It’s really happening, and it’s exactly what some 63 million Americans, including some of my friends and family members, asked for. Donald Trump is days away from taking the oath of office to become President of the United States.
Like many of the nearly 73 million Americans who didn’t vote for Trump (almost 66 million for Hillary Clinton plus seven million third-party votes), I’ve struggled since election day to accept the electoral college result, which handed a billionaire (?) real estate mogul, branding genius (?), reality (?) TV host, serial braggart, crude misogynist, unabashed attention hog and stubbornly ignorant, humility-averse, lie-spewing Twitter addict with no government experience or discernible political acumen the most important and powerful office in the world. I have yet failed to wrap my head around the fact (is that still a legal word?) that so many people were willing to trade in the moral compasses that have served them well for a lifetime for cheap, fake-gold-plated, cracked models peddled by a monosyllabic huckster who wouldn’t know a moral dilemma if it mussed his lacquered coif and tugged on his Chinese tie. I still can’t fathom the argument that even with decades’ worth of recorded evidence of Trump’s narcissism, unrepentant greed and hateful rhetoric to sway them, they’re still willing to hand him the keys to our unique representative republic, toss in a box of matches and a can of gasoline, and hope for the best.
Based on Trump’s performance as president-elect, that hope will go up in a pyre of revenge- and nepotism-fueled smoke. In fact, he has already torched one corner of the Constitution by refusing to divest himself of his business interests (Emoluments Clause, anyone?), constantly disparaging the press and therefore the First Amendment, and nominating potential cabinet secretaries who are either philosophically opposed to the policies and practices of the agencies they would helm or, far worse, can’t escape or bury their conflicts of interest — starting with potential Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the Exxon Mobil CEO and Vladimir Putin bestie who stands to cash in for tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars should he succeed in wiping out President Obama’s sanctions on Russian oil exports.
The ingredients for a stew of blatant self-dealing and draconian agency upheaval are already simmering on the stove of state, and it doesn’t look like either chamber of the Republican-controlled Congress will do anything to turn down the heat. In fact, they’re fixing to throw a heap of wood — make that dirty coal — on the fire, which becomes a raging inferno of human suffering if they follow through on their promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act (it’s the same thing as Obamacare, by the way) without a workable, viable and fair replacement. They are aiding and abetting a man who is clearly unfit for office and unable to perform the duties for which he will take the oath. The question is, when the time comes to admit that America is on a disastrous path under Trump (and it will), can Vice President Mike Pence (a religious fanatic and right-wing idealogue who must cringe at what Trump says and does on an almost momentary basis) and either “the principal officers of the executive department” or a congressional committee find the guts to recommend invoking Section 4 of Amendment XXV of the Constitution to remove Trump from office? And will a two-thirds majority of both houses make it so, thereby making Pence the president? In other words, trade a hair-trigger, ignorant lunatic for a grim-faced former congressman and governor whose track record in women’s reproductive rights (and women’s rights in general) is, in its own Old Testament way, as despicable as Trump’s?
Talk about grim!
Sure, the electoral college results say otherwise, but Trump’s presidency is, if not illegitimate from day one simply based on his flouting of the Constitution, certainly damaged and deranged goods. The ever-mounting evidence of Russia’s intervention in the election clearly seals the deal, whether the more salacious details of that British spy’s dossier prove true or not. Had this type of damning information been connected to any other sitting official, president-elect or candidate, he or she would immediately be impeached for treason, tried and jailed (and no, Hillary’s e-mails or the Benghazi debacle aren’t comparable so spare me the false equivalency argument). But not Teflon Trump. Not the man who just a few months ago said the American dream was “dead,” who refuses to call Putin out for the autocrat and murderer he is, who demeans our crucial allies 140 characters or a few fragmented spoken sentences at a time, who mocks America’s intelligence-gathering community, who treats women like sexual property or worse, who discounts the council of one expert after another — in whatever political, financial or social discipline —in favor of placing his flimsy stock into hearsay and fake news … who, in sum, bears not one qualifying trait to competently, seriously do the job.
None of this is news, of course, which is why, along with my struggles just to accept where we are as a nation at this moment, I have fought to find an angle of my own to write about. What new is there to say? What can I, just another opinionated, progressive American man, put forth that no one else has? Shouldn’t the fact that I’ve actually met Trump (at his Los Angeles golf course in September 2004), interviewed him on several occasions as a golf journalist and written what are largely and admittedly puff pieces about his golf courses — most recently here and here, which put me in an uncomfortable position of “just doing my job” while risking accusations of hypocrisy — put me on a slightly higher plane of authority and insight?
Not really. During that few hours with Trump on the Palos Verdes Peninsula — a tour of the course that had yet to open under his name with several new holes that he would bombastically declare “better than Pebble Beach,” bracketed by breakfast and lunch — I saw only the Trump we all see, all surface, no soul-revealing asides. No there there. When he arrived with his entourage and greeted my colleagues and me in the clubhouse, the first thing he said was, “I’m in L.A., I could be doing anything else right now, but I have to be here with Vic Fucking Williams.” He was making a joke … sort of. And he did show some one-on-one warmth in conversation over the next couple hours, as he did in the handful of phone interviews I did with him over the subsequent seven or so years, though I always sensed that he was ever “on,” the needy rich kid probing for the fawning compliment.
