I really do not like President Trump. I don’t know him personally, but I don’t like what I see on TV and on Twitter. I don’t like what I read, and I don’t like what I hear. He doesn’t seem like somebody I would want to spend much or any time with, and I’m sure if he worked in my department I would want little or nothing to do with him. I find him very self-centered, with a narcissistic personality disorder vibe. I don’t like his speech pattern, and an article from Vox in October 2016 sheds some light on how unusual it is. I don’t like many of his policies, but I am even more bothered by his unpredictability and the lack of clarity that he thrives on related to what his policies actually are. He generates a real visceral disgust in me, and I am looking forward to the day his presidency is over, whenever that may be. People clearly felt a similar disgust over Obama. It makes me think about the differences.
I think the easiest for me to understand is the reaction to the speech pattern. I loved listening to Obama speak. I still do. For others, including a member of my family (who will remain anonymous, but who spoke to me about this), he sounds phony and calculated. She couldn’t stand listening to him speak. It was like nails on a chalkboard for her. I’m not sure, but I think I know where this comes from, maybe. I live in academia. I’m a university professor. I’m surrounded by some incredibly smart people and I listen to these people talk almost every single day that I’m at work. That’s not to say that they are all smart, but the point is this: I’m used to listening to very smart people talk. But, I remember years ago, when I was a graduate student, I was a TA for a course that had an amazingly gifted professor. This man didn’t just speak in complete sentences, he spoke in complete paragraphs. At the time, I didn’t know many people like him, and although I had great, and very smart professors and teachers throughout the years, this one sounded different. It was as if he had written the lecture and memorized it. Zero stumbling over any words. Every line delivered perfectly. But, the more I got to know this man, and work with him, the more I realized that he hadn’t prepared his speeches. He talked the same way in a totally unprepared and spontaneous conversation. He brain and mouth were just connected in a way that I wasn’t used to hearing. After several decades in academia (combining the years as a student, postdoc, and professor), I have been fortunate enough to meet several other people who are wired like that amazingly gifted professor from graduate school. It’s not phony or calculated, it’s just eloquence. I’ve come to believe, and I could be wrong about this, that most Americans aren’t used to unprepared eloquence. When we hear it, we assume it’s fake because we can’t imagine anybody being that eloquent without memorizing the lines. But it’s now very clear to me that there are lots of people who speak like that, and Barack Obama just sounds like them to me.
Then there’s Donald Trump. The article linked to above talks about his speech pattern, but it’s the opposite of eloquent. He’s far more “plain-spoken” and he doesn’t sound rehearsed or calculated at all. He’s barely coherent. This is what I think most Americans are used to hearing. At work, at the bar, at the playground, at the grocery store. So Trump sounds real to them, and that’s a stark contrast to Obama sounding phoney. But in the end, my dislike of Trump is because he doesn’t sound like the best and brightest of us all, and their dislike of Obama is because he does. That seems unfortunate to me.
But what were the other things that people said they hated about Obama? Carlos Lozada put together a summary of right-wing anti-Obama books that’s helpful as a wrap-up of the things that were said about Obama. The timeline that Lozada points out was pretty creative: first Obama was inexperienced, naive, and in over his head. But as he stayed in office, and accomplished things, it changed to credit him for being skilled, but attacked him for trying to destroy the country from the inside. He was painted as anti-American, and his relationship with Reverend Wright was damming evidence of this. It’s not hard for me to see how people could be offended by Wright’s assertion that the September 11, 2001 attack was “America’s chickens…coming home to roost.” Of course, much of this stems from the all-or-nothing thinking that’s been a common theme at Hitting Bregman (see here for the first of several posts that touch on this). I can’t be anything we did, because we are perfect. That aside, I can understand why people didn’t like Wright’s statements, and I can understand this presenting a problem for Obama. But I wonder how many of the people who hate Obama for this heard or read his March 18, 2008 speech in Philadelphia.
I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.
…Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way.
But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.
The whole speech is wonderful, and something that I wish every American would have heard, or will go read. So even if it bothered me that Obama was part of a Church with a man who said those things in those clips on YouTube, that speech, and that explanation, won me over. But my guess is that there was nothing that he could have said that would have won some over, because the problem wasn’t Wright, it was Obama, and Wright was an excuse to dislike Obama.
