(Part of the reason I enjoy typography & programming is that they’re largely nonpartisan. This piece is a rare foray into political comment. But the events of the week deserve more than silence.)
Americans who watched the fall of the Berlin Wall on TV were told that it was a symbol of US victory in the Cold War. A few years later, I asked my German friend Erik, who had worked near the wall, what that day had really been like. “Amazing,” he said. “Our office was suddenly full of East Germans. And they all wanted to use the bathroom.”
Over the last 18 months, everyone on the planet has heard that a Trump victory would be a peerless global calamity. Don’t get me wrong—it still might be! But I expect that the reality of President Trump will be more prosaic. And dull.
I supported Sanders during the primary. After he lost, I supported Clinton. But Clinton’s candidacy always seemed more fragile than reported. So months ago, I made my peace with the possibility of a Trump presidency.
On election night, much was made of the crumbling of the “blue wall”—the traditionally Democratic states of Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin. But the more interesting story, yet to be told: Who are the voters that stormed through that wall? And what do they want? (Other than the bathroom.)
The clues were there for whoever cared to look. In January 2016, Robert Reich wrote that he was meeting voters in midwest states who were on the fence between Sanders and—Clinton? No: Sanders and Trump. Why? Because both Sanders and Trump had figured out that these voters had no home within our current political parties.
That Trump figured this out—and rode it to a presidential win—is a huge sign that he’s been underestimated. I concede that reluctantly. But as a reasonable person, I must. The clues were there, too. This morning, I was speaking with my neighbor in LA, a business journalist who covered Trump for 10 years. She found him to be both a fact-fudging buffoon and a man of enormous intelligence. If he emphasized the buffoonery during the campaign, well—it wouldn’t be the first time that a candidate played to his audience.
That’s not to excuse his many, many instances of atrocious behavior as mere buffoonery. Most of all, the naked appeals to race, a theme that unfortunately has an acknowledged history in Republican campaigns.
In her concession speech, Clinton asked voters to keep an “open mind” about President Trump. When I open my mind as far as it can go, mostly I foresee that Trump will be bored to tears by his new job.
Leaving aside his checkered record as a businessman, the idea of an effective CEO also being an effective president has always been suspect. A CEO occupies a quasi-imperial position in a corporation. The US president, by contrast, operates under many more constitutional & institutional constraints.
Moreover, the presidency is not designed to be a cushy job. As Obama noted early in his first term, “by the time something reaches my desk, that means it’s really hard.” For everything else—the US government already has people for that. And most will remain.
For Trump skeptics, those facts are heartening. (Maybe also the fact that his many civil lawsuits won’t magically disappear on inauguration day, thanks to a US Supreme Court decision originally pertaining to Bill Clinton.) But they won’t prevent President Trump from wreaking havoc, should he choose to. Again, global calamity—still on the table!
But when I recall the many promises of candidate Trump—the wall with Mexico, the ban on Muslim immigration, the war with ISIS—I have to admit there’s no evidence that he was serious about following through on them, any more than the zillion other ideas he test-marketed and abandoned during his campaign.
In the end, perhaps no one is keeping a more “open mind” about the Trump presidency than Donald Trump himself.
Trump was indeed bored by the job, as borne out by the many accounts of extensive TV-watching and “executive time”. Nevertheless he made more progress on his campaign promises than many predicted, demolishing the quaint “take him seriously, not literally” meme that many—me included, I suppose—looked to for comfort. By the end, however, it was apparent that Trump’s true superpower was his boundless stamina for creating provocations to occupy the thoughts and conversations of everyone, everywhere.