A few days ago I stood in a hall where the heat of today’s politics began to bend into hate. Up on the stage Donald Trump was explaining the reason, the singular reason, why he must be president: Only he could conquer a fear he defined as nearly universal, a fear that every American must be made aware of, a fear of violence that, to him, has assumed nearly epidemic proportion, a fear of the new, the other, the borders and the cloak of global humiliation and weakness he claims the United States now wears.
As I watched him and listened to the crowd roar its approval it occurred to me that Donald is a guy who quite literally lives in the clouds. His life, his business, his outlook and viewpoint is located at the top of a tall building on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan surrounded by stores that cater to the platinum rich among us.
He is a marketing genius. He is a man of deft instinct when it comes to recognizing, speaking to and playing with the earned anger of the many who have been pushed to the economic sidelines of a shareholder economy. Corporate profits hit the skids? Lay off a thousand workers and the market will react with a positive nod.
He is a Hall of Fame salesman, always pushing the perfect product, the only item that exists in his mind: himself. He views himself as the answer to everything that ails or angers us. Any ill at all, he tells us, will be dealt with and taken care of by mid-afternoon on Jan. 20, 2017 if only we will be smart enough to make him president.
As he spoke and spoke and spoke many in the crowd stood and applauded his every assurance that he, only he, recognized the challenges, the anxieties, the fear of the future that surely engulfs a country that he claims has changed around them, making many feel like strangers on the street where they live. His definitions were thin but his meaning and his implied intent were as loud as the voice that filled the hall, his voice: The United States has been knocked to its knees because of political weakness, lack of leadership and undeserved attention to a political and cultural elite.
Now, finally, a strongman stood in their corner.
Donald’s discourse contained a list of grievances you might hear at bar-side, late on a Friday night after glancing at what the government has swallowed from your pay stub. It also might be the same solid complaints you get from anyone who over the past 10 or 15 years has lost a job, a house — or a son or daughter to our longest war.
There are indeed the millions across the land who feel they have no voice, no clout, no margin for error, too little hope and too little optimism. Here, thick in the summer of 2016, anxiety is a huge portion of the gross national product. And the universal question isn’t, ‘Who will win?’; it’s ‘What’s next?’
More black men shot on a sidewalk? More police assassinated? More shopping malls, night clubs, offices or city sidewalks awash with the blood of victims of intended violence or planned terrorism?
And this anxiety is high on the list within Donald’s business plan to purchase the power of the presidency. He is a businessman whose principal and only business is his own brand, Trump. It’s a brand Made in America, the only country in the world where he could achieve such success as winning the nomination of one of our two major political parties for President of the United States.
But the other night as he provided a verbal portrait of the country he sees, he was like a guy painting by numbers while blindfolded. Sure, he gets the anger and the anxiety but he misses the every-day resilience found everywhere you look in the land.
America is not crippled by fear. And the majority of Americans might indeed feel that the economy, politics, Congress are all taking us down the wrong track but do they really think we are about to go off the rails and over the cliff, soon to surrender to ISIS, to failure or to a panic that will have us standing in the street with pitchforks and shotguns? It appears we either do not know or fail to appreciate our very own history.
For months now there have been all sorts of glib comparisons attempting to match the bizarreness of 2016 to the chaos of 1968. But that’s like comparing a tavern brawl to Ali versus Frazier in Manila.
In 1968 both political parties held their conventions in August; the Republicans in Miami and the Democrats in Chicago where the city was turned into a rolling riot.
In addition to the scars cut into the country’s soul by the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy as well as the bonfires in the night as several major cities were burned and looted, there was a war raging in Vietnam. That August, 1,080 Americans were killed in that war. 813 died in July. 1,146 had been killed in June and the yearly total of those who never got to come home to vote, to marry, to hold their child’s hand, to work, worry or simply live was 16,592.
We endured. We didn’t learn what we ought to have but we endured.
So now, all these decades later we have Donald J. Trump telling us to be afraid, to be very afraid. He tells us the best way, the only way, to defeat the fear he defines and that defines his campaign for the White House is to follow him.
Some will. Some won’t.
The math will be on the books in November and then we will find out if America buys what he is selling and the country he sees. Or we’ll discover the America where we all live and Donald J. Trump will return to his penthouse in the clouds, a bigger brand than ever.