It isn’t unusual for members of the public to hate politicians. For example, lots of people hate President Obama. Some of that hatred is because of his policies, some is because of racism, and I assume there are a few other reasons. But I have never seen anyone who was literally afraid of him on a visceral level.
Trump, on the other hand, actually scares people. I have seen people’s bodies twist up and go into full panic at the thought of him being president. I’m talking about actual, literal, bodily fear, as if a monster is already in house and you don’t know where it is hiding. Even professional members of the media feel this fear.
And yet I feel none of that fear – not even a trace amount. To me, Trump looks like the safest candidate in the history of presidential elections, and I don’t even share his politics on a number of topics. So I have to ask myself why I have zero fear of Trump while so many others are in full panic mode. Should I be more afraid?
I have no reason to believe my reaction to Trump is more accurate than anyone else’s. I’m not generally immune to fear – when it is real – so this is a bit of a puzzle to me. Let’s see if we can suss it out a bit.
If fear is the topic, we can leave out the boring policy discussions such as trade negotiations and budgets. Let’s talk about the stuff that can kill you. That’s where real fear comes from.
For starters, Trump hasn’t made much noise about cutting social programs. So I don’t think the fear is coming from that. And most people seem to think Trump would be a good choice for the economy. A strong economy keeps the social programs intact. So I don’t think the fear is coming from that domain even if you prefer another candidate’s plans.
Healthcare is a life-and-death issue. Sanders wants universal healthcare, so does Clinton, and so does Trump. They would get to in in different ways. Sanders might be the most committed, with Clinton a strong second, but no one is doubting Trump’s ability to change minds and get things done. So in terms of execution, Trump seems like a solid bet for healthcare, assuming he makes it a priority. I don’t see the future of healthcare as a source of Trump fear, but maybe it is for some.
Trump’s immigration plans are scary business for sure. His call to deport illegal Mexican immigrants and to temporarily ban Muslim immigration sound racist on the surface. But one layer below the surface you can see that he is consistent about protecting U.S. Citizens from non-citizens. That’s the job description of the President of the United States. If you are a citizen, Trump has the strongest immigration plan for keeping YOU safe, even if it is bad news for non-citizens.
As I have said a number of times, Trump’s plans are designed to be opening bids to set the table for the negotiations to follow. He says that clearly and often. He even put it in writing in his book. To me, Trump sounds like the most reasonable person in the room. If you don’t start with a big ask, you aren’t the right person to be president. Bernie Sanders has big asks too, and like Trump, he probably assumes he will negotiate to something less perfect.
All past presidents have had robust deportation programs for illegal immigrants. Trump might do more of it, and I respect any argument that says more deportations might be too much. But I don’t see any risk of legal citizens being deported. So I have trouble understanding how this topic could make legal citizens physically afraid.
Then there’s the question of who has their finger on the button for the nuclear arsenal. Here Trump has a long history of opposing sketchy wars. At the same time – like Reagan – he wants to project maximum force to deter others from starting something. And we can see from Trump’s recent behavior that he can turn off the “bad boy” act any time he wants. He is completely honest about playing the clown for the primaries, in order to win. We have never seen a candidate this transparent.
Also keep in mind that Trump is the non-drinker in the crowd. If you want to assess the risk of bad presidential decisions under pressure, you have to factor in how many of the other candidates would be on prescription meds or enjoying a stiff drink after work. And what about the general health of a candidate? That probably matters for decision-making under pressure. Trump is the safe bet on this dimension.
Clinton and Rubio – to pick two examples – are probably in the pocket of the military industries. Those two are likely to start expensive wars for profit, like past presidents. THAT seems dangerous to me. Trump is the least likely to start a war to benefit the defense industry. Sanders is anti-war too, but his military might look weak to outsiders and invite some risk. Militarily, Trump seems like the lowest risk of any candidate we have ever seen.
The elephants in the room are race and gender. I’m the same race and gender as Trump, so I see no risk of him discriminating against people like me. But to women and minorities, he probably seems unpredictable, unsympathetic, and powerful. That’s the scariest combo.
Unpredictable people with no power are no problem. People with power who act in predictable ways can be avoided. And sympathetic people can generally be trusted. But an intentionally unpredictable person with great power and no love for political correctness is scary as hell.
I have predicted that Trump’s unpredictability would become predictable over time, and less scary as a result. We see that already. The press now understands his “act” and how it is engineered for the primaries. And Trump has revealed in his New Hampshire victory speech and in other ways that he can turn off the act at will. Once the public sees that pattern enough, Trump will seem predictable. He always seemed predictable to me. You probably see his patterns now too.
On the empathy dimension, Trump is slowly decoupling the idea of political correctness from empathy. He shows empathy in his own ways, but makes sure you know a joke is still a joke. Unless you are a huge pussy.
You can hate Trump’s sense of humor and his insensitive ways. But you will also get used to it. And when you do, you’ll no longer see it as a lack of empathy. Because it isn’t.
I saw Trump’s potential to win the election back in August of 2015. It wasn’t because I am smart. It was because my background and his have a coincidental overlap. Where I grew up, in upstate New York, empathy looks exactly like Trump. Political correctness wasn’t a thing when I grew up, and probably isn’t a thing in my old hometown today. If you’re trying to “make America great” or anything productive at all, you’re 100% empathetic according to the way I was raised. Anything else is posture. Where I grew up, you have to be useful or go home. Trump is trying to be useful. That’s empathy, according to my people.
You see Trump’s ambitions as coming from narcissism and ego. Every famous person has a bit of that. But I can tell you as a protestant-raised kid from New York, where emotions go to hide forever inside people’s bodies, that Trump’s approach is what passes for empathy for white, New York protestants. If we’re trying to be useful, it’s because we care.
I also believe that the other candidates in the race are motivated by patriotism and empathy. In the 3D world of persuasion, a candidate could start out as the Manchurian Candidate, but after living and breathing and talking the right words you become what you do and what you say. It would be nearly impossible to get into the primaries without being a genuine patriot who cares about the country. Only a true sociopath could pull it off. And I don’t think we have any in this race.
So why do you think people are afraid of Trump? Did I hit all the reasons?