Bulls on parade

(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.

update, 1959 days later

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.