For months, I have endured the television coverage of Donald Trump. And for months, I have gritted my teeth and dared to look at the screen, partly because, as a diehard Democrat, I feel the need to be informed, and partly because I want to make sure I'm actually hearing what I think I'm hearing. With every passing week--nay, day--I've stared at the evening news, sometimes catching my breath in true horror-movie fashion at what comes across. And I've listened while legions of journalists have sat in their seats, stern looks on their faces, intelligently debating and pondering Trump's maniacal machinations--as if they can figure them out. Countless pundits have spent countless hours examining his positions--like that on foreign policy or withdrawing from NATO--and what he "means" by his playground screeching. The smartest minds on television and in publishing ask the kinds of questions better reserved for college courses in literary theory: "Why do you think he's so misogynistic? . . . What is he trying to achieve by walking out of the debate?" . . . What is it that makes him engage in this form of racist rhetoric?"
Answer: Nothing, and everything. What no one fully realizes, or may, underneath a deep wellspring of denial, is that Trump doesn't give a rat's ass about anything but himself and what serves his interests--which changes from moment to moment. This is The Donald Hour, a dog and pony show to the nth degree, and we are all being led down the garden path. He does these things because he can. This game of let's-pretend-to-be-president is fun for him. Everyone has tuned in to his twisted form of prime time politics and the more he says, the more anybody and everybody in his path spins. It is simply unbelievable.
Lo these many months, I've also kept telling myself that I have to write a piece--on Trump's calling Mexicans rapists; on claiming Megan Kelly's menstrual cycle was at play rather than her exacting and unabashed journalistic experience; on poking fun at Jeb Bush for having his "mommy" at an event; and, most of all, on his calling the Pope disgraceful--read from a written statement, no less--for the Pontiff's questioning Trump's status as a true Christian. Seeing that the hallmarks of Christian behavior are selflessness, kindness, and, for a politician, conducting oneself in an upstanding manner, I'd say Trump's erring on the side of non-Christian is pretty spot on. I thought my disgust had reached its limit until there came the ceaseless targeting of everyone who got in Trump's path, including "friends" like Mitt Romney, for the way he walked; a reporter, for his disability; and a Federal judge, for his heritage.
But like the waves of television journalists I'd seen, I didn't want to give Trump any more due by giving him any more ink. It's bothered me immensely that the news media gave him the constant air time they did. I cringed each Sunday as I tuned in to Face the Nation only to find the smart and highly respectable John Dickerson once again having invited Trump on as a guest (although Dickerson's notably pointed questioning has been all-too palpable during their exchanges). I hated each time the evening news covered Trump and his more-than-crude spewings, ones that would never have been allowable 20 years ago, or even 10, like repeating that someone had called Ted Cruz a "pussy," as if it were akin to someone calling Cruz a jerk.
There's a term for Trump's behavior in the psychological lexicon: It's called the Gaslight Effect. Defined, it's a form of mental abuse in which one person in a relationship--the gaslightee--is manipulated into doubting his or her perception, memory, or sanity by the gaslighter, with the gaslightee eventually acquiescing to the falsities heaped upon them. In her book The Gaslight Effect, Dr. Robin Stern breaks down this subtle game in which the more powerful partner defines the lesser's reality, and how the lesser allows it to happen. It's this same abuse that's playing itself out with the legions Americans who've propped up Trump's angry non-agenda with their own. They believe his freakish phrases, and push aside everything in their subconscious that says they might know better to fall in lockstep. But my question is, why???
Just look at the gathering behind Trump at his victory speech in April after wins in five states solidified his place as the presumptive nominee. The Christies were front and center, along with the Family Trump and other of the faithful, staring into the crowd, slowly nodding their heads while Trump launched a feeble attack on his next victim: Hillary Clinton. (Ironically, his "nothing going for her" and "only able to play the woman card" comments ultimately fell flat--and produced $2.3 million in donations by Clinton supporters after the campaign issued a real card, doused in bright pink with "Woman Card" emblazoned in bright orange type across the front.) It's a prime example of what Trump is so good at: Throwing out anything that comes to mind about anyone he chooses and making it sound as plausible as possible with his growling delivery. He makes it up as he goes along and leaves everyone running around trying to figure it all out.
I often wonder why Trump wants the highest office in the land anyway. He's won over reams of white people who long for some picket-fence picture of the past, where Susie and Johnny never rode the school bus with dark-skinned girls and boys from some place in Asia and where John was John and John didn't want to be Jane. He talks about trade as if it were something that needs to be wholly eliminated, when most of what America buys at Kmart couldn't be afforded without the little children in China assembling it. He places fear front and center and offers a false sip of nostalgia that people seem not to want to merely take in but to chug-a-lug. The fact that he's befriended Klansmen and mobsters, and that he said if his daughter weren't his daughter he'd date her doesn't seem to bother anyone. The faithful haven't just taken a sip; they've drunk the Kool-Aid.
Invoking nostalgia is a handy tool for the politician-cum-savior that Americans still want in their president. Touching the souls of one's followers is a nice idea but their yearning for yesteryear will be short-lived when the Trumpions wake up and realize they've sold their soul to the Devil that is Donald in order to get it. The masses may be voting the party line to get a Republican back in the White House, but when Trump yells that he wants to make America great again, do the crowds realize that America has achieved its greatness by trying always to fall on the side of decency? It's been our calling card: Fairness, equality, religious freedom--even religious zealotry; we are a people who try, try again, go to Sunday services putting a good word in for better, and looking forward to a time when truth and justice and the good old American way reign supreme--for everybody. A Republican president again? Great. Go for it. But go for it with your soul, the one that helps lead you off the garden path and into the Promised Land.