So here’s a question: Do you think President Trump would get less criticism for some of the things he does if he actually was what he is pretending to be?
A few days ago, I was at a truck-stop somewhere up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, some 4500 miles into a journey as the tragically hip weatherman, metaphorically wet-fingering the sky. I was sitting in the professional driver’s lounge, having learned that a man in this lounge will receive very little scrutiny if he is heavily bearded, with a backpack, coffee, and a generally disheveled look about him.
On the television above, the news was blaring. It was the story of Jim Acosta, the CNN reporter who had his press credentials revoked by the Trump administration for a “peacock crusade” at a White House press conference – imagine Trump’s White House reprimanding someone for belligerence … – then had them returned after the order of a judge.
Two burly men were sitting in the seats in front of me, truckers, I knew from an earlier conversation on fishing, from Virginia and Georgia respectively. They watched the TV in silence for some time, until the Virginian ventured, ‘that boy,’ meaning Acosta, ‘just wants attention.’
The Georgian responded, ‘I’d smack the shit out of him if he did that around me.’
When criticism is levied against Trump for how he acts and governs – for being abrasive, insulting, childish, erratic, dangerous – the response from his supporters, and from the President himself, is near-universally the same each time: that’s just how regular people talk.
I suspect the two southern truckers watching the news would have said something similar, as so many truckers and small-town bartenders have along the way.
Leave aside racism, since that topic warrants its own discussion. But look at Trump’s antagonistic relationship with the media, calling CNN and others ‘fake news,’ sparring with journalists; look at the derogatory nicknames for foreign leaders and political opponents, the insults lobbed at enemies, allies, survivors of disasters; look at his late-night/early-morning Twitter rants; look at his tendency towards violence, his unapologetically inflammatory nature.
For these things, Trump is said to be acting like ‘Joe Everyman.’
Maybe this theory has something to it.
I think back to an example from the frozen north of Canada. In the mid-90s, the country’s leader, a man named Jean Chretien, took it upon himself to choke then toss aside a protestor who had gotten into his face at an event. When asked to explain himself, Chretien said what he had done was simply called the ‘Shawinigan Handshake.’ He was, Chretien, a man from a small town named Shawinigan and had been, in his younger days, a reputed street fighter.
What he had done was pretty terrible, an affront to democracy and all that. But people, including and especially liberals, gave Chretien a pass, because, after all, that was just kind of who he was. Think about LBJ repeatedly pulling out his penis to prove a point. I understand the 60s were a different time, but that seems pretty appalling even still. Yet, LBJ got away with it, even had his endowment become a quirky part of his legacy, in large part (pun intended) because he was a swaggering Texan. I mean what can you really expect from an everyman like that, thought the liberals who supported him.
It seems that people, and particularly moderates and liberals, are willing to excuse what they might otherwise consider faults if those things appear interwoven with a person’s upbringing and nature.
But that’s exactly the point, isn’t it? Donald Trump isn’t ‘Joe Everyman.’ He’s not the son of a coal miner, or the child of someone who carried him across the border as a baby looking for a better life, or someone who had to walk two miles to a bus stop to take the 30-mile ride to school every morning, or any other number of things; he’s some rich kid from New York. It’s not that he has never worked a day in his life, it’s that he’s never had to work a day in his life.
The point is, maybe the liberal-minded would be more accepting of Trump’s belligerence if he was a dock worker from a 19th-century British novel, and not just some guy pretending to know what regular people talk like.
It seems a bit like when Bill Clinton was called the ‘first black President.’ Within that nickname, it feels like there was an aspect of prohibition, or maybe resignation. As in, there isn’t going to be a black President, so this is the best you can get – a white good old boy who played the saxophone on Arsenio Hall.
With Trump, the implication is that there is never going to be a President who has climbed their way up from the bottom and is thus perhaps a little rough around the edges, that the best we can get is a rich guy pretending, playing a character he invented for television.
Of course, there was a black President, wasn’t there … and not too long after Clinton. Hmm …