U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 2, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Trump is not a Phenomenon

By George Cassidy Payne

There is nothing unique about Donald Trump. Yet both Democrats and Republicans view him that way all of the time. The Democrats talk about him as if he is a newfangled incarnation of wickedness and incompetence. Republicans talk about him as if he is, love him or hate him personally, a political virtuoso of world-shattering stature. Take for example the words of Henry Kissinger, who has said, “Donald Trump is a phenomenon that foreign countries have not seen. So it is a shocking experience to them that he came into office.”

But both parties are wrong about him. Trump may be a character, but he is not a singular character. Trump may have a big personality, but it is not so extraordinary that it has not been weathered before. Trump may be fantastically wealthy, but that is not a novelty in the White House either. By the comparative standards of the 18th century, how rich were George Washington and Thomas Jefferson?

And although Trump may fancy himself a once in a life time defender of “traditional American values,” he is hardly the first president to use the coded rhetoric of nationalism to incite the passions of nervous whites. Andrew Jackson did it. James Polk did it. Calvin Coolidge did it. Woodrow Wilson did it. So did Nixon and Reagan.

Trump is not especially stupid or evil, as most Democrats contend. The truth is he is just another politician who has chosen to take sides in the timeless pursuit of individual liberty and human rights all over the world.

Here is what I mean by that. There were some European colonists who wanted to learn about the native population. And there were some who even protested the xenophobic and militaristic stance their families maintained towards them. But there were others who feared Native Americans and did everything in their power to keep them at bay. Massacres and other atrocities on both sides resulted.

There were even some immigrants who believed religious fanaticism curtailed liberty. For them, that is why they risked everything to cross the mighty Atlantic to settle in a new world; while others believed that God ordained them to take foreign lands by force in order to make them inhabitable for Christians.

During World War II, there were some citizens who believed interning Japanese- Americans was irrational, inhumane, and ironic. To them, American concentration camps made liberating Nazi prisons absurd. But on the other side were those who believed Japanese- Americans could not be fully trusted. And when the bomb was dropped, many believed that our leaders had committed a terrible sin against the human race, while others believed it was the only way to end a horrific war.

Moreover, throughout the Civil Rights Movement, some Americans were willing to stand on the side of blacks, Latinos, and other freedom seeking minorities; while others were all too willing to enforce the ruthless policies of segregation.

Likewise, whereas some citizens were willing to speak out against the horrendous tragedies in Vietnam, others were willing to stand by every word Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon uttered in front of a camera. Whereas some protested the war on the streets, others passed out recruiting brochures for the Army. Some knew that killing innocent children and infants in Vietnam constituted a war crime, while others saw these actions as a necessary way to combat the menace of Communism.

No, Trump is not special. Trump is not unique. Trump is not an anomaly. On the contrary, Trump is just another politician who has chosen his sides. Far too often it appears that he has chosen to embrace fear rather than curiosity; zealotry rather than prudence; violence rather than nonviolence; lies and deceit rather than truth and transparency; and nationalism rather than patriotism. Nothing new there.

Let me take this point one step further. It should be painfully obvious that Trump is not special in any historical sense of the term. But people forget. In the fog of his own blustering self-aggrandizement, it gets lost that he is completely rooted in the traditions of this country, as well as the basic laws of biology and anthropology. He was born on June 14, 1946 in Queens, New York. His parents were Fred Trump and Maryanne Macleod. He graduated with a BS in Economics from the Wharton School at Penn. He has been married 3 times. He has a net worth of 3.1 billion. He was a Democrat up until 1987, after which he became a Republican from 1987 to 1999, then a Democrat again from 2001-2009, and finally a registered Republican once more in 2009.

Trump was born in this country; he was educated in this country; he was given a set of values from his parents and teachers in this country; and he was shaped politically by the ideas of this country. Some of those ideas gave birth to colonization, slavery, segregation, unconstitutional wars, Watergate, and even genocide.

To treat Trump as being outside of this nation’s history is to turn him into a useful but cheaply devised scapegoat. In effect, by treating him as a phenomenon, we permit ourselves to shirk personal responsibility. If he is such a rare and unprecedented leader, then we no longer feel obligated to see his actions as existing within our sphere of control.

As a result, Democrats forfeit their power when they think of Trump as being so over the top that he can’t even be comprehended. They tell themselves that he just needs to be survived, as if he is not a by-product of an incredibly pervasive disease in our society one that they have helped to promulgate.  Republicans, on the other hand, do themselves a disservice by making Trump into a once in a lifetime political figure who has come to rescue them from the relentless tide of liberalism and globalization. Not only do they lose out by embracing an autocrat in the making-thus betraying every value of Conservatism-they hamper their ability to engage with these massive social forces in ways that adequately prepare their rank and file to succeed in the 21st century.

But both parties are guilty of making Trump into something that he is not. In doing so, they both relinquish their own self-sufficiency, opting instead for the unholy trinity of scapegoating, blind obedience, and hero worship.


George Cassidy Payne is an independent writer, social justice activist, domestic violence counselor, and adjunct professor of philosophy at Finger Lakes Community College (SUNY). 

About the author

George Cassidy Payne

George Cassidy Payne is a freelance writer and domestic violence counselor. He has theology degrees from Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School in Rochester, NY and the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, GA.

1 Comment

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  • Any snowflake that lives in the Fingerlakes has a lot of unknown reasons to criticize the President! Luckily they have a Dunkin Doughnuts up there. Get out of the sticks and see what is really going on! God bless.

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