1921)
Introduction to Concealment-Coloration in the Animal Kingdom, 1909
Gerald H. Thayer
Like most animals, politicians are expert at concealing their true intentions.
Last fall, when explaining why I had voted for Donald Trump, reactions included expressions of horror and words of disbelief. While not enthusiastic, I felt justified. The two most important ingredients in a President are character and judgement. From my perspective, in neither category did Mr. Trump score well. However, his opponent, on this scale, registered far lower, at least in my opinion. And, having been in the public eye for almost two and a half decades, Mrs. Clinton’s flaws were well known. Additionally, she promised to continue the policies of Mr. Obama, which had resulted in anemic economic growth, social division at home, and a weakening of the U.S. overseas. For these reasons, I voted as I did. One of the two was going to become President. And I couldn’t vote for Mrs. Clinton.
We did not, last fall, have a choice between the blemished and the unblemished. One was a coarse, successful businessman, a political neophyte, but astute enough to recognize that Democrats had abandoned their traditional base – middle-class, blue-collar, working Americans – in favor of special interests. The jilted, therefore, became Mr. Trump’s opportunity. We knew Mrs. Clinton was a charlatan, a dissembler who had used public office for private gain. Despite Mr. Trump’s financial success in cities throughout the world, which required cultivating political elites, he campaigned as a populist. It was assumed, then, that that is what he was. As for Mrs. Clinton, her real character was revealed in her response to Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI), when testifying on Benghazi before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January 2013. Her reaction was reminiscent of Anthony Trollope’s description of Mrs. Proudie in Framley Parsonage: “The countenance of Mrs. Proudie became darkened with black anger and the polished smile of her company manners gave place before the outraged feelings of her nature.”
Armchair psychologists have provided myriad descriptions of Donald Trump: an authoritarian demagogue; an inept, misogynistic, xenophobic buffoon; a fascist and fan of strong leaders. David Brooks went so far as to argue we are “entering the age of Putin, Erdogan, el-Sisi, Xi Jinping, Kim-Jong-un and Donald Trump.” Lumping Mr. Trump with those thugs is using hyperbole to augment a debatable point. Mr. Trump may not be the neighbor I would prefer, but his critics are wrong in their demagogic characterizations.
They dislike him in large part because he disrespects them. They make fun of his hair and his malapropisms – an anathema to those who rely on teleprompters, which allow disingenuous politicians to sound both judicious and temperate. Today’s technology lets speech be taken out of context. Interviewers seek not to discover who or what a person is, but to confirm predetermined biases. Little time has been spent, for example, analyzing Trump’s early years as a Democrat, or learning more of his immigrant wife. His Cabinet is criticized as being composed of billionaires, never assuming they may want to give back to their Country.
All American Presidents get tested. It is the most powerful office on earth. Enemies want to know the mettle of the individual. Allies want to understand their resolve. Mr. Trump is being tested on two foreign fronts: Syria and North Korea, and by their respective patrons: Russia and China. Mr. Trump’s initial responses have shown more steel than his predecessor’s, but have not been out of line with other Presidents.
Nevertheless, when he did respond with horror to the chemical attack by Bashar al-Assad’s Airforce on the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun that killed dozens of children, it was said he let emotion rule reason. When, within 72 hours, two U.S. Navy destroyers launched 59 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles at Syria’s Shayrat Airbase and destroyed 20% of the 7th Wing of Assad’s Airforce, it was noted that the attacks violated his previous warnings about getting involved in a Mideast war. His condemnation of Mr. Putin as a co-conspirator in the chemical attack was met by disbelief from those who thought him Putin’s puppet. A President may not, and perhaps should not, always adhere to a campaign’s promises.
China’s President Xi Jing-ping was visiting President Trump at Mar-a-Lago when the missiles were launched against Syria. The timing, I am sure, was deliberate. President Xi is key to reining in Pyongyang. While the media focused on misstatements regarding the whereabouts of the USS Carl Vinson, they ignored the fact of the proximity of the U.S. Naval Base at Sasebo, Japan, about 500 miles from Pyongyang. More importantly, Mr. Trump appears to have made headway with Mr. Xi, in terms of the risks North Korea poses. Last week The Financial Times reported that China was “…slowly coming to view its fellow Communist neighbor’s atomic tests and missile launches as a threat to its own security.”
Mr. Trump’s curriculum vitae is unique in the annals of American Presidents. He had never been in the military and had never held public office. He had been a businessman. The Trump Organization, LLC, was efficient. Like any business, it operated in favor of core stakeholders – owners, employees, customers and communities. In contrast, democracies are deliberately inefficient, so the rights of individuals will be protected by the balance between the three branches. That inefficiency may bother a man used to getting his way. As well, the President cannot bypass Congress and the Courts. Also, the main stakeholder is the citizen. Government employees, including all elected officials, are servants to the people.
Historically, American Presidents have campaigned from the fringes and governed nearer the center. That changed with Mr. Obama. He had campaigned as a centrist, but governed from the far left. Mr. Trump campaigned as a right-wing populist, but, as President, seems to be moving toward the center. As Holman Jenkins, Jr. recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “Trump’s Presidency is coming into focus.” It is too early to conclude whether Mr. Trump’s selection of a cabinet and advisors and the decisions he has thus made reflect sound judgement, or suggest centrist leanings. Apart from Executive Orders, he has had few notable successes. But neither has he made an ass of himself. I remain cautiously encouraged.
So, is Trump an enigma? He is seen by some as the archetypal rich, white businessman. He is seen by supporters as having their back. He is seen by opponents as an authoritarian wannabe, a thin-skinned diva, or a loutish oaf intent on imperializing the Presidency. But I don’t think he is a mystery. The New York Times’ Peter Baker suggests he is driven by instinct, not ideology. In my opinion, he is a pragmatic man, driven by a strong (and unattractive) ego. He is not loveable – at least not to in the way Reagan or Bill Clinton were. He is a man who when presented with a problem wants to fix it. He is a man looking for answers in a complex and disjointed world. So, my answer is “no;” I don’t think he is an enigma.