How Trump Turned This Political Cynic Back into an Idealist

If you’ve followed American politics for any length of time, you know that it’s gotten particularly rough in the previous decade or so. It’s not my nature, but I try really hard to be a political optimist. I try to think the best of elected officials, even when (maybe especially when) I don’t agree with them. Because, ultimately, we’re all on the same team, right?

That feeling has been growing since Donald Trump fell ass-backwards into the presidency. Perhaps I’m just particularly weak, but I can only take so much willful ignorance, outright lies, and complete disrespect for huge swaths of the country before I, too, just throw up my hands and admit that everything is garbage.

It’s not all garbage, though. It just feels like it. I’m sure you’ve by now read about the impromptu health care town hall that sprouted up on the steps of the Capitol building. My heart is not so hardened that I can’t see how hard people are working to keep the progress of the past eight years.

The scene of Congresspeople and citizens gathering at the Capitol telling their health care stories should be held in contrast to the Trump administration, such as it is.

For at least as long as I can remember, maybe even since the beginning of time, the stereotype of a politician is someone who is wholly self-serving, power-hungry, callous, generally incompetent. They will do or say anything to elevate their own brand. And sure, to make it far in politics one must be familiar with how power is gained and wielded. You don’t get to implement any of your ideas if you aren’t. Compromise is the name of the game, so while legislation that makes it out of Washington might not be everything we constituents want, we can more or less tell when our legislators are trying.

The idea that politicians should know something about politics has somehow become an anathema. So what do we do? We as a country elect a man with no political experience and no clue about policy to the highest office in the land. Maybe we did it out of racism or misogyny or a desire to stick it to the man. It doesn’t matter, because what we’re left with is what happens when we elect politicians who live up to our lowest expectations of them.

Say what you will about our representatives and senators in Congress, but most of them have some kind of guiding principle, some vision of the world they’d like to make a reality. This world view might be a complete dumpster fire that leads 22 million people to lose health insurance, but it’s there.

What do you get when you elect a politician with no overarching principles other than enhancing his brand? Donald J. Trump.

Let’s look at health care, for example. Presidential candidate Trump promised repeatedly that under a Trump administration everyone would have health care. Now he supports a bill that the Congressional Budget Office says will cause 22 million people to lose health insurance in the next decade and would cause those who do choose to buy health insurance to buy worse insurance for more money. It’s not that this was Trump’s secret plan all along, because he’s failed to follow through on almost every campaign promise he made. The problem is that he isn’t interested in governing. As Ezra Klein wrote at Vox, it’s been increasingly clear these past few months that Trump does not have a coherent worldview with which to hang policy.

No one thought Trump would spend much time in the policy weeds. But they did think he would have strong opinions on the overall direction of policy and he would demand those opinions be heeded. Congressional Republicans feared Trump blasting their bills and their budgets as a way to boost his own popularity and define his brand of populism. But Trump has proven remarkably fluid in his policy positions. While hints of the old Trump have surfaced occasionally, as when he called the House health care bill “mean” (after lobbying on its behalf), he has mostly been content to support whatever Ryan and McConnell think they can pass.

Congressional Republicans have learned their lesson: They don’t need to worry about Trump’s past statements because Trump doesn’t worry about his past statements.

But even if this is wrong, even if Trump does have some kind of grand vision he wants to impart on the world, he lacks the skills that are necessary to bring that about because he doesn’t actually understand any of it.

This anti-intellectualism has gone hand-in-hand with the general feeling that the Washington swamp needs to be drained. How hard could it be to make health care policy? Who needs expertise? Who could have known this would all be so complicated?

During the campaign Trump argued that he could do the job of president because he was a negotiator. He could get deals done. OK, fair enough. But this assumes that Trump would have the knowledge he needs to even sit at the big kids’ table, and he doesn’t. The GOP’s effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act and replace it with tax cuts is an especially sharp reminder of that. As Matthew Yglesias at Vox points out, Mitch McConnell has basically been putting the Senate health care bill together on his own with little input from the White House, and it’s because Trump is completely ignorant of health care policy.

