By Barbara Falconer Newhall
Donald Trump played me. He got exactly what he wanted from me this election season. And what he wanted, deep down, was not my vote. What he wanted was my attention. And he got it in the form of my glued-to-the-TV fascination with this 2016 version of the Creature from the Black Lagoon — Donald being the creature and the lagoon being the current state of the American psyche.
He got it. He got my attention and the attention of everyone else on the planet with access to a smart phone.
A Vote for Trump?
I wouldn’t dream of voting for Donald Trump. Yet he has absconded with something nearly as valuable — my time and mental energy. For months now, Trump has inhabited the front of my brain. His antics have been plastered to the inside of my forehead.
I wake up in the morning wondering, “What the heck is The Donald going to do today?” My thoughts turn to Trump, not fondly, of course, but with a hefty frisson of anticipation. How will the Republican nominee for president raise my hackles today? How will he once again make me feel oh-so-superior to this venal lummox with the fake suntan whose name glitters on edifices from Las Vegas to Pennsylvania Avenue?
In June Trump claimed the U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel had “an absolute conflict” in presiding over Trump University litigation because Curiel was “of Mexican heritage.” In July Trump insulted the family of Humayun Khan, an American Muslim soldier who died in combat in Iraq. In September he was overheard boasting on an “Access Hollywood” videotape of grabbing women’s crotches and popping lifesavers before imposing pouty-mouthed kisses on unsuspecting subordinates.
He’s Upped His Game
This past week, however, my fascination has turned to horror. Why? Because Trump has upped the ante. He’s playing an even more dangerous game. It’s one that seeks to undercut Americans’ (and the world’s?) faith in American representative government by suggesting that American elections are rigged.
So, right now I’m doing a little double take. What’s happening? What is it about Trump — but also about me — that causes me to lavish so much of my attention, my chi, on a flimflam man? A showman who has turned an American presidential election season into a bawdy, reckless, long-running, grade-B narrative about — himself?
Trump played me. How did he pull that off? Clearly, something in me has gotten hooked in by Donald Trump. A button has been pushed.
What’s the button?
I don’t think Donald Trump is very smart. His vocabulary is minimal, his attention span even more so. As the first presidential debate with Hilary Clinton approached, Trump’s team couldn’t get him to focus long enough to prep for the debate, with ludicrous results for the candidate.
How Trump Played Me
But I do think he’s shrewd. He knows how to get and hold people’s attention. He holds the attention of his supporters by playing on their outrage at being left out of the national conversation. He holds the attention of knee-jerk moderates like me by locating and tweaking my — usually quiescent — capacity for outrage.
What outrages me?
People who don’t play fair, that’s who. People who violate other people’s trust. And this election cycle, I thinking of one person in particular. It’s a man whose monumental disregard for fair play — for respectful give-and-take between competing interests and points of view — runs the risk of dismantling a fragile institution. And that would be the United States of America, which has survived for 240 years thanks largely to simple, human trust.
On a Lincoln penny you can read the words, “In God We Trust.”
But, imo, trust in God is not what makes American successful. What makes America great is our 240-year-old ability to trust our fellow citizens, fallible as we and they clearly are.
Over the years, Trump has refused to pay countless suppliers and business associates. He has reneged on deals, violating his colleagues’ trust. He admits to sexually assaulting numerous women and getting away with it — betraying women’s trust.
In other words, Donald Trump does not believe in that most basic premise of civilization — trust. And, somewhere in that not-very-bright brain of his, he has glommed onto something essential: He has figured out how to mess with the fragile web of mutual trust that holds societies together. What’s more, he’s figured out that messing with that trust gets him the one thing he wants more than anything (including the presidency?) and that is — attention. Lots of it.
Are We a Nation of Losers?
Trump’s assaults on trust scare the heck out of people like me, people whose world view is predicated on mutual respect. We are people, I’ve noticed, whom Trump often writes off as losers.
So — is that the button that Trump has been pushing all these months? Has he been pushing my “Am I a Loser?” button? Am I a loser?
And if Trump is the Creature from the Black Lagoon, what and where is that lagoon?
I think it’s a place where people have decided not to trust each other.
Here’s a post I wrote when I still thought Trump was laughable: “Jesus Was a Loser. Does That Make Trump a Winner?” Here’s one from when I thought everybody could see how inept Trump was: “Donald Trump Outs the Elephant in the Pro-Life Room.” And, finally, here’s my Donald-Trump-Meets-Pope-Francis post — which gives me hope that humanity has not totally lost its mind.