Trump’s Secret: What He Is Not
At the urging of the Head Rabbi of Central Synagogue in New York City, Angela Buchdahl (the first Asian-American rabbi ever, she was born in Seoul), and after her sermon on Kol Nidre evening, September 15 streamed live, I am going to try to understand those with whom I disagree. Rabbi Buchdahl framed her sermon around the old joke of there being two Jews, so three opinions. She pointed out it is not that Jews are inherently argumentative, although we do like to debate, it is that in a respectful debate, the opinions brought to the argument by the two opposing sides may, over time, coalesce into a new third opinion with which everyone can agree.
In that spirit, I explored why Donald Trump, someone I despise, got so popular though I find him distasteful. I figured I don’t like most popular music today and it’s—well—popular, so there must be something to it. I am clearly not the arbiter of popularity. Why is Trump so popular? Is it his policies? His bluster? His brashness? His chutzpah?
First, let’s be honest. There have only been two meaningful assessments of Donald Trump’s true popularity. He lost both of them—in 2016 by 3 million votes and in 2020 by 7 million votes. So the concept that Donald Trump is the most popular politician in America is questionable. Of course, I am not sure Joe Biden is either and I know Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell aren’t. Politicians are way less popular than even B level hip hop stars.
In his political inception, Donald Trump was a birther. He called into question the legitimacy of Barack Obama as President because he wasn’t really born in the United States, but in Africa. And on top of this he was a secret Muslim. Look at that middle name—Hussein. These lies resonated with many people who disliked Obama for a host of reasons, not the least of which was his racial background. Trump was appealing to the basest instincts of some Americans which were, let’s be honest, racist. But there is no way Donald Trump would have become President simply by sweeping the racist vote. He was and is a populist who appeals to the common American worker who feels he no longer has a seat at the table in Washington, or even in his home town. He sees the East Coast and West Coast elites running the country and feels that these elites are looking down at him. Obama said as much when he acused those who opposed him with the following:
“They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”
It was not that Obama was wrong or right. It was that he insulted people whose views didn’t gel with his. That will not make you popular. He won anyway. Thus, one thing Donald Trump seemed not to be was a member of the Coastal Elite and that appealed to many people, even though he was a major player in New York City for years. He wasn’t Barack Obama.
The next thing Donald Trump was not was a friend of women. The Hollywood Access tape in which he admitted to physically abusing women proved that. But many people—including women—took this as typical men’s locker room talk and therefore harmless. This served Trump well against an opponent, Hillary Clinton, who many, many people not only didn’t like, but feared. Mrs. Clinton is a formidable personality on the American scene, but has been viewed as abusing her role as First Lady and as having supported the Iraq War. Hillary was no one’s idea of a typical American woman and probably will take her place in the annals of feminist history as having paved the way for others like Kamala Harris. And even though Mrs. Clinton won the popular vote in 2016, she ran a lousy campaign and didn’t pay sufficient attention to the electoral map. So she lost and gave us Mr. Trump. But make no mistake, Trump is a misogynist and he most definitely was no more Hillary Clinton than he was Barack Obama.
Finally, Mr. Trump is not complex. What you see is what you get. That’s what scares people. His speech is almost primitive. He loves malaprops (herd mentality for herd immunity). He speaks to the common man in common speak and never talks over the heads of his audience. He panders to them and they love it.
I get the appeal of Donald Trump even if I do not share it. Going back to Rabbi Buchdahl, I can only hope there is a third opinion between that of Joe Biden and Donald Trump, because these two non-Jews don’t have a value-added thought between them. Donald Trump is popular for two reasons, what he is not and what he over saw—a healthy pre-covid economy. He deserves credit for that and for Operation Warp Speed and for negating the horrible Obama Iran nuclear deal.
We’ll see if he makes a comeback. He may, but he’s old as is Biden. It’s time for all of the old-timers to step aside and let in some new blood—especially new blood with a third opinion.