Then we come to Trump and his associations and his past. There are many negative stories to pick from, but one that sticks with me is Trump’s involvement in the Central Park Five case. Black and Latino kids were wrongfully accused of raping a woman in Central Park. Trump was a loud voice against the accused, and spent $85,000 of his own money on full-page ads in NYC newspapers calling for the return of the death penalty for these kids. We now know that these kids were not the rapists. We now know from DNA evidence that the rape was committed by Matias Reyes, a serial rapist, and not those who Trump wanted executed. Trump has been asked about this many times, and has never given any hint that he was wrong. Has never given any hint of remorse over calling for the death of five people to punish them for a crime they did not commit. And I’m left wondering if Trump has explained himself, and has apologized, and has shown remorse, but I’m not aware of it. Much like I’m sure many aren’t aware of Obama’s speech when he talks about his relationship with Wright, and the many times that he unequivocally rejected the statements made by him. But, it took those statements for me to not be upset at all about Obama’s past. What would it take to get Trump supporters upset about his? There seems to be a pretty stark contrast there.
I could write so much more on this, but in the end, it just feels so different. John Avolon’s book, “Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America” came out in 2010, and did a lot to dismiss many of the unfair criticisms made against Presidents Bush and Obama. As far as I know, he coined the term “Bush Derangement Syndrome,” and the widespread hyperbole about the supposed evil intent of President Bush. He pointed out some of the same hyperbole against Obama. It makes me wonder how many of my anti-Trump views fall into that syndrome. The right has capitalized on the term, for sure, and many on right-wing news talk about Trump derangement syndrome frequently (I heard one, not to long ago, claim to have invented the term). But I don’t know how deranged the dislike of Trump is. He is objectively a very different president. He is the only president in my lifetime investigated for allegations of collusion with a foreign government to affect the outcome of an election. He is not the only president in my lifetime accused of cheating on his wife, but he’s the only one accused of funneling his mistress hush money to stay quiet about it (at least that I know of). He’s the only one who campaigned on a promise to arrest and imprison his political opponent. He is the only president in my lifetime to appoint cabinet members who were explicitly against the agencies they are now responsible for running. Rick Perry, for instance, as part of his campaign, said he wanted to abolish the Department of Energy. Of course, he famously forgot the name of the Department of Energy during the debate, but this was genuinely part of his platform…and Trump nominated him to run the Department of Energy. I don’t think that’s ever happened before.
And then we get to the hateful rhetoric. I have heard people talk about Obama being anti-white, anti-Christian, about him taking sides against police in altercations with black teenagers, and about him being generally against the military. I find these very strange critiques, and I, again, wonder if it stems from an all-or-nothing view of the world. People are either perfect, or awful. And here, I’m not talking about Obama being perfect or awful, I’m talking about whites, Christians, police officers, and the military. To utter a single word of criticism about race relations that in any way places responsibility on white people is a violation of some unwritten rule that we don’t say anything bad, even if true, about our “team.” A critique of the way a single police officer handled an interaction becomes an attack on all police officers. I think that’s unfair. But, at the same time, I need to be careful that I’m giving Trump the same leeway. Just yesterday, for instance, Trump was talking about immigrants and referred to them as “animals.” This kind of dehumanization isn’t new, and I was really upset by it. It’s the same kind of dehumanization that has justified virtually every single inhumane act by a government, and that rationalizes genocides. It would be way over the top for me to think that Trump is advocating genocide, and, in fact, I think he’s just not good with words, but it upset me nonetheless. That said, I have to be very careful to be fair. On CNN this morning, Rick Santorum tried to defend Trump by saying that he was speaking specifically about MS-13 gang members. Of course, he didn’t say that, and his immigration policies aren’t narrowly focused on gang members (or even on people who have committed no crime since crossing the border illegally), and even then I do not like the dehumanization of human beings…human beings who are really horrible to other human beings, but still human beings. But, I need to be fair. And, in fairness, Trump was right: immigrants are animals. As are we all, but I don’t think Trump was talking about taxonomy.