I don’t know that Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate for President in 2016. Nate Silver, at fivethirtyeight.com, thinks he won’t be. It would be essentially unprecedented for a Presidential candidate with so few important endorsements from opinion-makers and party leaders to win the nomination. It would be similarly unprecedented, however, for a candidate who has held a lead in the polls as big as Trump’s for as long as he’s held it to not win the nomination. So it could happen.
It could happen. Take a second, and wrap your head around that amazing possibility. Donald Trump could win the Republican nomination for President of the United States. A guy whose basic stump speech consists of the rawest immigrant-bashing, braggadocio, attacks on his critics, and open dissing of the personalities of the opposing candidates. He could be the nominee.
So I went to the movies the other night with my wife, and, being an old guy, hit the restroom on the way into the theater. In the men’s room, these two middle-aged guys were talking about the Trump phenomenon. Bright guys; from the context of their conversation, I think they were both attorneys, possibly even law partners. I followed them out of the facility, eavesdropping. And as they went into their theater, one of them said, “The bottom line is, he’s a truth-teller. People like that.”
No. Donald Trump is not a truth-teller. In order to be a truth-teller, you have to tell the truth. Donald Trump does not tell the truth. On many issues, maybe even most issues, he says things that are factually inaccurate. I don’t doubt the sincerity with which he holds his views. I am, most emphatically, not calling him a liar. I am saying that there are such things as facts, as provable objective realities. The authenticity with which a person holds to views does not convey truthfulness on those views.
What Trump is, is authentic. He is who is, unvarnished and unapologetic. He brags all the time, because that’s what narcissists do, but also because he really, genuinely, authentically thinks his plan to defeat ISIS (for example) is going to be awesome. And when he says he’s going to ‘make America great again,’ and says it with his characteristic brio, it’s an appealing idea.
But let’s talk about truth. If I were to say to you, with great confidence, that I think the Earth is flat, I would be saying something untrue. It wouldn’t matter how genuinely I believe the Earth is flat. It isn’t.
In other words, the opposite of ‘truth’ isn’t necessarily ‘a lie.’ It might just be ‘ignorance.’ It might just be ‘factual confusion.’ It might be ‘ideology.’ It’s in that sense that I say that Trump is not a truth teller. I don’t think he’s actively trying to deceive people. I think he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
So when he suggests (and I’m paraphrasing here), that America is being flooded with illegal immigrants, that those immigrants represent a major crisis for our country, that the Mexican government is sending those immigrants our way and that the ones they’re sending have a propensity for violent crime, and that our nation’s economic difficulties are largely due to illegal immigration, he is saying things that are not true. I’m not saying this because my opinions differ from his. I say this because all these issues have been carefully studied, published in peer-reviewed journals. And for the most part, the facts are not really in dispute. I mean, we don’t know exactly, precisely, how many undocumented workers there are in the US, in part because one of them died while I was writing this paragraph, but researchers from a number of disciplines, using different approaches to estimate the totals, all come up with figures within a few thousand of each other. I do not believe that Donald Trump is familiar with that research. I don’t think he cares.
I also have opinions about Donald Trump’s opinions. I think his opinions are, at best, based on gut impressions, or prejudices, or are simply made up on the spot. He’s a businessman. When he needs to know something for a project he’s working on, he does just as much research as he needs to do to enable the deal to go through. But I don’t know the man. I’m not in his head.
The poll numbers for Donald Trump, and Dr. Ben Carson suggest that the Republican electorate is fed up with traditional politicians, and with politics as usual. But the poll numbers on the Democratic side are even more interesting. Because right now, Hillary Clinton is floundering, and Bernie Sanders is surging.
I think the way to defeat authenticity is with equal authenticity. And if the electorate really is fed up with traditional politicians, that bodes ill for Hillary Clinton. I admire the woman, and think she’s easily the most qualified candidate in the race. I like her recent speeches. I would very much like for her to be President. But she comes across as, well, inauthentic. She seems like a politician. The ridiculous email non-scandal is hurting her immensely, not because there’s anything there, but because her response to it has seemed lawyerly. If this election is about authenticity, I have this suspicion that her reaction would be ‘I can fake that!’ Her candidacy is massively successful by traditional standards–she has wads of money, endorsements from every shaker-and-mover in the Democratic party, an excellent organization. But she’s floundering.
And she’s about to make a major miscalculation. She’s been attacking Sanders. She might even run ads against him. Bad bad bad idea. Double-plus un-good. Because that’s what politicians do.
Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, seems cranky, seems impatient, isn’t terribly charismatic. But tens of thousands of young people flock to his events, driven there mostly through social media and word-of-mouth. He says, over and over, exactly what he plans to do as President. That’s incredibly appealing.
I’m not actually much of a Bernie Sanders fan. He’s skeptical of free trade, and I like free trade. He’s squishy on immigration, because unions are. And he’s indiscriminate in his criticism of big corporations. I’m no fan of corporate malfeasance. But not all big corporations are evil. I mean, if the choices are Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump, that’s the easiest call in the history of American politics. If that’s the choice, I’m voting for Sanders. But he’s not the candidate of my dreams.
But there’s one other viable choice. Vice-President Biden hasn’t yet announced his intentions. It’s not surprising that he’s waited this long; after all, his son Beau, who he loved and who he called his ‘best friend’ died just a few weeks ago, a devastating personal blow for a man who has suffered more personal tragedies than most people. But I desperately hope Joe Biden runs.
If you didn’t see it, go on CBS.com and see Stephen Colbert’s interview with Vice-President Biden. It’s just extraordinary. An astonishing moment of personal connection, between two men whose lives have been shaped by personal tragedy, in which both men talk about faith and love and family and how one recovers from the worst blows human beings ever have to bear.
If Joe Biden runs for President, runs while still consumed with grief and pain, if he stands before the American people, here’s what he will say. This will be his message:
“I have suffered personal tragedies, as have so many of you, my fellow Americans. And what I have learned is this: we have to help each other. We have to respond to pain and fear with courage and with generosity. My son’s death has taught me, more than anything else, one lesson: the purpose of life is to serve others. And I am running for President, because the purpose of government is to help the least fortunate among us.”
The way to fight authentic bombast is with equally authentic humility. The way to fight untruth is with truth. I am praying that Joe Biden runs for President. If he does, I will vote for him, and will work for his success. And he will win.