Donald Trump is primarily motivated by need for recognition. Beneath that motivation might lie a desire to fix what was broken in his family of origin, and then another layer of resentment for not being free of that dynamic. But let’s not go too far down that path. What I am focused on in this post is something about the man that might be of interest to all of us as we observe his rise in American electoral politics.
His need for recognition has a strong narcissistic bent. That bent reveals his deep insecurities compounded by endorsements of bullying behaviors and tough talk. Still, buried in this unsavory mix is a strain of a noble spirit. He deserves credit for at least getting into the ring. How many wealthy real estate magnates or investment bankers or that ilk are willing to so fully exercise their citizenship? Moreover, how many are willing to demonstrate so boldly their ignorance of policy and yet be wiling to stand on the firing line again the next day to talk about it.
There is no way on God’s green earth I will be voting for this candidate. I have previously expressed considerable concern about his tactics. I delight in how fellow Republicans are letting it be known that they don’t appreciate his middle school, playground antics. His ability to change positions 180 degrees from one day to the next has never escaped my notice. His desperate need to please and be liked is pathetic. Conscious or not, he is transparent about those traits. I recognize they are very dangerous ones to entertain in a democratic republic. On a personal basis there is nonetheless something sad and sympathetic about it.
There are lessons in the education of Donald Trump. He frets and struts on the stage of American electoral politics inviting marginalized voters to get back in the game. He demonstrates that it is no sin to be ignorant … so long as one is open to learning substantively and from mistakes. He shows that it is not a matter of intelligence or degrees from Harvard or Yale that singularly entitle people to engage in politics. To date, however, by counterexample he also reveals how much temperament matters. President Roosevelt, Oliver Wendell Holmes famously stated, “had a second-class intellect but a first-class temperament.” He meant it as praise. I can’t image what grade Holmes would give Trump, but I suspect he would not pass.
It is not too late for Trump to do the people of the United States a real service.If he could accept some humility and demonstrate how much one can learn by engaging in politics he will have had a positive impact. If he could speak to how much he has learned on his path, how he has come to appreciate essential values of free speech and the complexity of both domestic and foreign policy, those statements would more genuinely endear him to a broader electorate than the increasingly narrow demographic he cultivates. Truth is about American politics it relies fundamentally on engagement, not entitlement. That is the lesson Trump teaches us. We all now have an equal obligation to get into the game and educate right back.
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