Trump, Ego, and the Presidency
It was only a week or so ago that I made (with the help of the estimable Ben Ziegler) a short video entitled What Do We Do About The Donald? (also here). It was intended to be a goof, riffing on Trump's supposed presidential ambitions and suggesting a better use of his abilities, i.e. to take over the United Nations, turning that useless institution into the "Trump UN," a potentially hugely successful, if admittedly vulgar, luxury hotel.
Little did I know that Trump is yet more serious about his presidential aims to the extent that the TV personality/real estate tycoon has already bolted the Republican Party. From ABC's The Note:
Trump took another step in that direction on Thursday, switching his party affiliation from Republican to “unaffiliated,” according to a source close to the reality television star.
According to the source, he did so because he is “disgusted” with the way Republicans are handling matters in Washington, including the recent payroll tax cut deal. But the move also sets Trump up for a potential third-party run for president — a possibility he began talking about almost as soon as he told his fans in May he wasn’t running.
The smart money is betting this is no more than another publicity stunt to keep The Donald in the public eye and forever a fixture on the Greta Show. And that's probably right and for that reason this column plus my video are just more grist for Trump's mill. (I'm waiting for my check.)
Still, the smart money is often wrong. And Trump's ego is, as I noted in the video, the size of Brooklyn. He may really run.
Which leads me to my main subject, the role of egotism in politics. It is one of the perils of democracy, especially a modern one in a giant country like ours. Who but an egomaniac would have the desire and the sense of entitlement to think he or she should lead the United States of America?
In this election season, we are in the midst of a festival of egomania. Some candidates hide it better than others, but it is always there.
And the eventual Republican nominee is going to do battle with the Supreme Egomaniac, Barack Obama, whose sense of entitlement was so monumental he believed he deserved the most important office on Earth with virtually no executive experience -- an amount dwarfed by, we are forced to admit, Donald Trump who, objectively speaking, is exponentially more qualified to manage the affairs of our great nation than the incumbent.
A healthy ego is common to excellence in many professions -- especially in the arts and sciences. But those are areas, unlike politics, in which accomplishment is measurable. Edison did invent the light bulb. Ibsen, famous for staring at himself in a mirror at the bottom of a stovepipe hat, did write Hedda Gabler and A Doll's House. But who knows who did what in politics is anybody's -- or the leaker's -- guess.
So what are the qualities we are looking for in a president? It's not easy to say other than that Brooklyn-sized ego, which is something we may not want, but get anyway because it comes with the territory. The real qualities we say we want in a president -- judgment, wisdom and so forth -- are for the most part boiler-plate generalities.
I have a suggestion of my own, which I admit, borders to a degree on boiler plate as well. It is honesty. The two men who were arguably the two greatest presidents evidently had it abundance -- the fellow who could not tell a lie about the cherry tree and the other one known as Honest Abe.
Of course, the cherry tree story about Washington is apparently apocryphal, but the intent is there. Similarly, I dimly remember a quote from The Talmud that went something like "Great is truth -- mightiest of all things." Inaccurate though that may be, it resonates with me. The person who should be president is the one who can tell the truth both to him or herself and to us.
Unfortunately, ego is not helpful with that. And none of the candidates so far have lived up to that high standard. The president has been even worse. Still, in a few days it will be a new year -- and I will try to be hopeful.