WASHINGTON, May 9, 2016 — Donald Trump has a problem with style. The media and his critics hate his and love to make fun of it.
Trump is widely dismissed as a vulgarian (and a short-fingered one at that), a boor and a dangerous narcissist (a charge often leveled at President Obama). Let us stipulate that those modifiers, excepting “short-fingered” and “dangerous,” are all accurate when applied to Trump. They prompt the response, “so what?”
The vulgarian rap is just ugly classism. Trump likes the flashy and the loud. He likes bling, he likes to splash his name across everything he owns. Vulgarity is a matter of taste; it’s not even a character defect, let alone a crime. The defect is in treating matters of taste as matters of personal worth.
When the Reagans moved into the White House, the Washington establishment of Ivy League, old-money families sniffed at Hollywood style. It wasn’t just fashion that fueled their contempt, but Reagan’s vulgar belief that ideas matter and that our beliefs should compel action. Washington treats its beliefs like a club tie, an affectation that demands nothing of you but only identifies you as a member of a club. Conservatism is like religion: important as a means of identifying your affiliations and your people, but embarrassing if you act as if you really believe it.
When the Clintons moved into the White House, the establishment smirked that they might want to swim in the “see-ment pond.” Bill was a Rhodes Scholar with an Ivy League education, but an Arkansas drawl and a likely affinity for trailer trash. When he left the White House, it was easy to believe he’d take the light fixtures and computer keyboards with him.
When George W. Bush moved into the White House, the establishment had one of their own—old money, connected family, Ivy Leaguer—but he came out of Texas, sounded Texan, and even pronounced “nuclear” as “nucular.” “Anyone who says ‘nucular’ is just a hick who shouldn’t be trusted with the codes,” grumped one academic patrician, revealing a hitherto disguised contempt for Jimmy Carter, another southerner who said “nucular” and who had even studied “nucular” engineering at Annapolis.
Taste is what we mock when we despise someone and see no reason to explain ourselves. Anyone who’s in will understand. “They’re parvenus; it’s obvious in their ticky-tacky manners and their ticky-tacky dress.” We do it among the like-minded as a bonding exercise. “My Gawd, did you see her dress?” asks one, and the others screech in gleeful shared contempt for the outsider.
Trump is undoubtedly a narcissistic monster of ego. Scratch a presidential candidate, and you’ll find a narcissistic egotist. You almost have to be one to run for the office.
Humble people with a clear sense of their own failings and limitations don’t put themselves under the public microscope and make absurd promises about “fixing Washington” or “fixing America.” They don’t try to order other people around and organize their lives for the greater good.
They don’t pretend to be as wise, as knowledgeable and as competent as God.
You have to be an egotist of the highest order to run for the presidency and then good at self-deception in order to convince others that you aren’t. “God wants me to run.” Blessed art thou among men and women. “The people want me to run, and duty compels me to serve.” If the White House thing doesn’t work out, can we expect to see you spending your days working soup lines?
Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and John Kasich have egos that make your average college professor look like a Franciscan monk. They’ve only learned to disguise it better than Trump has. Children are often monsters of ego.
Trump is in touch with his inner child, and. unlike the others, he lets it play in public.
Trump said that if Ivanka weren’t his daughter, he’d date her. “Classy,” sneered the critics. “Great family values.” But if we’re feeling charitable, we can take from that three things: Trump’s daughter is beautiful, and her dad knows it; Trump is proud of his daughter (it’s okay to be proud of a child’s looks; Trump also respects her mind enough to give her important roles in his campaign and business organizations); and Trump knows that dads shouldn’t date their daughters.
Trump managed to say all that in an inelegant, boorish way, but would the sentiment have been that different if he’d said, “my daughter is a beautiful and intelligent young woman whom any young man would be delighted to date and who would enhance the cover of any magazine whose cover she graced, even Playboy’s”?
Suppose that Trump is a vulgar, narcissistic boor. All else equal, that might matter. All else isn’t equal, and to focus on that is an intellectually lazy exercise in elevating style over substance. “I don’t like him.” That explains why you won’t vote for Trump, but it’s not a reason that anyone else shouldn’t.
There are solid arguments against Trump and Clinton. “Anyone but Trump” and “Anyone but Hillary” movements don’t make them, relying instead on an emotional appeal to visceral dislike.
Trump is too left-wing on healthcare; on social issues, all else is equal, but Hillary has expressed no interest in dating Ivanka; his foreign policy ideas are incoherent and all over the map; he doesn’t have a clear idea of the constitutional limits on presidential power; he honestly expects Mexico to finance that wall; he thinks that printing more money and renegotiating the national debt are smart economic policies.
Those are all reasons to vote against Trump. The man’s exuberant boorishness doesn’t even come close.