There are a million valid, evidence-based criticisms of Trump and his administration. They are criticisms that any president exhibiting these characteristics would receive. But Trump’s skin is about as thin as it gets and he will “punch back 10 times harder” if he is criticized. He’s still holding campaign-style rallies. Trump – the man and the brand – must be loved.

I think about this, then I think about the display of pure democracy we saw on the steps of the Capitol building last week and, honestly, I’m buoyed.

Why? How in the world could I think anything but the worst?

Donald Trump is what we get when we let cynicism dominate our thinking. He is an amalgamation of every bad trait we assume our politicians have and none of the good ones. So he’s corrupt. What did you expect? He’s a politician. So he lies. So what? He’s a politician. Our expectations that our elected officials do not work for us has become self-fulfilling and has led to this ultimate and logical conclusion.

We can learn from this.

I’m not saying there isn’t a lot to feel bad about, because there is. We should be angry and sad and embarrassed and maybe a little afraid. But not cynical. I’m begging you, not cynical. Cynicism got us into this mess. It will not get us out. If we learn nothing more from the Trump administration, we should learn that knowledge, expertise, and political experience are crucial in a leader. This is something I always knew, but seeing the alternative in action really drives it home. I can choose to settle for politicians like Trump, a parody of a politician who is well and truly unfit for the job, or I can choose to demand better. I choose the latter. It will be more work. It will involve talking on the phone and writing letters and having difficult conversations, but I will demand better. We all must.

Photo Credit: Fibonacci Blue via Flickr

55 comments

heather g
heather g3 months ago

My sympathy to all Americans - those who are concerned about America and those who still support him - but know no better.

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Philippa P
Philippa Powers3 months ago

Thanks.

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Lisa M
Lisa M3 months ago

Noted.

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Lisa M
Lisa M3 months ago

Noted.

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Joan E
Joan E3 months ago

David Y, Trump actually told us he thinks he can get away with anything. Remember what he told Billy Bush about how he can always get his way because he is, supposedly, a star?

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Joan E
Joan E3 months ago

Donald Trump isn't "the people." He's lacking in empathy for anyone but himself, which makes him the ideal brazen thief, liar and billionaire con-man. Having no conscience, he has raped at least one child, failed to pay the people he has hired, defrauded the students of his "university," made deals with Russian criminals and abetted Putin in rigging the US election in his own favor, and become filthy rich through all his dirty deals with creepy associates. He talks like a down-to-earth person because he is doesn't have the mental capacity or vocabulary of a person who could actually solve the real problems of a complex world. Hey, but it's all okay, because he slept in a Holiday Inn Express last night, and that supposedly makes up for everything he lacks.

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Margie F
Margie F3 months ago

Okay

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Gary Stewart
Gary Stewart3 months ago

Trump should understand that he can't deny saying something when there is video of him saying it. Just look at what he has said about Putin to paraphrase, I have a good relationship with Putin, I have no relationship with Putin I've never met the guy! How many times must he contradict himself before people wise up and realize he only says what he thinks will get him the most points at the time. The man has no clue how to run the country and no desire to listen to advisors who might. I only hope and pray that he doesn't do too much damage before he's repealed and replaced!

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Debbi -
Debbi -3 months ago

Who knew? Hope that question is engraved on Trump's tombstone or at least will be included in all histories written about him. Who knew? One hell of a lot of people, just not trump.

Right now he is on the world stage, embarrassing and humiliating our country. He is either intent on ruining our country or so grossly stupid as to not understand the damage he is doing. We need to keep involved in our local government as well as the federal. Keep voicing our opinions and letting our reps, and senators know how we feel.

Keeping quiet and hoping it will all get better will be taken as assent, agreement with trump and the republicans.

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Jane R
Jane R3 months ago

Mindy Townsend is anything but a political cynic. She's a tried and true Democrat who continues to write her anti Trump grumblings. After the last eight years of torture Americans voted for a change. Stop moaning and complaining.

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