In looking back on the year 2017, Americans have witnessed political, cultural and economic cycles like few other years in recent memory. Personally, I began this year by unaffiliating with the Republican Party. Trump was too much for me to bear. He turned out to be the president many of us thought he would be. He remains ill suited to be the leader of the free world. In fact, I predicted earlier this year that Trump would not make it to the end of the year – either he would resign or be booted from office. Yet, there he remains.
The politics of cynicism are the story of 2017 in my opinion. When Trump first announced his candidacy, I told friends he had no chance of being nominated. After all, he had no political experience, he knew little to nothing about serious issues and what he did talk about was lamebrain. Surely principled Republican voters could see right through his charade?
When Trump received the GOP nomination, I was dumbfounded. I thought there was no way he could win. Even Hillary Clinton would destroy him at the polls. Like most political observers at the time, I thought Trump was simply a bridge too far in American politics. When he won the presidency, today’s political realities still failed to hit me. He is an idiot and the people who voted for him must be too. And that’s when I predicted Trump would not last a year as president.
I have been wrong at every turn about Trump. I still believe he is incompetent and unfit to be our president. I still believe a third grader knows more about American history than Trump. And I still believe his hard-core supporters are less than intelligent. But one opinion has changed: I see how deeply political cynicism runs in America when things just do not go our way.
This cynicism begins when our elected officials seem unresponsive to our concerns. Our cynicism mounts with each new taste that those in power care nothing for the powerless. The true “Forgotten Man” is more than ignored. He is degraded and dismissed. I have had to repent of my own sins of judgment. In the name of fighting for goodness and intelligence and common sense, I have dismissed the very people for whom I thought I was fighting. I doubled down on the angst of the “Forgotten Man.”
Trump is their president, even if he is not mine of choice. Every slight of Trump is a slight of them. Every time I have criticized Trump, I have criticized them. I am not sure how to separate the two even when I now see it. President Trump is like no other president in American history precisely because his presidency is not about the man. His presidency is about the justified cynicism within the people who elected him. He is a figurehead not an independent man. Even his crazy ideas – and there are many – are excused by his supporters because they do not see him, they see themselves in him.
Of course, this reality is no excuse for bad public policy or bad behavior. Racism is still racism. Stupidity is still stupidity. But this reality must be seen and addressed. Those of us who see differently than Trump (about almost everything) need to see more than the forgotten men and women who support him. We also must address their deep-seated cynicism grown from years of lousy political leaders, poor governance and increasing corruption.
Trump supporters do not necessarily like Trump as much as they distrust everything about government. Trump is there big, hairy, middle finger to politics as usual. To restore sanity in American politics, we need to regain the trust of the people – all people. In an odd way, Trump will help us do that. We needed this Trump experience to remind us of the essential qualities of true leaders. We had to experience the awful to once again realize the good.
So, as 2017 closes, I can thank Donald Trump for reminding us what we believe and what we need to restore in American politics. Alas, Trump’s bad example has a silver lining.