Yet the ugly Trump of recent campaign rally vintage reared its head. He belittled or mocked his employees, including one of the most cordial, warm and hard-working head professionals I’ve ever met. He fired orders with aimless abandon and expressed his disgust at certain design and engineering details. When an explanation came his way, it seemed to skim over his mind and float out over the Pacific, not sinking in to alter his attitude or cause him to reconsider even the smallest critique. During breakfast, he ordered eggs and bacon and got impatient when the young, clearly nervous waiter — who, to me, was doing a bang-up job — didn’t bring the food right away but came around to offer a water refill one too many times. “What is with the water?” He huffed. “Just bring me the fuckin’ eggs.” It was clearly his way or the highway. We laughed it off and sucked up to his continued attempts at brutal humor, cravenly knowing that getting on the man’s good side would pay off with advertising in our magazine — seven years’ worth, it turned out, until we no longer were of value to him and he pulled the plug — but it was uncomfortable just the same. Imagine that discomfort magnified by an almost incalculable factor when, as president, he meets with a head of state to hammer out a “deal” with 350 million American lives, and perhaps many tens of millions more foreign lives, in the balance.
That scenario remained unimaginable for most sentient beings when I led off one Trump phoner, on election day 2010, with a tongue-in-cheek inquiry about his presidential aspirations. He got what I’ll call Trump Quiet — voice lowered as if in deference but still ripe with fake self-regard — and said he really hadn’t even thought about it, as if it was just another business deal that he hadn’t decided to pull the trigger on. He came as close to laughter that I can remember, without really going there. The man just doesn’t break out into spontaneous laughter, or show any semblance of true, deep emotion of any kind. So, we moved on to golf and the same stock quotes he gives every writer on the subject — best courses ever, only the loveliest pieces of property, packed membership rolls, etc. Bombast and bluster. After the call, my cohorts and I did the laughing. No way this guy was serious about running for president. He’d never really do it, and if he did, it would be a goof, another cheap publicity ploy, another bogus branding effort. America as a whole would laugh as we had, recognizing Trump for the shallow, shrill, shameless media-hungry punchline that he is, and should still be.
Which finally brings me to the source of my own unshakable belief of Trump’s illegitimacy: Not only is he not presidential timber, he’s not fully a man, or at the very least, a man any other man should hold up as an example of true masculine strength or conviction.
First there’s his frighteningly and maddeningly cavalier attitude toward our “norms” — the widely accepted, tradition-steeped ways we, as a people, keep the fabric of our nation from fraying beyond repair. Charles Blow, the African-American New York Times columnist who doesn’t hide his loathing of everything Trump, wrote this column for Martin Luther King Jr. Day, expertly describes this dimension of Trump’s illegitimacy as leader of the free (for now) world: “… there is another way of considering legitimacy, another test that his election doesn’t meet: That is when legitimacy is defined as ‘conforming to recognized principles or accepted rules and standards.’” He simply doesn’t care to acknowledge, nor will he pay respect to, the nearly 250 years’ worth of statesmanship and hard work and inspired leaps toward bettering the human condition, and living up to the bold goals of justice and fairness put forth by the Founders, that truly define American exceptionalism — including the undeniable progress in civil rights for all that Dr. King so powerfully predicted nearly 50 years ago. He belittles our nation just as he belittles anyone, at any station in life, who dares to call him out or question his “greatness.” That alone disqualifies him from deserving the description of “leader.”
But what it really boils down to for me is whether a so-called leader brings out the best in people and nourishes it, or brings out the worst and co-opts it — takes and further corrupts the basest of human instincts, like fear and prejudice, to serve his own lust for power. That is Trump in a nutshell, and it makes him not a leader at all but a weak and cynical opportunist. Like so many demagogues throughout history, he is nothing more than a petty thief, a predator upon man’s better nature, twisting an otherwise good guy’s fears of inadequacy or diminished standing in society into a lust for selfish redemption that, in reality, is nothing but destructive to the soul and to the common good. Empathy is one of a human being’s brightest strengths, and certainly one of every good man’s guiding emotions. It’s what makes us good fathers and husbands and friends — not the faux, hollow, tough-guy garbage Trump is selling. But Trump himself has no capacity for empathy, or real love, because in his diseased narcissist’s mind, empathy is the ultimate weakness and love is just a cheap slogan. Name one instance where Trump has shown any iota of empathy. You can’t because he can’t. Unfortunately, millions of Americans have chosen to suspend their own, vital capacity for empathy to put their very narrow needs at Trump’s feet, expecting him, of all people, to fix them, to lift them up, to lead them back to “the way it was,” to make America great again. He will do nothing of the kind, and America will be the greater for his absolute, inevitable failure in the long run.
Indeed, I’m certain that many of those millions looked to Trump out of hope, a yearning that I truly do understand and appreciate for its dark power: that strand of desperate hope for economic deliverance that, in my estimation, my fellow Americans have decided to cling to at a nearly unfathomable cost — their self-respect. To put their stock into a shell of a man who respects no one (himself included), and who refines his hatred and self-loathing into a rancid fuel that powers so American men (and women) to buy into his mindset and message, is to forfeit, at least temporarily, any claim to the brand of decency and mutual respect that keeps our wonderfully disparate and generous nation whole.
At ground level, on the quiet streets where these men continue to seethe with displaced anger and seek some kind of ugly revenge for their loss of real or imagined privilege, this is the true tragedy of the election: The loss of men’s souls in service not to the common good, but to some implacable selfish ideal, embodied in a half-man who thinks he deserves to be king but instead will become president.
And so we must find a way forward without a true man or any semblance of a leader in the White House. We must stay vigilant for the good in all of us. We must find hope in the face of the coming tumult. We must champion just causes in our own communities. We must reach beyond our bubbles and strive to recover trust in each other, to listen, to understand, to empathize instead of marginalize. We must replenish that reservoir of faith which has run dry for so many brothers and sisters.
Above all, we must fight the fear and hatred, every moment, every day, until the clouds break and the light shines through.