Sunday, August 2, 2015

Chump: A political embarrassment for the United States

"Shamelessness is the nadir of the soul."  

— C.S. Lewis

The Election of 2016 is more than a year away and that hasn't stopped the race from enticing all sorts of candidates from announcing their intention to run.  By far, the most intriguing individual to announce their candidacy is billionaire Donald Trump.

As a businessman, Trump has a remarkably successful resume.  Through mostly real estate development and stock holdings, his net worth is estimated to be approximately $3 billion.  However, Trump has never held a political office at any level.  And success in one field doesn't necessarily mean that success will follow in government.  It's often difficult to even create a successful campaign without any political experience.  Ross Perot attempted the transition from businessman to president with no government background and in the Election of 1992, he gathered 19% of the popular vote but carried no states in the Electoral College. 

Donald Trump is poised to become a different sort of candidate.  In the key primary states of Iowa and New Hampshire, he's polling well ahead of almost all other Republican candidates.  And his popularity only seems to be increasing despite generating controversy with many of his comments about ethnic groups, foreign nations, and specific individuals.

A nationwide poll released today (conducted by Quinnipiac University) has Trump leading all candidates with 20% support.  The only other two candidates who are close are current Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and former Florida Governor Jeb Bush (at 13% and 10% respectively).  No other of the two dozen candidates reached the 10% barrier.   

So why is Trump this popular?  What is it that Trump is doing that resonates with Americans?  NBA owner Mark Cuban summed up his thoughts on that question, stating,
I don't care what his actual positions are. I don't care if he says the wrong thing. He says what's on his mind. He gives honest answers rather than prepared answers. This is more important than anything any candidate has done in years.
I believe that Cuban is correct in his assertion, but it reveals the problems with Cuban, Trump and the general public.

I don't care what his actual positions are.  Cuban's statements are indicative of a larger problem in the United States.  Despite having greater access to information than ever before, Americans still choose to ignore the positions and policies candidates have endorsed or enacted in the past and what they intend to to do in the future.  

Americans have so many offices to consider in any given election year that it's very difficult to genuinely research the candidates and make an informed decision.  The GOP has over 20 candidates seeking their nomination for president.  That decision alone for a voter requires looking up the information, watching debates, and carefully weighing those options.  That alone is a difficult task.

All 435 House seats are up for election every two years and one-third of the Senate will face re-election.  Add to this all the state and local offices that must be decided and voters feel overwhelmed.  

Consider also that voters are human beings with a personal lives and jobs.  When we come home from work, we want to rest.  We want to spend time with family.  We want to watch a movie, read a book, or go for a run.  The last thing most Americans want to do is research political candidates.  

Our attention is sharply divided and it is much easier to cast a vote based on party affiliation, loyalties because of ties to a labor union or other interest group, or because of the quick sound bites and advertisements on television and radio.  

Living in a democracy affords a citizen with a great number of rights and privileges, but there comes a price attached.  Because the power ultimately resides in the citizens, it is incumbent upon them to remain diligent in selecting the best possible candidates for public service.  When we stop caring about policy positions, we reduce elections to nothing more than a popularity contest.

I don't care if he says the wrong thing. He says what's on his mind.  I can't pretend to understand every motive Cuban had or currently has, but he gives the implication that saying what's on your mind is a good thing.  Throw political correctness out the door.  However, consider what Donald Trump has been saying lately.  They reveal intention and character.

Consider what Trump has stated about America's neighbor to the south:
When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.
Regardless of one's policy position on immigration reform, Trump was wrong to broadly characterize Mexicans as a group of criminals who are bent on spreading their evil ways to the United States.  But I suppose we should be grateful that Trump would be willing to go out on a limb and give the presumption that some good people actually exist in Mexico.  Since when do Americans find it acceptable to label an entire group based upon a stereotype?  

Trump has also made waves by questioning the military service of Senator John McCain (R-AZ). Trump disputed the fact that McCain was a war hero, claiming, "He's not a war hero. ... He's a war hero because he was captured.  I like people who weren't captured."  These statements and others pertaining to McCain's service record in the Vietnam War seem to be ignorant of the fact that McCain endured more than 5 years in a prisoner of war camp, where he passed up opportunities to leave in prisoner exchanges because of military tradition that the prisoners held longest should be released first.  

The antics didn't stop there.  Trump didn't back away from his comments and proceeded to criticize Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) as an insignificant candidate in the presidential race, and then gave out Graham's personal cell phone number.  Why?  The only reason to do this would be to unleash a legion of trolls who called and texted Graham, to the point where the senator had to change phone numbers.  Trump also took a moment to denigrate Graham as a 'nobody.' 

