6 Ways We Try To Make Sense Of Trump By Simplifying Him
Whether it's Genius Businessman, Pawn Of The Russians, or Buffoon Of The Apocalypse, everyone has their preferred version of the president, a template or paper doll of the man that they use to hang new facts and information on like fun new outfits. This isn't a phenomenon unique to Trump; depending on who you talked to, George W. Bush was either a dopey man-child or the mastermind who faked 9/11 to send the country to war. Obama's opponents regularly set him up as a smooth, teleprompter-reading empty suit, Kenyan interloper, or a Muslim Manchurian Candidate.
Oh, and the Antichrist, that was a fun one too.
Anyways, while political supporters can be prone to this, it's mostly the work of opponents and pundits painting their hated enemy in the terms that will flatter them the least, even if it's completely contradictory to the last template they used. Here then, for your template admiring pleasure, are the weird narratives we keep trying to make President Trump fit into ...
Donald Trump himself helped establish this narrative, leaning heavily on his reputation as a successful businessman during his campaign. A reputation which owes itself to ... his reputation. Because in reality, Donald Trump's record as a businessman is a bit mixed. He's wealthy, yes, but he started wealthy, inheriting a substantial amount of money from his father. Despite that, and the numerous advantages his father's influence won him, he lost money in a variety of property development deals, airlines, and casinos. But through all that, he had an undeniable knack for self-publicity, which would lead to the reputation that won him his one lasting success, when ABC cast him in the coveted role as "Loud, Successful Businessman" on their show The Apprentice.
Especially during the early stages of the campaign, "Self-Promoting Troll-Lord" seemed to be the dominant frame for explaining Trump's campaign. There was no way he actually intended to be president; he was running for the free publicity, or to secure a television deal, or to sell more red hats or something. Even right up to October, pundits were peddling this view. And whether you cling to the notion that he won by accident, that he still doesn't really want to be the president, one thing remains undeniable: He is quite a bit more famous now.
So is he a cynical self-promoter? It certainly seems that way. But was he fake-running for president because of it? I'm guessing probably not. I think he was running for president because he wanted to be president. He just may not have been totally aware of what that was.
Tiny Hands Trump
Back during the primary, when no one took the Trump campaign that seriously, many of his Republican challengers basically ignored him, thinking he'd fade over time. Which meant one of the few attacks to ever get any traction against him wasn't about policy or anything of substance, but the hilarious time Marco Rubio claimed Trump had tiny hands.
This is kind of a small thing -- heh -- which would have only lingered on the strident, liberal parts of the internet for a few days if Trump himself hadn't kept it alive longer than it probably deserved to be, by hitting back at Rubio in the next debate by talking about how big his cock was.
Who says 2016 didn't have nice things?
Anyways, while this has mostly been forgotten now, it did get at a deeper truth about Trump which has repercussions to this day; he's vain, and notoriously thin skinned. The fact that we're now treated to Twitter rants every morning from the president is the most obvious side effect of this, but it's a trait which may affect us in more substantial ways as well. Did he fire the FBI director because he'd felt insulted? Did he spill intel to the Russians because he wanted to brag? We don't talk much about the hands anymore, but it's clear that Tiny Hands Trump lives on.
Still, that's a side effect and never really the original intent of this template. It wasn't really about the physical size of his tiny, tiny baby hands. It was about what they were supposed to represent. It was supposed to paint him as weak. As less of a man. As the kind of guy you'd throw rocks at because of his deep knowledge of World Of Warcraft lore. His real personality is just as bad -- more of a tiny-handed Napoleon complex -- but it certainly isn't the beaten-down geek who is afraid to hit back.
The number of connections between the Trump campaign and Russia is pretty staggering. Whether it's his campaign managers, long-time associates, or mysterious fur-hatted hangers-on, Trump seems to know an awful lot of people with connections -- public or otherwise -- to Russia. On top of that is the substantial amount of evidence that the Russian government attempted to interfere with the election itself, by hacking Democratic National Committee emails, and voter registration systems. On top of that on top of that is the president's bizarrely complimentary relationship with Vladimir Putin. Guys replying to porn actresses' Instagram accounts have more dignity.
All of this has led at least a few people to speculate that Trump is a pawn of the Russians, an orange-tinted Manchurian candidate who now steers the United States in the direction his caviar-loving masters tell him. The strongest version of this take suggests the president has straight up been compromised by the Russians, who have blackmail evidence against him, aka, the famous "pee tape." But the direct evidence for that is a little thin.
