Being one of many people who thought Donald Trump would never become president of the United States still makes me feel dumb – but it’s not the end of the world. I just hope Trump isn’t.
For weeks after the election, I woke up in the middle of the night thinking it was a bad dream – no doubt a clear indication of how much I didn’t want it to happen.
The whole Trump thing can be seen as a brazen attack on a value system that was based on respect for political conduct and discourse. The Trump phenomenon also attacked the code of respect for institutions, high offices and people. He also challenged how politicians saw their own roles in the political process.
Before Trump, politicians in modern democracies lived and died on the principle of trying to reach lofty goals. Hillary Clinton’s speeches were about reaching forward in several economically and socially positive directions in an open, inclusive America.
But Clinton’s positive talk too often disregarded today’s reality in the United States. She followed the conventional route where politicians seeking high office optimistically talk of their hopes and dreams.
Conventional politics were about big dreams and even bigger hopes. Along the way, to fill the unavoidable gaps of credibility that come with selling good things and hope, political correctness became essential. There were many things that just couldn’t and wouldn’t be said. That was the value system everyone bought into in the conventional political world.
It worked in the United States for as long as it could – until a majority gave up the pretext of the political dreamland making sense. Between those who voted for Trump, and those who didn’t vote, the politics of hope and of working toward a better day were replaced by a coldhearted assessment that things stink.
Trump stomped on political correctness. He ridiculed it knowing the degree to which the traditional way of doing politics had so many Americans seething with anger. He unabashedly went to the extremes of political incorrectness himself. While that drove commentators to distraction, so many people, so many voters, cheered him on for doing it.
His argument that Hillary Clinton had been making the same nice speeches for 30 years – while changing nothing – hit home with people unhappy and disillusioned with the America they lived in. He made her look out of touch, like a relic of a dying system.
Trump’s theme, “to make America great again,” was not a forward-looking dream, but, rather, an abrupt turn backward to the 1950s and ‘60s when more people were white and more of them had jobs, which enabled them to buy all those shiny new cars made in America. It was a time when the Chevrolet brand was the gold standard.
As Inauguration Day approaches, we hear many of the expert voices say that, once in office, Trump will see things differently and he will be more conventionally presidential. They point to how there were similar fears in 1980, when Ronald Reagan became president, and, for the most part, things turned out considerably better than expected.
As someone who was wrong in every prediction about the demise of Trump’s campaign, let me say that Trump is no Reagan. Reagan was a cowboy actor, but he was not a political neophyte. He had served two terms as governor of California, the most populous American state. He knew politics and he had learned how to govern. Reagan built and worked with a team of advisers who, for the most part, served him well in the White House.
Next month, the page will officially turn, and Trump will take over the White House. It is a remarkable thing that is happening, and, while no one would be wise to try predicting how things will turn out, one just instinctively knows things are going to be very different. Precedent, norms, traditions, conventions and standards are going to be redefined.
I spent some time in my professional life in the business world and I remember every executive preaching that if things have always been done in a certain way, it probably means they shouldn’t be.
So, now, I finally get Donald Trump.