During the announcement of his presidential bid, Trump tossed out more than a deli's worth of red meat to his supporters and the media.  One-liners, zingers, and insults were aplenty but like so many presidential candidates, his words lacked any substance.  Trump offered no real solutions to problems, no true agenda.  His words were insults.  Here's an example, when Trump opined about foreign diplomacy and the Iran Nuclear Talks:
I know the smartest negotiators in the world. I know the good ones, I know the bad ones, I know the overrated ones. You got a lot of them that are overrated. They’re not good, they think they are, they get good stories, cause the newspapers get buffaloed. But they’re not good. But I know the best negotiators in the world. I’d put them one for each country. Believe me, folks, we’d do very well.
Trump tells the American public that the United States do not negotiate well because he says we don't.  For someone running as a Washington outsider, he has already mastered the two most dangerous words any politician can utter:  believe me.  

The words a presidential candidate speaks and the way in which they say them do matter.  Trump's statements go beyond crossing the threshold of political correctness.  I think most people admire a person who speaks their mind, but Trump's comments serve only to inflame and intimidate.  The ability to speak one's mind isn't such a powerful trait in a person if their words are toxic. 

Moreover, why is it so appealing that a candidate speaks their mind so freely?  I know plenty of people who speak their mind and should never occupy an elected office.

He gives honest answers rather than prepared answers.  Honest answers are fairly refreshing in politics, but that doesn't make a person electable nor does it mean that a prepared answer is necessarily a bad thing.  

Honest answers really don't hold much meaning if the answer given is a terrible concept or completely unworkable.  Trump noted that he would have a wall built on the border with Mexico, and that the Mexicans would be the nation that would build it.  I'm certain this idea appeals to the GOP base, but could he provide any details about how this will be accomplished?  

Again, Trump may not have held an elected position, but he seems to be adept at adopting political tactics to get elected.  Set a lofty, vague goal and offer no details about how to achieve that goal.  The Trump Campaign's current slogan:  "Make America Great Again!"  The slogan itself attempts to plant the idea that America isn't great.

What exactly are Trump's positions on the issues that concern Americans?  Apparently, he has yet to articulate those because his campaign website, donaldjtrump.com, has yet to list his stances on issues or policy ideas about how to improve the nation.  Incidentally, Trump made it a point to announce how he was independently wealthy and did not need to rely on political contributions.  Yet, his campaign site did have a link encouraging visitors to donate to the campaign.  

When did society decide that being prepared is such a bad thing?  Winning an election to any political office bears a responsibility to the constituents.  A president must consider what policies will fix the problems of a society with more than 300 million citizens.  I expect a president to have ideas and solutions to ease those problems, if not outright eliminate them.  No, this should not be construed to mean that we should expect the president or any official to solve all the nation's problems.  But whomever should hold that position ought to be well-prepared for the task.  

Trump does tout his business acumen as a reason why he would be beneficial to the United States.  Yet, Americans should be cautious in taking this quality too far in the assessment of Trump.  There's a good reason that a businessman has never successfully transitioned to the presidency.  The two jobs aren't nearly as similar as people would like to believe.  Also, the economy is only one part of the presidency, and it isn't even constitutionally mandated to the chief executive as part of the job.  

Americans like a sense of bravado.  People seem to admire Trump because he's somewhat of a cowboy who shoots from the hip.  The problem with that line of thinking is that it fails to hit the target.  In any other profession, would we not desire to have a well-prepared individual?  If I'm undergoing heart surgery, I hope to have a surgeon who knows the procedure and has planned for every conceivable contingency. 

I would imagine that Trump has the best possible intentions in attempting to become the president.  Put those intentions aside, though, and weigh the individual.  Trump has no plan.  He's articulated no positions or concepts about how to improve the nation.  The message from his campaign is that the Obama administration has failed and all the other Republican candidates are bums.  He tells the public everything they want to hear.

The nature of the presidency (and most political positions) is that those in power must be accountable to the entire population.  After the campaign is over and a new president is elected, the task of governing begins.  The idealism of the campaign transitions to pragmatism.  

Trump should ask President Obama how easy it is to deliver on campaign promises.  The task of being president is not the same as a business executive.  The president's power is tempered by the Constitution and the other branches of government.  How would Donald Trump respond when he can't bully Congress or the Supreme Court?  He has already demonstrated his contempt for Democrats and has wrangled the GOP establishment to the point where he, if president, would have alienated both parties.  

Trump isn't good for politics, and it's only a matter of time before Americans see that.  The things you say and the way that you conduct yourself matter in life.  The level of expectation for these things matter more when you're seeking the highest office in the land.  Trump has no plans, no tact, and no shame.   

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