Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Tragedy of Donald Trump

This election is transitioning from total farce to all-out tragedy before our very eyes.

The latest is the off-hand "locker room banter" caught on a hot mic in 2005. I suppose my readers know what I'm talking about, so I don't have to repeat. There has been a storm of criticism in response, not least from his own side. Some holdouts still try to change the subject to Bill Clinton or say it's not really a big deal compared to Hillary's transgressions. But the failure to call this particular spade a spade because someone else's sins are worse is a prime example of how politics demeans us. We cannot look at our guy, our chosen one, with absolute honesty. We cannot call a spade a spade.

Is it significant? We used to hear all the time, way back in 1992 and 1996, that character matters. And I think it was Winston Churchill who said, "Character is destiny." In the 90s, Clinton defenders sometimes argued that his sexual issues and his political leadership operated on two different levels, private and public, and had nothing to do with one another. His detractors quoted Churchill and said once we excuse this kind of conduct we lose our soul as a nation. The case for the defense was essentially political, while the case for the prosecution was essentially spiritual.

These same arguments are being made today, only now Donald Trump takes the place of Bill Clinton. Many of the same people who held Clinton in contempt now eagerly defend Trump from the same charges. For them, the bar is very high for criticizing Donald, but extremely low for criticizing Hillary. Double-standards abound.

Just how character influences and poisons decision-making and leadership is hard to say, Certainly lousy creeps have sometimes done good things in office I suppose. And we aren't electing saints, as Trump's apologists like to say. But I still say that moral leadership is big part of the job-description. Presidential leadership has a significant impact on the moral climate of the nation. Trustworthy men and women are needed most of all. Donald Trump is all swagger and bravado on the surface, a manner that has served him well in his world, but under that surface, and not far under, is a lot of darkness. And as Christians ought to understand, the darkness in a man will make itself known, It's what's inside a man that stains him.

How do we overlook this and indeed reward it with power? We have been presented this election year with an extraordinarily poor choice. My contention is that as Christians we must distance ourselves from a system that does not give us a morally acceptable choice. I would be gratified if out of this the Body of Christ would re-discover that the way of the Cross is not a march toward political power. If we accept the alluring promise of influence from Trump, we make a devil's bargain, the very deal that Jesus rejected in the wilderness.

I suspect that the Trump campaign is finally sinking. I see this morning that another lurid episode has come to light. The Clinton campaign has of course had months to dig this stuff up and the timing of these stories, just before the second debate and right at the time that  early voters are receiving their mail-in ballots, is no coincidence. And everyone seems to agree there will be more.

And that's the thing. This is turning from farce to tragedy, as I said, because the Republican Party willfully chose and blindly followed a path that many saw would end exactly here. The Republican brand is smeared, of course, but that's the least of it. The Trump brand, the promotion of which has been Donald Trump's career for many years now, is irreversibly tarnished, but neither is that the worst of it. The seeds of this downfall were present from the start, and that is the essence of tragedy. We know that Macbeth's lust for power will get him in trouble, or that Oedipus should not sleep with that woman. Only downfall can follow.

I may be wrong, but I think we are in the "downfall" phase of a tragedy that began with Trump's triumphant march through the primaries (although it really began somewhere in his boyhood, at a level that none of us will ever know), and is ending now in the collapse of the storybook Trump and the revelation of the truth of his soul before the eyes of millions. It is not a pretty sight.

Have you ever seen A Face in the Crowd? A no account drifter rises to become first a television phenomenon with the persona of the good-hearted straight-talking country boy, then on top of that a political force. The new medium of television makes him a star. People believe in him, trust him, but behind the scenes he is a contemptible creep. But character will out, of course, and in the end we see first the revelation of the lustful bully, and finally, deeper even than that, when the last layer is peeled away, the boy-man crying pitifully for attention.

As I say, I may be wrong, and the resilient Trump may bounce back from this as well, but former friends (however reluctant, like Paul Ryan) are starting to disassociate themselves from him. Even the Trump camp has done the rarest thing, issuing an apology of sorts. They had gambled that an America that seems to wallow in so much sin would surely have no problem with Trump's spotty past. But though a good man is proverbially hard to find, we still want at least the good actor playing the part reasonably well. Trump has lost his chance at that.

Several times during the primaries Trump said that he didn't really need to be president. He could walk away and go back to his life of promoting the Trump brand (Trump hotels, Trump wine, Trump steaks, Trump airlines) and be fine with that. The thing is, the brand itself is in trouble too. When the man is revealed, the brand is destroyed. Can he save himself from this? I don't know. It will be interesting to see. But we may be watching the slow-motion crash-and-burn not only of a candidacy, but of a man.

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