Stop being impressed with Donald Trump. He’s not taking any risks.
There is a popular narrative being spun that Republican Party Presidential Candidate and noted bloviator, Donald Trump, is impressive because he speaks his mind even if he offends. And while it may be true that he speaks his mind–and it’s absolutely true that he offends–it’s hardly impressive for one simple reason: he has nothing to lose.
What makes a person’s forthrightness and honesty impressive is when it is considered along with the risk taken for them to speak out. A brave act is only “brave” if one is afraid of the worst consequences. If you don’t have any fears, you aren’t being brave.
Trump–and this is a through-line for his life and business–isn’t taking any risk when he trumpets his “politically incorrect” thoughts. He’s set financially and career-wise. While we may mock (rightly so) the career politicians who are so careful with their words, we should remember, this is actually their job. None of us has the luxury of firing off at our boss without facing the consequences. Neither do career politicians. (Why we make it possible for a person to become a “career politician” is another subject but such a career exists and it’s not illogical that those careerists need to negotiate their words delicately.)
Secondly and thirdly, the narrative about Trump speaking his mind makes two declarations: that Trump is refreshingly political incorrect and that he is responsible for the Republican Party’s current conversation about immigration.
To the first point, saying racist things and then criticizing the offense taken proves the validity of political correctness as a practice. In its intended form, “political correctness” simply means “speaking of everyone with respect.” While it is true that political correctness (like any bromide) is often taken to extremes to avoid offending anyone, in its basest form, it is simply another term for “being polite.” Making a racist or sexist remark and then trying to claim that only “political correctness” causes our offense at it is proof that political correctness works. In that instance, the speaker’s political incorrectness highlights his racism. Had he been politically correct, we’d never have known he was a racist. (I mean, except for all the other times he’s been a racist.)
Related to that, this notion that Trump is responsible for bringing the issue of immigration to the Republican Party is ridiculous. If an intelligent person wants to start an intelligent conversation about an issue, there are many ways to do it. What Trump did was to throw a grenade of evidence-free, racist assertions into a pack of Republicans and claim righteousness while the responsible parties picked up the pieces and addressed the wounded. This is akin to a cop who shoots a black man claiming responsibility for our current national conversation about racially-motivated police shootings. Trump is to blame. But he isn’t the least bit “responsible.”
Finally, upon examining actual issues, Trump isn’t really saying anything different from the majority of Republican candidates. This is the real head-scratcher because of the Republican candidates, there is one who speaks his mind forthrightly, honestly, and intelligently–Rand Paul. How Trump gets so much credit when he spent most of last Thursday’s debate (once you subtract the time he took to offend and trumpet himself) nuancing himself into mainstream Republican positions on immigration (wall or fence, they all agree), abortion (fuck women’s individual rights), or healthcare (undo Obamacare) is staggering.
What we can draw from this is that the Republican faithful respond to their core messages being delivered as bluntly and uncompassionately as possible. Republicans don’t want to hear actual forthrightness when it contradicts their views on the security state or individual rights. Republicans–for all their “real Americans” talk–don’t seem to gravitate to real, working candidates. They prefer the hyper-rich and the ensconced political class.
But there is something else that the example of Trump shows us: how empty a candidate can be and still be seen as “leading.” Reason and the National Journal both recently opined on the vacuousness of Trump the candidate if you’re interested in a real inside look at it. Key hilariousness:
I suspect, though, that most of Trump’s supporters, rather like Trump himself, have put very little effort into imagining a Trump presidency, except to idly fantasize about all the ways that it would be different and awesome and better. He would be an exciting, deal-making, ass-kicker who would strike fear into the hearts of America’s enemies, and he would do this simply by virtue of being Donald Trump, in all his glorious, exciting Trumpiness.
Of course his candidacy is vacuous. He isn’t risking anything. He isn’t afraid of anything. If you want your personal narrative to have actual substance, you have to take risks. You have to be afraid in order to be brave. And Donald Trump–silver spoon in his mouth, reliant on government financial protection, loser of other people’s money, mismanager of his own, and career sexist–has never been afraid nor brave.