American’s have decided to vote for themselves this year. No really, they have. In the swelling support of Donald Trump, voters have shown that they would rather elect someone who shares their flaws than a leader of the traditional presidential mold.
Nearly every candidate not named Trump has spent years carefully crafting their image. Honest, hardworking, caring, decisive. Even Ted Cruz, who tries mightily to be viewed as an outsider, has a finely tuned political brand years in the making.
Most people are far from perfect and have flaws that range from occasionally lying to moments of racism to selfishness and arrogance. Trump is unabashedly all of these things and in an age where polished politicians have been cast as the enemy, this mirror recognition is sufficient.
Trump may be a liar, but so are most people. A 2002 study by the University of Massachusetts found the 60% of people tell at least one lie in every conversation. Some of Trump’s supporters undoubtedly see this personal quality reflected in his candidacy as a sign of normalcy. Trump claims to not have heard Jake Tapper say “KKK,” and well, who hasn’t forgotten a project at work and told their boss they didn’t get the email. It may not be right, but the common man does this every day.
A polished politician, on the other hand, doesn’t have this luxury. They are elected to be shining pillars of personal conduct and ethical purity. Ted Cruz recently saw his poll numbers take a dive after days of harsh media coverage surrounding ethically questionable statements and tactics by his campaign. The attacks were so effective that he fired his communications director to try and repair his image. Meanwhile, non-politician Trump won a majority of Super Tuesday primaries just days after claiming a bad earpiece prevented him from condemning the Ku Klux Klan.
More likely than not that was a bold faced lie. As HBO’s John Oliver pointed out earlier this week, Trump’s difficulty in condemning David Duke hinted that he was either racist or pretending to be, neither of which is decent. If it was the latter – and I suspect it was – it was an incredibly effective dog-whistle to many within his core constituency.
Across the south there are still those who wouldn’t identify themselves as racist, but will still sing David Allen Coe songs with plenty of gusto. To them, Trump’s hesitation in rebuking the David Duke endorsement was a nod that he is like them, someone who is forced to mask their internal compass because it doesn’t mesh with the decency norms of today’s society.
Then there is the matter of Trump’s wealth. Candidates in every past election cycle have been ridiculed for being out of touch with the common man due to their vast fortunes. The difference is that each of them were trying to run away from their upscale lifestyles while Trump embraces it as emblematic of the success others could see if he is elected.
For example, in 2008 John McCain tried to shrug off his inability to remember how many houses he owned. Meanwhile, Trump holds press conference in front of a plane with his name emblazoned on the fuselage.
This works because what American doesn’t dream of jet-setting around the world in their own jet. It’s the embodiment of the American dream that we yearn for from a young age. To a blue collar worker, seeing someone of Trump’s wealth preach a doctrine of unapologetic winning is exciting and inspiring.
Trump doesn’t need voters to ascribe to all of his opinions. Rather, he just relies on people who can say “Hey, I’ve been there too. I can relate.” Have most Americans not at one point thought about the satisfaction gained from torturing those who planned 9/11? You bet they have. But actually doing so would be in stark contrast to how America operates.
George Washington once said that we should treat our prisoners in a way that proves the moral superiority of the American cause. That wisdom is precisely why we elect leaders who have the temperament to steer us away from the temptation of revenge.
Nearly all of Trump’s support can be seen through this lens. There is a substantial bloc of Americans want to “take America back” and to them a wall along the southern border sounds glorious. A true leader knows how damaging that is.
Trump isn’t campaigning on the platform of being a leader. He is campaigning as a megaphone for every dark thought buried deep in America’s conscience.
Career politicians though, spend so much time trying to appear perfect that any chinks in their armor revealing those human flaws can prove fatal. Someone like Trump has proved immune to these traditional poison pills because he has never pretended to be a polished politician.
Make no mistake about it, politician or common man, Donald Trump is no statesman. He is, however, a perfect patchwork of frustrated American personalities and that may just be all he needs.