A more convincing version of this template suggests that Trump isn't compromised, so much as that he's a "useful idiot" Russia can influence with greater ease than they could a different, pant-suited president. But even that's a little scary; consider NATO. This is the greatest regional rival to Russia in Europe, and probably one of Putin's greater annoyances. It's fair to say that anything that weakens NATO would help Russia, and oh, cool, here's the president doing exactly that.
Well, that's depressing. What's next?
Friend Of The White Nationalists
White nationalists have been thrilled by Trump's victory, and in general, been in the news way more often these days than one might normally hope. Trump hasn't really endorsed any of these groups; it seems like they're mostly gravitating toward him on their own, drawn to his anti-immigration policies or the advisers he works with. And, naturally there are an awful lot of pundits worriedly discussing what it means. Does it mean Trump's brought about some sea change in society, and a new era of white nationalism is about to rise up? Or does it mean we suck, and we always have, and we're just seeing it a little better now?
Neither of those stances are terribly comforting, but with regards to Trump himself, the most valid criticism of the man is that he doesn't distance himself from these groups and people as fast as he should. But it's debatable whether that means he has a deep abiding love for the tenets of white nationalism, or a casual disinterest in anything to do with equality (or anything else), or if he just really likes it when people say nice things about him, and is reluctant to criticize anyone who does.
Still, comparisons to Hitler do crop up every now and then. These are brutally hyperbolic -- Hitler has a few attempted genocides to his name -- and are rightfully shot down as soon as they appear. Hyperbole is a dangerous game, possibly the most dangerous game of all, so we shouldn't encourage that kind of nonsense too much.
Besides, the Russians hate Nazis. They'd never let it happen.
We have to rely on that now.
A few months ago, there was this thing on social media where any time Trump said or did something terrifying, so like a couple times a day, people would begin mocking it or sobbing hysterically over it. All normal so far. But then, about an hour after the first wave of reactions would come a second wave of wise, chin-stroking types, who would shrewdly claim "This is just a distraction people! We really need to focus on XX," where XX was whatever that person always is going on about. The dumb tweets were distracting from the Muslim travel ban, which was distracting from the Russia investigations, which was distracting from the new health care law, which was distracting from the obstruction-of-justice investigation, which was distracting from the pee tape, and so on.
The underlying conceit of this is that the president is some kind of master of manipulation, an expert on the human psyche, capable of distracting the world with a few twitches of his impossibly tiny thumbs. And although that seems absurd, there might be some truth to it. During the campaign, Trump said awful things at such an incredible frequency that many of them weren't ever totally analyzed in the media. This idea of scandal fatigue has been suggested as one of the reasons Trump beat Clinton; we could spend weeks and months considering the implications of her email scandal, but could never come to grips with all of Trump's mishaps, so fast they rolled in. As an example, it is absolutely bananas that we ever stopped talking about this one.
But that's not something done with intent. At best it implies Trump is some kind of political idiot savant. Or as one growing theory is suggesting, if he's managing to do all this accidentally, thus removing the "savant" portion of the previous description, he might actually be a ...
In the last few months, a new narrative has emerged to describe the man, driven largely by the deluge of leaks pouring forth from this new colander of a White House. Staffers who work with Trump every day, including many who are only passably loyal to him, have begun to give us a picture of what the president is actually like in person. And it's not good.
Unless you dislike him, in which case it's very, very good and rad.
We've detailed some of these before, but to sum them up, it seems the president of the United States has a short attention span, disinterest in complicated topics, a deep abiding love of television, and a fascination with hearing his own name. The conclusion is that America has something quite a bit like a child serving in its highest office, and the balance of the world now rests in the hands of advisers trying to steer and direct that child's attention. "No, no, don't press THAT button," things like that.
So what's the truth?
It'd be a bit disingenuous to suggest the truth lies somewhere in the middle of all of these, or to claim that Donald Trump is a rich tapestry of a man who defies simple categorization. Few good tapestries have vignettes depicting someone eating steak with ketchup, for example.
So no, the answer doesn't lie in the middle. The current conventional wisdom seems to be that it lies a little off to the side of the middle, leaning quite a bit toward Child President and Cynical Self-Promoter. But that's likely to change -- maybe in a month or so, we'll all be pretty confident Trump is really another Kenyan interloper or something. And now that you've seen the templates, and know how they're mainly used by political opponents, exhausted journalists, and his Russian handlers, you can better see their flaws and maybe not get suckered by any sudden change in the narrative of Trump's character, even if it's really hilarious and unflattering.
Until the pee tape comes out anyways. You have my permission to fall for that, hard.
To see the two inexplicably polar opposite muses in Trump's life, check out Donald Trump Is The JFK For Millennials (Seriously, Folks) and How Actual Nazis Are Influencing Trump (More Than He Knows).
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