After 8 years of a sleazy, albeit effective, jowly, perspiring President Nixon, voters chose his opposite: the sunny, grinning, toothy, boyish Jimmy Carter who kept his promise never to lie to the electorate and ultimately alienated them by telling them what they did not want to hear, that the country was afflicted with "malaise." They replaced him with the optimistic Ronald Reagan who told them it was "morning in America." After 8 years of the historically dim witted George W. Bush, voters were ready for his polar opposite, the cerebral, cool and analytical Barack Obama, who saw nuances which eluded others and who spoke in complex sentences and who assumed his listeners were intelligent, reasonable people who could handle complexity.
Now we have the Donald, who has taken H.L. Menken's advice to heart: Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.
I listened to Donald Trump this morning, on my treadmill and came away surprised:
1. He is fun to listen to--not at all agonizing like George W. He simplifies to the point of incomprehensibility. He told us we have a lot of "stuff" underground, enough to make us energy independent and I thought he was talking about untapped oil and I think he was, for a moment talking about oil, because he mentioned we just haven't gone looking for "it. " But then he said we have more coal than China and I wound up thinking he was talking about making us energy independent by going back to coal, as if all the problems coal has caused for the environment have never been a problem. Coal for Mr. Trump is a competition thing. The Chinese will use coal for the next 30 years and we should not allow them to beat us at using coal. All the world's a game, for Mr. Trump.
2. He is all for compromise, which in the era of the Tea Party is wonderful to hear coming from a Republican. Of course, he says the way you negotiate is to ask three times what you want and when you get 1/3 you've got what you wanted. He would use this tactic to be tough but smart negotiating with the Chinese, who presumably would never see it coming.
3. He wants to protect Social Security because this is all some people have. Hearing this from a Republican is very refreshing. Of course, the only way he mentions saving social security is for billionaires to refuse accepting their pay outs from Social Security which would save Social Security at least $100,000 a year.
4. He is still crowing about the crowning achievement of his life in public policy--the building of the Central Park ice skating rink after the mayor of New York, Ed Koch, cried out for help. Actually, Mr. Koch resisted the idea of Trump taking over the project, which had languished for 6 years, but when Koch offered to do it with his own money, if he could have the profits from the adjacent restaurant public pressure mounted and Koch relented. Trump took over the project which had squandered $13 million of taxpayer money and got a $3 million dollar budget and brought it in under budget complete in 3 months. Trump uses this as the prototypical example of how government cannot do anything but private enterprise can do everything.
It is true the project had been politicized--the fuel used to refrigerate became a political football; equitable bidding rules thwarted efficient subcontracting; there was much incentive to milk the project for profit by contractors but Trump had the incentive of making this a poster for his own potency. It remains, to this day, the only example of his accomplishing anything for the public in the world of civic endeavor, as opposed to building a tower for private profit.
Well, there is one other example: His other great coup was building a golf course in the South Bronx, across the river from Manhattan, which he extols as just what the South Bronx needed. A golf course.
There is great appeal to Mr. Trump's vagueness and simplicity. He says Mr. Obama was on TV last night and "bombed" when he talked about ISIS, Syria, the refugee problem. I did not see Mr. Obama last night, but I can imagine in Mr. Trump's eyes Mr. Obama would always "bomb" because Mr. Obama is inclined to see complexities when complexities exist, but for Mr. Trump every knot is a Gordian knot--you have only to draw your sword and slice through it to unravel the knotty problem.
I have not spoken with Nate Silver yet, but I suspect if Mr. Trump ran against Hillary Clinton, he would beat her soundly. The only Democrat who would walk away from a debate with Mr. Trump victorious would be Bernie Sanders.
Now that's a campaign I'd love to watch.
And here, Heaven Help me, Maud forgive me, I have to say I have entertained the thought: I'd rather see President Trump than President Marco Rubio, or President Bush or President Carson or President anyone Republican. The man has the potential to be another Richard Nixon: someone you can despise and dismiss but someone who, if he surrounds himself with a Patrick Moynahan or, Heaven Help Us, a latter day Henry Kissinger, he might actually stumble toward getting some good legislation passed.
You would think, in a nation of 300 million we could find better choices than what we've got now.